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It seemed certain that with the Garnett girls' gifts and background, they would make a mark in the wider world. Amaryllis left our school at 16 to go to Cranborne Chase, an exclusive girls' boarding school.

Her fees were paid by a rich American benefactor, who was an early Bloomsbury groupie.

As such, I gained an early insight into this set of eccentrics who continue to exert a worldwide fascination.

(Their country retreat, Charleston, in East Sussex, has become a heritage site and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.)Back in 1955, when Amaryllis and I met as classmates and became friends, the Bloomsbury Group was unknown — at least to the general public.

This was at a time when everyone went to church on Sunday.

Only slightly less shocking was the tight black jumper she wore, which I begged my mother to be allowed to copy.

The rest of the class stared as Amaryllis squirmed with embarrassment, but she had to get used to it, as there was plenty more to come.The following year, two more Garnetts came, the twins Nerissa and Fanny — who were tomboys without a vestige of femininity.The minute they got home they'd change out of their school uniform into trousers, which — shock horror — they even wore to parties.Their upbringing was wildly unconventional, and they looked set for great things.Yet, as it turned out, their lives were marked by tragedy, disappointment, debilitating depression and unfulfilled ambitions.

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