When I was nine years old my father built me my own house. More of a rough wooden cube but it became my beloved childhood den. My dad was an engineer, not of clever bridges or fancy buildings but of machines that made sweets. He designed and built the machines that made some of the candies we all still enjoy today. My special ‘playhouse’ was constructed of two gigantic wooden packing cases that would have originally contained the copper cauldrons that boiled the sugar that then hardened into sweets. They were probably only about three meters square but to me they were heaven, my very own Downton Abbey. One wooden crate was lowered into a perfectly fitting hole that he’d dug by hand. He cut a trap door in the top of the underground one and a second one then sat above. Then he made a door and window. When the bad guys came a knocking (the local boys) my best friend Zabe and I would open the secret door in the floor, slide down a rope and hide in the ‘basement!’ We even tried to wallpaper the walls but with the never-ending damp of the North of England we would often be woefully greeted with soggy rolls of peeling paper. I never forgot our special place and the games that occupied us in there far away from adult eyes.

I am playing house again. With a little more budget than my packing cases I have built three wooden huts around Villa Reniella in Tuscany. Two of which are used for the daily massages for our guests and the third I have commissioned for myself. It is to be my new writing office. There is no electricity, water or insulation but it has a view that is breathtaking across the valley to the famous San Biaggio, a large renaissance church built over an Etruscan site. The writing cabin sits on the edge of our oak wood surrounded by young olive trees and is far enough away from the main house that I can block out the hustle and bustle of life at the villa. I hope the quiet and the view will inspire me. You see, I am about to embark on my next book. When I wrote my previous one – Design Your Next Chapter, I was like a nomad. I was travelling a great deal and had one small suitcase crammed with notes and reading stuff. This time will be different. My deadline is painfully tight for this book, (thank you Anne – my wonderful editor at Penguin Random House) so I need to stay put in my wee house and concentrate.

a presto