Book Festival: Maggie O'Farrell

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell is a remarkable novelist with a fresh, distinctive voice and visual imagination. She has meticulous attention to detail for period, manners, language and social milieu. With novels like “After You’ve Gone” and “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox”, she enjoys creating a double-edged plot divided by time and place, drawing characters together through love affairs and family drama, past and present.

Her new novel, “The Hand that First Held Mine,” is set in both the 1950s and the present day, comparing the lives and loves of two young girls.  After a short reading to introduce the characters, Maggie describes how she was fascinated by the Bohemian, artistic community in post-War London. She immersed herself in the fashion, literature and arts world to re-imagine the social life, people and places of that time.

Escaping her family home in Devon for the excitement of London, Lexie is advised to always wear a girdle, carry an umbrella, and not to go on the tube or visit Soho.  In contrast, in a present day setting, another theme is about motherhood, the problems and pleasures of caring for a young baby.  Maggie herself has two young children, which she admits creates a difficult juggling act between motherly duties and finding time and space to write. Her son once put a cardboard box over her head to make his mother “ stop thinking”! 

Questions from the audience were mainly about finding ideas for novels and how the plot develops. Maggie explained that her new novel changed during the writing process, with the narrative unravelling like a puzzle worked out backwards. 

There was also an interesting discussion on the fact that about 89% of the audience were women, so it was fascinating to hear from a male Book Club member, amidst the predominantly female crowd, about his views on reading novels by women writers.  A most enlightening hour in the company of one of Britain’s finest literary romantic novelists.

Maggie O’Farrell – “The Hand that First Held Mine”, (Headline Review)