Maggie O'Farrell

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Maggie O'Farrell
Born1972 (age 45–46)
Coleraine, Northern Ireland
ResidenceEdinburgh, Scotland
Alma materEmmanuel College, Cambridge
SpouseWilliam Sutcliffe

Maggie O'Farrell (born 1972) is a Northern Irish novelist. Her book The Hand That First Held Mine won the 2010 Costa Novel Award.[1] She appeared in Waterstones' 25 Authors for the Future.[2]

Early life[edit]

O'Farrell was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and grew up in Wales and Scotland. At the age of eight she missed a year of school due to a viral infection,[3] an event that is echoed in The Distance Between Us and features heavily in her memoir I Am, I Am, I AM[4].


She has worked as a journalist, both in Hong Kong and as the deputy literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. She has also taught creative writing.

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.[5]

Personal life[edit]

O'Farrell is married to fellow novelist William Sutcliffe, whom she met at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. They now live together in Edinburgh, with their three children.[6] 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".[7]

In 2011 she contributed a 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.[8]

Awards and honours[edit]



  • 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)


  • I Am, I Am, I Am (2017)


  1. ^ Derry-born author wins Costa prize. Irish Times, 4 January 2010.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Kean, Danuta (2017-03-24). "Maggie O'Farrell memoir to reveal series of close encounters with death". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-10-03.
  5. ^ "Maggie O'Farrell: Teachers would say 'Are your family in the IRA?'". The Irish Times. 23 June 2016.
  6. ^ "Meet Maggie". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  7. ^ Day, Elizabeth (23 February 2013). "Maggie O'Farrell: 'My writing is tougher and much better since I had children'". The Observer.
  8. ^ "Why Willows Weep: Contemporary Tales from the Woods". Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Derry-born author wins Costa prize". The Irish Times. 4 January 2010.
  10. ^ Mark Brown (26 November 2013). "Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2013.

External links[edit]