Long Story Shortish
I was born in London and brought up in Staffordshire. My dad was a doctor, my mum was a very glamorous charity fund raiser, town councillor, cook, gardener and hostess. She did yoga.
I have three older siblings, two brothers and a sister.
I read History of Art at the University of St Andrews. I chose the university because my mum and her mother’s family are from Fife.
I was a ferocious punk rocker and worked at an advertising agency in my gap year. I started my own punk fanzine and interviewed Paul Weller, Bob Geldof, Billy Idol and many others.
I’ve worked on the staff of nine magazines, editing four of them, and two newspapers.
For the last twelve years I’ve worked at home as a novelist, journalist and columnist. I talk to myself a lot.
I lived in Sydney for eight glorious years (I only went for two weeks…). I have joint British and Australian citizenship.
I now live in Hastings (known as ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’) on England’s south coast. I am married to a retired professional footballer who I met in Sydney. He’s from Belgrade, Serbia.
We have one daughter, who is now twelve and a cat called Gonzo who is a piece of work.
The Long Story
When I was about eight years old I was handing the peanuts around at one of my parents (many and fabulous) parties. I didn’t have to be pressed to do this. I loved chatting to people, looking at their clothes and smelling the ladies’ perfume.
God, they had good hair.
I clearly remember one old man (probably about 45) asking me:
‘Well, Margaret, what do you want to do when you grow up?’
I replied: ‘I want to write.’
I remember him giving me a funny look, which I interpreted at the time as something between how unusual and what a precocious little brat.
I didn’t care, it was all I had wanted to do since I was six and fell out of bed laughing when my dad read Paddington Bear to me – the bit in the café at Paddington station, where he gets on the table and slips on the cream bun?
I clearly remember having a blinding inspiration in that moment that every time I wanted to laugh like that I could just go to that book and read it again. The joke was embedded in there. What a miracle.
In the days before TV on demand, not even videos, there was nowhere else you could go to be sure of getting the fun hit you wanted. It was practically a national holiday in our house if we ever stumbled upon a cartoon on the telly.
So having discovered this reliable form of entertainment, from that moment on I was an obsessive reader. I had books from the library every week and saved all my pocket money to buy books and comics. Except the bits I spent on clothes for my Sindy and Barbie dolls.
If I wasn’t reading I was playing with dolls. Dressing them and creating a whole life for them. Barbie had an apartment behind the curtain under the washbasin in my bedroom. There were two convenient shelves down there which created snazzy mezzanine bedrooms.
I based it on the apartment in Rhoda, one of my favourite shows. Sometimes my brother’s Action Man came over. Oh yeah.
If I wasn’t reading, or playing with dolls, I was dressing up. We had a big playroom at the top of our house – a Victorian Tudorbethan monstrosity – with a vast old wardrobe in it. My mum had got it from an old dress shop. It had big sliding glass doors with huge drawers underneath.
It was stuffed with old clothes. Some of them very old. Edwardian petticoats, 1920s cocktail dresses, hats, gloves, fox furs. What a treasure trove. I’d spend days dressing up in it all.
One wet Saturday I got my Ladybird book The History of Costume and created every single look, making a Medieval wimple out of a wire coat hanger and a net curtain among other contrivances.
The other thing I did was draw pictures of ladies (myself as an adult) in outfits and create new ones for my paper dolls.
I occasionally went outside, but not if I could help it.
So if you combine years of reading and drawing, playing with dolls and dressing up and then at the age of 10 you pick up your sister’s Petticoat magazine something goes PING in your head very loudly.
From then on I wanted to be a magazine editor.
There was something else. My father was a great newspaper reader. He read his Times every day and always did the crossword. On Sundays he’d have the Observer. He’d sit in the conservatory reading it, while I looked at the colour magazine, which I thought was amazing.
The photos of the Vietnam war traumatised me, but greatly advanced my understanding of the big and real world.
I wanted to edit a newspaper magazine.
One day my dad was laughing so much at something he was reading in the paper he had tears rolling down his cheeks.
When he finished I picked up the paper to see what had set him off. It was Clive James’ column. It made me laugh hysterically too and from then on I read all the columnists in the Observer every week.
I worshipped Clive James and Katherine Whitehorn, but I wasn’t so keen on another one called Sue Arnold, who I found a bit me me me.
I wanted to be a newspaper columnist.
Sometimes I feel like the luckiest person in the world. I got to do all the things I dreamed of growing up.
I’m a full-time novelist with a newspaper column. I’ve edited a newspaper magazine and three glossy women’s magazines and worked on two newspapers. It was all just as great as I thought it would be.
I’m going to carry on dreaming big and see what comes along next.
Fancy a peanut?