The Times: A Life in the Day: Amanda Foreman, historian




By Sarah Maber

Words of wisdom

  • Best advice I was given: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”
  • Advice I’d give: “Be kind”
  • What I wish I’d known: “As a teenager, I wish I’d know that I wouldn’t always feel as lonely as I did at that age”

Born in London, Dr Amanda Foreman, 47, went to several boarding schools, then to the US to study at the Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, before returning to the UK for her doctorate at Oxford. Her first book, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, later became a film starring Keira Knightley. A mother of five, Foreman is also a TV documentary-maker.

I wake up at 5.45, grab my iPad and read the newspapers. I don’t move until my husband, Reg, wakes up at 7 and goes and makes us both a cup of tea. By then the children are also up and will come in and leap into our bed. Our eldest, Helena, is 14, Theodore’s 12, Halcyon’s 10 and the twins, Hero and Xanthe, are 8.

Reg, who works at Merrill Lynch, helps with everything, whether it’s getting the kids ready for school or laying out breakfast. I’m a creature of habit, I have an egg. I’m a total eggaholic.

Once the kids are at school, I’ll go to my writing desk, our dog, Max, usually at my feet. We live in a hilarious house in Gramercy Park, in Manhattan. It’s 12ft wide and falling apart around our ears, but it suits us and I’ve got a dream office upstairs with a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and two windows looking out to a garden.

I’m currently working on my next book, The World Made By Women: A History of Women from the Apple to the Pill. It puts women at the centre of the history of humanity and I find it incredibly exciting. I literally can’t wait to get started every day.

I’m a maelstrom of emotions. If I didn’t write, I’d be a damaged person. Being the daughter of an American screenwriter [Carl Foreman, who wrote the 1952 film High Noon] made me feel that I might not be worthy of being a writer. But not writing actually gave me nightmares. It was only when I started work on Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire that it went away. The success of that book opened a million doors. It changed my life overnight. I’m a slow writer, but I did it quite quickly — in 5½ years. My next book, about the American Civil War, took me 10 years.

I don’t take a break until lunch. In fact, I often forget to stand up and move around — I’m a walking advertisement for deep vein thrombosis. Lunch is the same every day. We live opposite a sushi place and I have edamame, miso soup and seared salmon.

I’ll then return to my desk. The children come home at 4, full of the joys of spring, but by then my brain is firing on all cylinders and I’m at my peak writing moment. Every day I get an internal explosion between wanting to give them milk and cookies and wanting to shut the door and carry on. There is no easy answer, but we’ve reached a compromise: they come in and say hello, and I say: “I love you very, very much and now I need to get back to work.”

I reappear at 7.30pm, by which time it’s bedtime for the youngest, and Reg will be reading to them. For dinner, the rest of us will have a takeout. Then our favourite thing is watching telly. After that we’ll go upstairs and read for a while. The very last thing we do is turn to each other and ask: “So, why do you love me today?”

Seven years ago, Reg was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The twins were only one and it was terrifying. After he finished his treatment, I was very frightened it would return. But five years on, and it’s like we have stepped through a window into another universe … a good one. I’m so grateful, every single day.

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