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
Dressing up

Dressing up

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.

Always reading

Always reading

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.

Park House, where I grew up

Park House, where I grew up

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.

My darling dad, a great consumer of newspapers

My darling dad, a great consumer of newspapers

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?

  • Jane
    April 2, 2015

    What a lovely story. Not many of us are lucky enough to grow up and do what we dreamed of doing. Oh, and I quite like your house!

    • maggie2015
      April 2, 2015

      I was so happy when my brother found these old pictures on slides in an old box in my mum’s garage. Dear old hideous Park House was knocked down years ago (sold to developers by the people who owned it after my parents) and it made me very sad, so it was lovely to have a picture of it. It was hideous but I loved it with all my heart.

      • Dee Frankish
        May 3, 2015

        Hi Maggie .. this is so nostalgic. I remember you being at school in Stone with my sister, Fionnuala (Fini) O’Donnell. I’ve lived in lots of places but am now back in Stone and I think Park House was the last of the glorious Victorian family homes to succumb to the developers’ diggers.

        I’m sure I have an image in my head of Nick sitting on a wall at the end of your fabulous long driveway, strumming his guitar but then I question the image because most of the boundaries of the ‘big houses’ were hedges. Memories are funny old things!

        Do you remember the Fields, who lived further along Lichfield Road, nearer to toewn Sally Lewington too … in what was then a trendy new dormer bungalow?!

        Halcyon days to be sure!

  • Bron
    April 2, 2015

    What a great read Maggie! I am in Melbourne, Australia and share your love of this great country.. Loved your photos – what an amazing house you grew up in!

  • Sarah
    May 1, 2015

    Maggie, I’ve read your books since I was a teenager – you were no doubt part of the reason I became a writer myself. Would love to see you write your Autobiography – the above alone suggests it would be a marvellous read.

  • FF
    May 14, 2015

    love this!

  • bonniecat
    May 17, 2015

    As an occasional contributor to your blog, just wanted to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed reading Secrets. So contemporary, encompassing all the difficult issues of the mid twenty-teens(the date, not the age!). What a pity there was not a photo of the final family reunion/joyous Xmas gathering. Looking forward to your next volume! PS – I bet that Joy knows all the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven (as I do), but I must confess I am a bit reluctant to embrace crystals, homeopathy & the like, but there is a slight interest in Yoga – perhaps we are kindred spirits (&most certainly of the same generation!))

  • Wilma
    October 18, 2015

    This weekends “Age” 17/18th. Actress has her shoes down at her feet, Man is holding a microphone

  • Jodie North
    February 2, 2016

    Hi Maggie
    I do generally love your stories…in fact I am re-reading Cents & Sensibility for about the upteenth time. I always find them stashed around the house- and pick them up just to flick through or read a few words and that all it takes for me to start reading them again. They are just an easy lovely read and oh so much better than the house cleaning (which is what i am usually distracted from) So I do hope that at this time I am distracting you from talking to yourself ; ) You also entertain me regularly on Sunday’s with your editorial in The Age. So thank you for your continual entertainment. Although – I do believe I require a follow up on how Jay and Stella worked out – maybe you can mark that as a future book. I will keep my eye out for it. Much love. x

    • Maggie
      March 29, 2016

      Thanks so much Jodie. I’m glad you like Stella and Jay as they are two of my favourites. I have a clear picture of them in my head – happily ever after! xxx

  • Lyn Shelley
    February 12, 2016

    So lovely to read your story, happy tale! I’ve read most of your books… Most more than once and look forward to the latest I haven’t read. xx

    • Maggie
      March 29, 2016

      Thanks Shelley! I’m writing a new one at the moment, which is why I haven’t been posting on here, but I’m going to get back to it soon – I miss it.

  • Nicole
    June 27, 2017

    As a collector of Ladybird books I was glad to see that you mention the ladybird book about costumes. Those Ladybird books were really great. You mention also the need to communicate with other humans. Have you thought about the problem of a common language? English is not really suited as an international language as it is really time-consuming to learn it if you want to go beyond the basics. Even native English speakers have problems with spelling for example! Have you looked at Esperanto? It has no irregular verbs, phonetic spelling, etc and it is used much more widely than many people assume. We need a fair way to communicate internationally.

  • Rosemary
    October 3, 2017

    Hi Maggie,
    Just finished The Scent of You. Loved it… we are moving after 27 years in fabulous old home, so your book was a wonderful antidote to all the boxes and chaos!

    When I was at university in the late 60’s I had a tweedy medico friend, (just a friend !) who’s scent used to have a huge effect on me. It took six months to get to the bottom of it all… he was doing a term at the local hospital in Paediatrics, and used to wash his hands with Beale’s Baby Soap before he left and returned to college. It was the same soap my mother used when I was a baby!! The nose never lies! No wonder I received such crossed messages of love and safety when I was with him!

    I don’t think you can buy the soap any more… I used it for my three and loved it.

    You book has made be braver in exploring a wider range of delights!
    Thank you, I am seeking a new one for the new stage in my life, after the Move!

  • Lucy
    November 28, 2017

    Hi Maggie

    I’m writing to you from The Old Rectory in Hastings on behalf of Tracey-Anne. We’ve recently opened up our Treatment Rooms in the hotel and would love to invite you to the launch evening next week. I’d be grateful if you could send me an email address I can send the invite to. It would be great to meet you!

    Kind regards


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