Maggie O’Farrell: ‘It’s a relief to sink into someone else’s world’

In this episode of the Women’s Prize podcast, host Vick Hope is joined by the 2020 Women’s Prize Winner, and all round inspiration, Maggie O’Farrell. Maggie blew us away with her imaginings of Agnes Hathaway in her novel Hamnet , and she is the author of nine novels as well as the Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling memoir I Am, I Am, I Am. In this interview, Maggie discusses how she slyly encourages her teenage son to read, her experience winning the Women’s Prize, and how she finds time to read whilst writing. Maggie’s passionate and exquisitely phrased justifications are guaranteed to place these five book choices firmly on your TBR pile! Listen to the episode now >

Maggie’s new book The Marriage Portrait, telling the story of a 16-year-old duchess and her fateful marriage to the Duke of Ferrara, is out now and available to buy here.

Where the God of Love Hangs Out

A young woman struggles to come to terms with her friend’s murder; a man and his daughter-in-law confess their sins…

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“I find Amy Bloom a really forensic writer … I think she’s an absolute genius … This is one of those books I eagerly press into other people’s hands. She’s a real mistress of the white space on a page, the silences in a story.”

Flesh and Blood

Freddy thinks he has committed matricide, and his fantasies – or perhaps realities – become stories which twist back through…

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“I think it really is [a modern classic]. [Roberts] is often pushing the boundaries of what a narrative is capable of. But this book in particular, I think, is probably her most exciting … It ranges all over geography and all over history and the characters all hear each other’s echoes through time.”

Good Behaviour

I do know how to behave – believe me, because I know. I have always known . . . Behind…

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“Molly Keane is an astonishingly gifted writer of tragedy and also comedy and the fusion of the two … It’s such a strange and peculiar world, but she leads the reader into it by the hand. It’s a world of massive hypocrisy and also just emotional suppression, emotional illiteracy.”

The Yellow Wallpaper

It is stripped off – the paper – in great patches . . . The colour is repellent . ….

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“It was like being plunged into an icy bath – it was so shocking and so thrilling. The voice is instantly compelling and instantly intimate … It is an astonishing book about a woman being given the wrong kind of care … somebody who was just slowly suffocating by the wrong kind of love.”


Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late 14th-century chivalric romance in Middle English. The author is unknown; the title was given centuries…

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“The key thing for me is that this chivalric poem has, at its centre, a woman. The woman sitting by the fire is basically the key to the whole poem … If it was written by a woman, and I think it was, it was the woman having a bit of a laugh at the expense of all the men who think they’re really powerful and in charge.”

To listen to the full conversation and hear more about Maggie’s Bookshelfie choices, as well as some incredible insights into her writing process, listen to the full podcast episode here. For even more brilliant book choices, subscribe to the podcast to hear from other wonderful guests such as Aisling Bea, Minnie Driver and Malorie Blackman!

The Women's Prize Podcast

Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.