Summertime, and the livin' is...medieval. A girl can't get enough of robes in pink and blue, with a funny hat:


In July I received an honorary doctorate from the University of East Anglia, where I got my MA in creative writing 19 years ago. Despite being a modern university (50 years old in September), they have you wear these old-looking robes. Here I am with Christopher Bigsby of the English Department, and on the left, my old tutor Rose Tremain, who has just become Chancellor of the University. We are discussing the reintroduction of Stocks as punishment...

I spoke to an auditorium full of history graduates, and here is a little bit of what I said to them about the importance of history: history graduates you have a huge advantage over most of the other graduates. You are already three-dimensional people. Let me explain. When a baby is born, it is a dot. It lives entirely in the moment. It’s hungry, it cries, it eats, it sleeps. Little by little as it grows, the baby’s idea of time extends a little bit backwards – it remembers having eaten, what its mother smelled and sounded like. And it extends a little bit forwards too: it thinks ahead to more food, more cuddles, more good sounds and smells. As the baby grows into a child and eventually an adult, its past and its future expand a little more. But for a long time a person remains a dot, focussed on the moment, which is one dimension. As a teenager he or she looks ahead more, anticipating the future, and that dot becomes a line – two dimensions. He or she is not looking back so much, though. Usually it’s later in life that a person starts seriously looking backwards. I think of that looking backwards as adding a line at an angle to the future line, the perspective that adds depth and makes them three-dimensional. I didn’t engage with the past until my early 30s, when I got interested in my family history. Some people never think about the past, and always remain two dimensional.

But YOU: you’ve chosen to study history, and that already gives you a depth that many people your age won’t achieve for years. Take advantage of that perspective. It makes it easier to ride the tough times, and to appreciate the good times. I have faith in you to use your three-dimensionality well, to look beyond yourself when finding your place in the world. Congratulations, and welcome to the next phase of your life. Thank you.