Maggie O'Farrell

Maggie O'Farrell (born 27 May 1972) is an Irish-British novelist. Her debut novel After You'd Gone received international acclaim and won the Betty Trask Award.[1] Her later novel The Hand That First Held Mine won the 2010 Costa Novel Award. She has twice been shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award - for Instructions for a Heatwave in 2014 and This Must Be The Place in 2017.[2] She appeared in Waterstones' 25 Authors for the Future.[3] Her memoir I am, I am, I am: Seventeen Brushes with Death reached number one in the Sunday Times Bestseller list. Her novel Hamnet won the Women's Prize for Fiction in 2020.[4]

Maggie O'Farrell
Maggie O'Farrell.jpg
Born (1972-05-27) 27 May 1972 (age 48)
Coleraine, Northern Ireland
Alma materNew Hall, Cambridge
Genrefiction, historical fiction
SpouseWilliam Sutcliffe

Early life and careerEdit

O'Farrell was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and grew up in Wales and Scotland. At the age of eight, she was hospitalised with encephalitis and missed over a year of school.[5] These events are echoed in The Distance Between Us, and described in her 2017 memoir I Am, I Am, I Am.[6] She was educated at North Berwick High School, Brynteg Comprehensive School and New Hall, Cambridge (now Murray Edwards College), where she read English Literature.[7]

O'Farrell has stated that, well into the 1990s, being Irish in Britain could be fraught: "We used to get endless Irish jokes, even from teachers. If I had to spell my name at school, teachers would say things like, 'Oh, are your family in the IRA?’ Teachers would say this to a 12-year-old kid in front of the whole class". "They thought it was hilarious to say, 'Ha ha, your dad’s a terrorist'. It wasn't funny at all". "I wish I could say that it’s [less common today] because people are less racist, but I think it’s just that there are new immigrants who are getting it now". Nevertheless, not until 2013's Instructions for a Heatwave did Irish subjects become a part of her work.[8]

O'Farrell worked as a journalist, both in Hong Kong and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. She also taught creative writing at the University of Warwick in Coventry and Goldsmith's College in London.


O'Farrell has written numerous successful novels, including the Costa-Award-winning The Hand that First Held Mine, and received widespread critical acclaim for all her books. Her work has been translated into over 30 languages. Her novel based around Shakespeare's family, Hamnet, was published in 2020.

In 2011 she contributed the short story "How the Oak Tree Came to Life" to Why the Willow Weeps, an anthology sold to fund the work of the Woodland Trust, which planted five trees for each copy sold.[9]

Her 2017 memoir I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen brushes with Death deals with a series of near-death experiences that affected her and her children.

Personal lifeEdit

O'Farrell is married to fellow novelist William Sutcliffe, whom she met while they were students at Cambridge. They live in Edinburgh with their three children.[10][11] She has described Sutcliffe as "a huge influence", saying, "Will's always been my first reader, even before we were a couple, so he's a huge influence. He's brutal but you need that".[12]

Awards and honoursEdit



  • After You'd Gone (2000)
  • My Lover's Lover (2002)
  • The Distance Between Us (2004)
  • The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (2007)
  • The Hand That First Held Mine (2010)
  • Instructions for a Heatwave (2013)
  • This Must Be the Place (2016)
  • Hamnet (2020), Penguin Random House ISBN 9780525657606


  • I Am, I Am, I Am (2017)


  1. ^ a b www.fantasticfiction: Maggie O'Farrell Retrieved 11-06-2019.
  2. ^ Derry-born author wins Costa prize. Irish Times, 4 January 2010.
  3. ^ A list of emergent promising British & Northern Irish writers of the 21st Century who they believe will go on to produce the most impressive body of work over the next quarter century. Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "Maggie O'Farrell wins Women's prize for fiction with 'exceptional' Hamnet", The Guardian, 9 September 2020.
  5. ^ Sale, Jonathan (17 May 2007). "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Maggie O'Farrell". The Independent. Archived from the original on 26 May 2007.
  6. ^ Kean, Danuta (24 March 2017). "Maggie O'Farrell memoir to reveal series of close encounters with death". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 October 2017.
  7. ^ "O'FARRELL, Margaret Helen, (Maggie)". Who's Who. 2019 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  8. ^ "Maggie O'Farrell: Teachers would say 'Are your family in the IRA?'". The Irish Times. 23 June 2016.
  9. ^ "Why Willows Weep: Contemporary Tales from the Woods". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  10. ^ "Meet Maggie". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  11. ^ Kiverstein, Angela. "William Sutcliffe: Imagining Gaza in London". Retrieved 2 November 2019.
  12. ^ Day, Elizabeth (23 February 2013). "Maggie O'Farrell: 'My writing is tougher and much better since I had children'". The Observer.
  13. ^ "Derry-born author wins Costa prize". The Irish Times. 4 January 2010.
  14. ^ Mark Brown (26 November 2013). "Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  15. ^ "O'Farrell wins 2020 Women's Prize for 'Hamnet'". Books+Publishing. 10 September 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020.

External linksEdit