Josa Young Autobiography

I was born in Kent, all among the hop gardens and cherry orchards. In the summer, gypsies came to help with the picking and plucking (hops can tear your hands to shreds). I remember sitting with them in the dusty sunlight, and admiring their gold teeth. When the time for me to have crowns, I chose gold rather than white in memory of the gypsies.

My father had a chicken farm. I was the fourth of five children, and we ran completely wild in the countryside, including spending a lot of time looking at chickens. One Sunday the parents had friends for lunch and served chicken. ‘Is that the one with the swollen face?’ asked my eldest brother Charles.

My best friend was called Robin. We shared a cigarette behind the cow sheds on his family farm. We tried to sail a zinc bath on the stinking silage drain. We rode a compliant cow with a sack tied onto its back with binder twine. I remember his elder brother Andrew running across the field, and the stitches in his knee tearing open.

We all went to what must have been the last of the Dame Schools. Run by an old lady called Mrs Macaldownie (I still have no idea how to spell her name), it consisted of 19 children aged from 4 to 8 sitting in her front room learning nothing much. They gave me a disgusting book called The Little Half Chick to read, where the chick gets cut in half, dunked in tar and used as a weather vane. I didn’t read it. I think this is why I didn't learn to read until I was seven. The clearest memory is of the taste of raffia from the crafts table – sort of sour.

It was all very conventional and included church on Sundays, with my father reading the lesson (and leaving out anything that might cause a blush).

That all came to an end when I was seven and went away to prep school. From then on I only saw my mother three times a term. This was because of upheavals in the family and my mother taking on a more than full time job. The parents ran an A Level college in an old house on a hill - they took 1960s kids - including Caspar Fleming (son of Ian), and Stanley Baker's sons - chucked out from public schools still stuck in the 1930s. I was already pretty independent having led such an unsupervised early childhood and anyway my parents lived in a completely unfamiliar house which I hated, so I just accepted it all and got on with it. I met two of my closest friends there.

There were some excellent teachers, one of whom encouraged my writing from an early age. She had a split personality – in the classroom she thought I was wonderful; on the rounders pitch she was exasperated with me. Once, she threw a ball at me as I stood dreaming at third post, hitting me in the eye.

Boarding secondary school followed, back in the village where I was born and where I had been so happy, which was an odd experience. Seeing my old home behind gates that I could not pass through. Then Cambridge, where I read English.

In term time I would cook dinner parties for wonderfully spoilt young men; in the holidays I would do the same for the manicured ladies of Chelsea, with occasional stints as a salad hand in the Berkeley Hotel.

In my last year at Cambridge, I did the Vogue Talent Contest and was a finalist. The lunch where the winner was decided was the day after the end of my finals. I was too traumatised to do anything but gulp and stare. But they did offer me a job later on, and I started my career under Alex Kroll in the book department. I spent a lot of time in the dusty and disorganised treasure house of a library in the basement of Vogue House, writing captions for a Christian Dior biography, loving every minute and emerging black with book dust at the end of each day. And watching in amazement as people walked out with irreplaceable original photographic prints and drawings by Cecil Beaton under their arms.

I have had jobs as diverse as features editor of Vogue, and head of lifestyle channels at AOL. I have written several half finished novels, a bunch of short stories and some poems. I have also written two complete novels, the first of which One Apple Tasted, was published in 2009. The second, Sail Upon the Land is published 2014.

As a single mum, I don't get the time to write as much as I would like, but I continue to cook for the two of my three children who still live with me, to be part of many different communities, and to meet all the interesting new people that being published has brought me.