10/13/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT
For Flora Fraser, 27, writing is hardly a mysterious trade. Her mother, Lady Antonia Fraser, is the beautiful, spirited biographer of such eminent Brits as Mary Queen of Scots and Cromwell. Lady Antonia's current husband is playwright Harold (Betrayal) Pinter. Antonia's father, Lord Longford, is a biographer of Abe Lincoln and Jesus, and her mother, Elizabeth, wrote successful books about Churchill and Queen Victoria. Flora's Aunt Rachel Billington is a novelist; Uncle Thomas Pakenham published a book on the Boer War; Aunt Violet Powell, novelist Anthony's wife, is the biographer of novelist Margaret Kennedy and Aunt Judith Kazantzis is a poet. "I was used to my mother, grandmother and uncles and aunts shutting a door and coming out three years later with a book," Flora says. "It made me determined not to become a writer."
So much for determination. At 22, Flora shut the door, stayed behind it four and a half years and now emerges with Emma Lady Hamilton. The biography, to be published in the U.S. by Knopf next March, has been hailed in Britain as "authoritative" and "rip-roaring" and seems likely to put another Fraser on the best-seller list.
Flora is the second eldest of Lady Antonia's six children by her first husband, the late Hugh Fraser, who unaccountably never wrote a book. She made her no-writing vow at 13 and studied the classics at Wadham College, Oxford. While there she wed barrister Robert Powell-Jones. "I wanted to be a barrister," she says, "but my husband was already so advanced I felt I would always be behind." She tried the antique business instead, then took up teaching English to foreign students, which only "confused my sense of grammar." A stint helping her mother on The Weaker Vessel, a book about 17th-century women, introduced her to the joys of research, and a publisher suggested she try biography. "Once I thought of Emma as a subject, I knew she was right," Flora says. "Emma was quite a celebrity in her time, and her romance with Lord Nelson was one of the great love affairs of history. Some people even think she had a lesbian affair with the Queen of Naples."
Now at work on a biography of another spicy lady—Queen Caroline, the adulterous wife of George IV—Fraser is unfazed by charges that she is trading on the Fraser name. "It's snappy and I like it," she says, "and if it should help the book sell really well, I wouldn't mind."