« Desert Island Discs

Maggie O'Farrell, writer

2021-03-21 | 🔗
Maggie O’Farrell has written eight novels, a memoir and a children’s book. In 2020 her novel Hamnet won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and was also named Waterstones Book of the Year. Maggie was born in Northern Ireland. Her parents moved around during her childhood, and she grew up in Wales and Scotland. As a young girl, she was very ill and almost died from encephalitis. She says her lifelong love of reading comes from her long stay in hospital followed by an extended convalescence, when she missed a year of school. Her illness also left her with a stammer, which she believes has profoundly affected her relationship with language. She studied English at Cambridge University, and then looked for work as a journalist, writing poetry in her spare time. When she chanced upon a discarded computer, she decided to write a novel. She attended a creative writing course, where her tutors encouraged her to get her first manuscript published. She lives in Scotland with her husband, the writer William Sutcliffe, and their three children. DISC ONE: Elephant Gun by Beirut DISC TWO: Sit Down By The Fire by The Pogues DISC THREE: Lovesong by The Cure DISC FOUR: Chopin: Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31, composed by Frédéric Chopin, performed by Martha Argerich (piano) DISC FIVE: The Bends by Radiohead DISC SIX: Little Star by Stina Nordenstam DISC SEVEN: Feeling Good by Nina Simone DISC EIGHT: Prophet (Better Watch It) by Rizzle Kicks BOOK CHOICE: Selected Stories by Alice Munro LUXURY ITEM: National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Elephant Gun by Beirut Presenter: Lauren Laverne Producer: Sarah Taylor
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pvc sounds music, radio broadcasts, hallo unlearned event, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island for rights reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. mike the way this week is the writer maggie o Farrell she's, the author of eight best. Selling novels and her latest hamlet. When the women's prize
fiction last year. Hamlets tells the story of william shakespeare lost son who died when he was just eleven. It's the story of a life to true a death and its her first monkeys, hate memoir, I am I am. I am relates nineteen of her own brushes with mortality, including Our experience of childhood illness so severe, she was not expected to survive. It was this episode and the The period of convalescence that followed it that meet her gracious rita, even as an adult with books of our own to right, she can still get through four novels a week, her career as an old grew out of this love of reading and a desire to subvert the standard advice right, but you know she says you have to write. Satisfy some urging you to answer some question about something that you don't comprehend. I find I have right in our vacuum, where I pretend it's just for me: muggy, overall, welcome
The desert island discs. Thank you very much lower and my presumably novelists, usually or even if it subconsciously, of collecting and percolating ideas that might eventually turned into a book. How does that process work figure. When do you know that you're next book is starting to take shape? Why thing all books creep up on you today and I think you don't necessarily choose the books. I think the books choose you. I think the best you can possibly right is the one you can't not right is the one this demanding your attention, tugging your sleeve its hanging onto your coat. It's the voice that you cannot silence and you just can avoid. It does have to go with it. Working from home is the norm for you, but it must have been a big change, working from home under locked and with all the kids at home as well. How lockdown affected your working life this past year, or so it a challenge. I think not only finding sort of mental space right mercy to physical space. The right has been turkey
There were times particular over the summer where it was my husband's tend to be on the who's gonna thing, and I was too to, and in every ten minutes somebody come in adding to jump charlotte need a pen, they lost their pencil case. An utter was so desperate that point that I have to find. Some Michael need to concentrate what I'm doing, and I, up hiding inside my youngest daughter, wendy house, which is tiny even stand that black eye crashed- and I, with my laptop on my knee- and it was fantastic nobody family for about two hours per from the cat, and he did not disturb me of You going to share your disks with us today more bite to hear your first. Do you listen to music while you're writing, so I have to write an absolute total silence. I find any kind of tiny noise, even if it's the fridge making a slightly annoying hum save, but I see what I do is I use music as a sort of means to get me to the place of writing, so to allow my real everyday life to recede so use musica as a bridge in a sense between MA
cut it in well to my creative world. What I will do is play certain track over again, maybe for fifteen minutes or even half an hour or so well, I'm getting ready to write well with that man, I think, we'd better here, you're fast disk today. What have you chosen? This is elephant gum, bye, bye, and this is one of my favorite tracks of all time. I absolutely love- and this very is one of those bans- the eye, use again again when I'm getting ready to write. He hasn't achingly pure voice and the fascinating counterpoint, melodies and wait bills and the melody passes from one instrument to another absolute lovers.
Marge baby and elephants gun maggie feral hamlet is your most recent novel and, as I said it, when the women's prize for fiction, it was also water stones book of the year, but I know that interest in shakespeare, son first, but when you were a teenager, what happened so was studying hamlet at school. For my higher english and I was lucky enough to have an absolutely brilliant teacher at school, a coolness,
Henderson as well as teaches it completely changes the way see the world and you see lit a term. Was common can't do when he just mentioned passing one day? That's six beer at had a some called hamlet who had died for five years before shakespeare, wrote the play hamlet, the idea this lost some just really got under my skin. Gonna have a red clay memory of sitting in my very cold, a stream in scotland and looking down at the cover of the you know, school issue play and putting my finger over the owl unthinking. Will it the same name, and what does that mean in? I think shakespeare is he's such a mysterious figure tool with, despite all the amount of work we have of him in the brief moment of him, calling a play after his death some heat becomes briefly visible as a human being and the aims were used. Interchangeably at the time is right, yes, or they are completely interchangeable under
he's, which other an old us parish records of the time. So it is the same name because obviously it spelling Elizabeth in times when was it was a lot less stable than it is now time for your next, is today maggie what're we going ahead. This is sit down by the fire by the colleagues, and I knew I had to have some irish music in my mix, my parents, when we were growing up, they had an awful To this end, our spoke music in the house where the dublin, those in the chieftain and the transfer of some of my dad taking us to see the chieftains a couple of times this truck overseas. From my youth, this is from one was a teenager. I have strange memory of being in donnie goal being driven down a very particular cliff rode by my grandfather and me.
Cousin, I was standing on the back of the driver's seat with our heads the panel in the roof of some reason in my head. The decorous of this sort is playing a my gun photos take machine. He had on the package that we come up betray because I was probably five or six times, and this was because I was used. I just discussion a fallacy memory, but I think of you see something with this rhythm and this bait, I've always loved the way. May him is counterbalance with this. Finally calibrated emotions and music. The way the two can coexist exist in one song, one course. I guess I would love someone designed
when the books and sit down by the fire so muggy far You were born in northern ireland, but I know that you left there when you were to lift in south wales before moving to scotland. As a teenager, where, I wonder, do you consider home? Well, it's for you Not really sure would be the answer. I I consider myself to be a hyphenated person, so have dual nationality time, both irish and british. I feel island both, but also neither at the same time, so I got a very common feeling for anyone.
Who has the between different countries in your memoir? I am I am. I am you write powerfully. by the time you contracted viral and calculated as a young child. It was devastating struck out of the blue and you missed of school and spend a very long time after that convalescing. When you look back to that time, What do you remember most? Anyone who's being through us illness will know that you are in a sense one person for it and you. But the other side, as somebody else, you are reconfigured in its a bit like passing through a fire you essentially the same person, but you ve been taken apart and put back together again, and so you say you will feel completely different I don't really have much of a son the child. I was before actually because I I was just eight when I became ill and when I from it. You know when I was probably able Again. I was pretty ten rising eleven you describing in your memoir overhearing
a nurse outside the door saying that you gonna die. We odin to reflect on that and process that at the time my first thought was that she was meaning somebody else, and I remember thinking that poor little girl is not helpful. And then, of course, when the nurses in the room with me looked at me and I saw the look on her face, I realised that it met me and I think my first thought was. I felt a bit stupid. I thought will of course it What else does all this mean? What else does this breyman isolation mean? I've got all this equipment around me. Of course, its may, of course, I'm dying. I think any kind of brush with mortality does change you. I think you come back from the brink, a different person every single time, whether it's a major event like my and catholic us away it's a minor than to notice, perhaps almost stepping up the curb the wrong moment it. You are always going to be
wiser and santa person. When you come back from the brink, because you have stead into the abyss- and you can't ever forget that you might pretend you forgotten that we you sick, I don't think I'm fine I'm carrying on, but it's still there still lodged inside you. I've always thought let my life was a kind of bonus there I was living a borrowed time, or that I was sitting on a cheated the universe in away sign. I was going to leave the biggest and the best life I possibly and within or abandon mutations. I've been given one on that. Now I think we better we'd better here your next track. What's gonna be, this is love song by the queue I was really fortunate I came of age at a time when there was a huge explosion of the any music seen. This is unsuitable. Eighteen and early nineties so used to listen to John peel sessions and ice. lots of bans live and the nautilus thing I ever did When I was a teenager was that I told my parents, I was spending the night at a friends house, but actually I got the train to manchester
could not go. I couldn't bear the fact that this is all happening in this one night club and I have been so I did go to the happy and artistic was absolutely worth it. My parents. Still do not know that I went to the hacienda and in fact they are listening, which they probably will at some point. This would be the point they find out. Firstly, the killer: love song so maggie feral, I know that your perception of the world around you and your movement through is still affected by
the childhood illnesses that you went through. What does that mean for you during your teenage years? I have a slight inhibited pro perception, which means I have very little sense of where my body is in space, where my limbs are so, for example, sitting here. I wouldn't be able to pick up my water bottle without looking at it. I have to really look I'm in my hand, because I moved from wales but then, when I was fourteen suddenly realised. When I did that I could be somebody else, people my knee school in a new country- didn't need to know that I had been the girl who had been in a wheelchair and in hospital in very severe video, and I could reinvent myself has just somebody who is just very clumsy reading about sport. often not things over their school had really messy handwriting. I feel I can leave the let behind me and be somebody new, and I think, as a teenager I really believe that, but of course you can't can you because it's not something you can have. It is its party. I say
susie I must go system is not very strong, nor have they must escalator promised, but it's all such small I see when he consider what I avoided. So I I absolutely have They re strong sense and always have had of being incredibly lucky. I feel as though I have I've won thousand lotteries, because I can walk around and I can pick of a pandemic right- am I can live an independent life because it was not with given to me. You experience, also left you with a stammer now many stammers describe that the fact that it leaves them with an excellent vocabulary facility with words, because the trying to avoid the signs that trip the mob was not the case for you. Actually, I think in some ways being stemmer has been one of the most formative things I think in my life, it's really hard to scratch in how horrible it is not to be able to speak in so many ways in a socially it's awful, it's terrible,
school even now you know I've had speech. Therapy is an adult because doing things Elsa's every single option in life. You know, with your friendships and with you, academic work with the job that end up doing in ireland the bing really shocked when I had written my first novel, never cut me. The practical over would involve- and I public speaking dynamism, saying: ok, now you than to do a public reading, and I thought I cannot do that turkey rat in outer space to be sitting. Make it my really might be doubled in your garage. Still to my man took so much nearly it's the most in thing. What it does give. You is a very, very finely tuned hypersensitivity, two words and also grandma, even as await a young child a summer. It will be able to think of five different ways to save it. I think so that you can avoid your potential minefield letters or sounds or words as a young
how'd. You learn to become your own. and you're doing on the spot in your head all the time. It's time here. Ex piece of music? What are we gonna hear dissonant before so this is a sketch number, two in beef, let minor by chopin- and I used to play this on the piano. I played a comment when I was a teenager and this was the place I always wanted to play, and I would add that of a bar at a time It's hard to halt peace to do until I could play it. I remember reading loving the labour of it and when I think that now is actually the labour of learning. Something like this piece is similar to writing a novel. It's just step by step by night and it's a very long road and I think to get to the end of the road. You have to be a bit of an obsessive, any have to be that of a protectionist. So I
In a sense, the skills that I learnt from playing the piano and working on pieces like this stood me in good stead being a novelist
chopin skirts number two in be flat minor performed by me. two operates. So You follow you studied english at cambridge was being writer already or ambition when you applied its money, I don't think I have ever can I do to myself or anyone say that I wanted to be a writer. I think that the two separate things I wanted to write definitely- and I knew that, but the idea of being a writer is something different. I caught member, time when I didn't have the urge to put something down on paper to transpose experience or ideas or imagination into texts on a page. As always fascinated me even as a young child, and I have no books from when I was five or six. It is clear that I wanted to write the right stories and write things down. So what we are plans. leaving university. Then my plan a was to become a journalist but ass. She went
graduated- I didn't know what I was doing. I was twenty one and I had an english to gain. It was the middle section and less to say that when you know employs when exactly queuing up to read my tv at hong kong, that seemed like a good option. Am I to english there and did various things? I was white tourism and I ended up working on computer thinking and I should say that a minister tab I did actually lightly into the us to be. I know about computers I had never actually touched one until I got to the office on the first day when I've been given the dull and then I thought I sat down, I didn't know how so who helped you that day. I dunno, I asked one of my colleagues I did. I never use this model. Can each area without as this ever speak learning curve. So that was my big time. I feel a need to find a job that is as close to writing as I possibly can find, and then I will do my plan was to write in the evening and weakens, which is what I did,
I think my twenties as this period of total chaos and is certainly very erratic. You know I'm member moving from one didn't dingy agreement a flat to another, and just you know, trying to persuade adults that you could do something and could they please pay for it in its hard at your next disk, MIKE you found December I feel that this is the bends by radiohead and this I'm a huge radio had. Finally, it was hoping, and eventually claude my way into it often dependent on sunday, and I was the editorial system on the arts and books desk, which meant I got laid free books and I also was able to get tickets lots of gigs. I did go coil of radiohead earthquakes and love
the people which was fantastic. How album radie reminds me of travelling on the two to work on my twenties, and I would listen to this on my son. You workmen, and it just brings back that time may have what it felt like it was incredibly exciting is at last I had a job that felt as I was, somewhere at very low down the food chain, but I'm still working on a newspaper that came out and occasionally I would have a tiny, tiny byline would just my miss after an album review or something, and that was that was very thrilling when you're twenty
saved gas radiohead the bends mug. You follow you ve, written that all fiction is a bit of a poem says two things that you may call for things. He borrow things that you observe and other people and things actually that happen to you. I wonder what
friends and family are often looking full or finding themselves in your in your work and if they do, they tend to get it right. Well, I don't, I don't really think of us off an autobiographical writer oversee my memoirs was sculptured, say better in terms of fiction. I like to think of fiction as an alternative world. Really not one method of writing will, as it is an alternative. It says. Escape innocence Paolo world. But I think in a inevitably- and I think that there are things that will feel threatened from your real life, so I dont be that kind of omnivorous writer, who was this ok cannibalism right at his eating, other people's lives and put them on the page, but I think it is, I think, is owed for people who know you well to weed you'll novels, because in a sense they can but the joins they can see. I know my husband has read books of mine and he says he'll be
Is it a floating around like any thinking? This is a novel and then suddenly turned a page and he found himself in a scene house or in a moment that he remembers from his life. It is its inevitable and on I think, any writer, they never reasoning from their own life is probably lying. You Are we to a writer william circle? If you met at university- and I know that you would just friends for a long time- you keep it cast of williams teeth in your office. Just don't pick up on ass, I do guess. I don't really have many tell us money objects in my office by do have a cost,
why the tea, when he had made one of those, would you call em gum seals? The sport is quite sporty on. Let me also, then he had this two elder to have it maybe had these thus set of dental plus the cause of his teeth made, and he was about throw away, and I can't have it, and so I have it next to my desk, because he is my first meta. He was the first person who eat anything. I write and vice versa, but having their remind him is he can be quite hard critic and its good. That's what I need, and so there have been times when he has read the first draft one my novels, and he said: well, it's not bad uribe. Half of it, and often one of the things he said to me is tends to kind of eta anything that he thinks he's too supernatural. When I'm about to write something- and I think that sounds good- that sounds good and then centre like glance over the teeth. I think ass. You know what I'm doing honey to cut hacking is gonna, get us those maps,
gonna get those teeth. It gonna want at the time of your next disk mugging. What's number six and wisely chosen it today, seven excellent is little store by steam. Enormous come on this. song. It really reminds me at sea, the particular flattened island than when I was about twenty five or twenty six. It was very small flat in a kind of a blue and I said it was wonderful, butler, seven other girls, I sit in the living room, she had her bedroom, but it was a great plant, my loved it. and somehow it reminds me of life becoming a little bit settled after a very unsettled sort of mid twenty times. And it was around the time I got together with will so it mine's me what it was like to fall in love with someone with a clue. Friend someone, you know, you already know very well Hi satan.
travel to see you steam in those- stem and little star, so You tell me low little bit more brightly described the idea of life coming together after court chaotic period now, let us start to settle in things begin to co here. So I started work in On sunday when I was about twenty four and while I was doing this writing poetry. Actually I wanted to be a poet, so I was going to eat losses given by the irish american hurt Michael donkey, who is an absolutely burden teacher, so is right, here, poetry and then it was. I went slowly friend of mine and his mother
is throwing out when there's really big, that of brick, like apple max three original ones, and it just sitting by the front when I walk past it several times and events? Yes it. How can I borrow it and she said showing berwin for as long as you like, so I take it back to my flat and I just started writing a novel assumes. I had a key and a computer. I dunno what was of something about the rhythm of it, the just unleashed the system long form prose instead of poetry, a night. I never put you again and I started writing what became my first book, sir. I was writing that it it felt like what I really wanted to do. What was the process Actually getting you work out therein and sharing it with people and taken a feedback like will it had a few poems published and I was writing a little bit of the newspaper, so there were some things out there, but actually, I think, really changed for me was I went on a course on the
I'm foundation and I was probably about twenty five at this point and I had in about twenty thousand words were I to time thought was my first job, as well as its total dogs in and out ass. What it was. So I went on a writing course about not writing my hand in this. Twenty thousand worse, I consider it was not bad prose and the two cheetahs I was taught by else with backroom bob to Peter they sent me. We like to talk to you, a nice instantly thought gotta think will ever threatened. Is so bad again asked me to leave. So I went into the library of this the oven foundation centre in Yorkshire, whether courses and they said to me- I think you need to carry on- we need to finish it and when he finished it will show it to. Our ancient would weaken here next monday. So this is a song I have play throughout my love
but particularly I associated with being any mother. I used to put some in the early morning when you have those very very brutally early starts when you ve got a very tiny baby answer. This is feeling good, bye, newness of mine, and I used fun nina and her voice is to turn those awful mornings around for me since set of feeling completely Very little sleep and adorn awakening, you have this song, which is just about the keen joy of existence a celebration of being alive against all odds and of new starts, so it always makes me happy, and it takes me back to that very rule and beautiful, austin having a tiny baby. see you.
And be mean Simone feeling good, so monkey feral is almost to cast you away to a desert island. I wonder whether there are any aspect of being marooned thought you might be looking forward to the thirty gripping a bit subdued, but of a long time wouldn't be thing, but I would find hard. I will miss out on the chat on some of the people ass, he loved chatting. loved her to my friends and I love overhearing chant the kind of thing
of hair on a bus or in a cafe things that people say to each other. I think I love the sounds in the solitude forbid, and then I will start to mister what about your survival skills taught me through them. You got a lot of resilience on on the practical side, I'm really unpractical, you know I have two left hounds really, if that I think billing shalt I'll be absolute useless, rang a deep I'm a bit of a permanent love lighting fire. So I will definitely be up that I love swimming as well. So hopefully, formed as I once I can do some swimming in case. As long as you can swim and then there's a fight, keep you warm afterwards I'll, be sorted and just have to endure the red, or almost time too, and you there, but before we do one more disk if he would monkey what ve chosen few final selection today. But this is a lesson for my children, so my some seventeen is a big rap fan and I don't love all of it, but I do love this
I really love that moment when you tiles passions and curiosities will start to rub off on you. This is one of his wrath things that it is possible him to listen to, while his youngest, mrs, around his sisters are quite a bit younger than him since quite a bit of his rep playlists. That is not act quantum assistance- and this reminds me actually most of all of being in the car, with all three of my children so last summer, when was ending, we had a tradition of one hopes getting so for the day we would drive to the beach man, three kids and his sisters. I would always ask him to put this on and its profit by the riddle kicks and when I hear this manoel on went as ireland. I'm gonna miss my children in an absolutely visceral, painful This reminds me of being in the car with all three my children singing along to the royal kicks, and I just know when it happens that I had very strong sense that I am living in a state of grace. Pocket
what is worse than it is now they want to be. When I get my god why you have waited until we can kicks and profit maggie, followed its time to send you away to the island. I'm gonna give you the by on the complete works. If shakespeare to take with you, you can also choose one of the book to accompany you. What will not be open agonising over this question, laurent making long lists of all my favorite knows, but actually what I had decided on as Alice Monroe's selected stories. She has.
an absolutely extraordinary scale sentence by sentence? I think what I love most of all, is the generosity she says towards her readers and she gives in forty pages what novelists would spread her over four hundred. So I think this collection will sustain me on an island, because it gives me such a multitude of voices and lives. Sheer density, I gotta. Ok, you can also have a luxury item to make life, more bearable localities? Could I please have the national museum of eyes? I don't agree. So can I just have the archaeology department on kill desperate to please at this? is it a very handsome building. I haven't seen it. It is an amazing building, a polite in building with the zodiac and full court with the loss of differ. marble columns. It is an absolute and I I, museums and whenever I am travelling when I used to travel, I always make sure
go to museum and wherever I am others a small time where there is a big city, and this one is my favorite museum, anywhere in the world. What I love about most of all, probably is the fact that a lot of the artifacts and the treasures are found, not my archaeologists, but my farmers, hoping digging on their land and it gives me an enormous sense of the overlapping stories of history and the long span of human narratives there, the iron age bog bodies here, which are the tribal sacrifices, easier, chieftains or kings because of bad harvest, there's a lot of prehistoric, irish gold as viking, artifacts and there's the logan canoe, which is this enormous, his age long, but which I have a really strong memory of seeing as a child and desperately wanting to touch. I think I find it a very important when I'm on my does, owing to think about how long humans have been alive and also how important is that we do all we can to ensure that we continue.
Well, you be pleased to hear that there is substantial precedent for giving away the vienna in the past. We have done a couple of times, so this particular wing That museum can be yours. Thank you. So much that's gonna help enormously and fight really which one track what you saved from the waves, if you have to that so far, but I thought It would have to be elephant on by beirut. Why? Because that is the one I love the most and that's the one that would help me the most to think. If I'm feeling lonely or feeling uninspired cause, I'm going to need to write. I get things right ongoing time and I think the beirut will help me exit My desert island, if I need to mentally and and take me to another place, you have to find thanks to write em, but as you not building a shelter, you'll have plenty of time to enjoy a written, send my gear pharaoh. Thank you very much letting us here your does island discs. That's my pleasure. Thank you for having me
hi. I really We enjoyed that interview with the right to make EU forum, and I she's happy on the island pottering about in her museum. We ve many writers await the desert island. They include edna, o brien, Ziyadi smith, Margaret outwards, marian keys and martina cool, and he could find their episodes in a desert, island discs, programme archive and three bbc sense. Next time. My guest will be the psychiatrist professor Simon Wesley. I do hope. You'll join us I want to tell you about. Evil genius takes the shout. We take legends and I comes from history, everyone from him, the eighth ganley richard prior mary stoves, doktor Zeus, and I have a panel of funny people. At the end of the lively mind, tennis, they must vote able for genius, cancel mother teresa, ok,
suits, and I have a panel of funny people who had gathered around my desk, subjected to a risk factor bombs with. You'll things about their he arose. I don't want to hear that the end. the lively mind, tennessee famous boat evil for genius. Okay, subscribe to. Evil genius on BBC sounds
Transcript generated on 2022-06-05.