She studied English Literature and Medieval Icelandic at Bedford College, University of London. Dr. Simpson has been, at various times, Editor, Secretary, and President of the Folklore Society. She was awarded the Society's Coote Lake Research Medal in 2008. In 2010 she was appointed Visiting Professor of Folklore at the Sussex Centre of Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy at the University of Chichester, West Sussex. She has a particular interest in local legends (as opposed to international fairytales), and has published collections of this genre from Iceland, Scandinavia in general, and England (the latter in collaboration with the late Jennifer Westwood). She has also written on the folklore of various English regions, and was co-author with Steve Roud of the Penguin Dictionary of English Folklore. She lives in West Sussex, England.
She has been a point of reference for Terry Pratchett since he met her at a book signing in 1997. Pratchett, who was then researching his novel Carpe Jugulum, was asking everyone in the queue how many magpie rhymes they knew; and whilst most people gave one answer – the theme from the TV series Magpie – Simpson was able to supply considerably more. According to Pratchett's version of their conversation, there were "about nineteen", but she suspects this is creative embroidery. Their encounter eventually led to collaboration.
- A Dictionary of English Folklore (with Steve Roud)
- Everyday Life in the Viking Age
- British Dragons
- European Mythology
- Folklore of Sussex
- Folklore of the Welsh Border
- Green Men and White Swans: The Folklore of British Pub Names, Random House Books (2010) ISBN 1-84794-515-5
- The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England's Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys (with Jennifer Westwood) Penguin (2006) ISBN 0-14-102103-9
- Scandinavian Folktales (Penguin Folklore Library / Puffin) with Caroline Gowdy (1989) ISBN 0-14-059505-8
- A Dictionary of Historical Slang (with Eric Partridge)
- Beowulf and Its Analogues (with George Norman Garmonsway and Hilda Ellis Davidson)
- Icelandic Folktales and Legends (Revealing History) 2nd Edition, NPI Media Group, (2004) ISBN 0-7524-3045-9
- The Folklore of Discworld (with Terry Pratchett)
Also cited for disclaiming theories proposed by Margaret Murray.
- Repentant soul or walking corpse? Debatable apparitions in Medieval England by Jacqueline Simpson
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