I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of place recently, and why some places just do send a tingle down the spine.
One of my favourite places is Keats's House in Hampstead Heath. I don't need to go inside it, I just need to think about it and I feel different.
The reasons are manifold. They must go back to schooldays when I first began to understand that poetry spoke to a part of the brain and soul nowhere else could reach. I'm not a very academic person, but words sink into me, and from a very young age I learned poetry. Ode to Nightingale would have been in as much in my blood, as a title, as Hamlet.
And then, for my eighteenth birthday, my brother bought me a leather bound copy of Keats and inscribed it: Here's to a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Happy Birthday to my very literary sister, with love.
Our family was not given to statements such as this, or to extravagant presents. But the book seemed to me both extravagant and extraordinarily significant. My fate was sealed from that moment. He had given me an identity I didn't deserve. He had associated me with Keats. Somehow, Keats's world, and way of being, had been brought within my orbit.
I visited Keats's House as a student, and later with my daughters one freezing Mothering Sunday. By then I'd been to Rome and the apartment on the Spanish Steps where Keats had died. I started to write The Rose of Sebastopol, which was inspired by Keats's desperate poems to Fanny Brawne.
This is all about roots then, and connections. Somewhere that has survived as a testament to genius - and to tragedy - and to values and worlds utterly different to those amidst which we usually move.