In the latest episode of C&TH’s Break Out Culture podcast, Charlotte Metcalf and Ed Vaizey chat with acclaimed novelist Maggie O’Farrell on seeing her novel, Hamnet, brought to life on stage – plus so much more.
Interview: Maggie O’Farrell
In the latest episode of Break Out Culture, award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell talks to us candidly about her life as a novelist since she first published After You’d Gone 23 years ago. She tells us how she started writing, her inspiration for Hamnet, and her most recent published novel, The Marriage Portrait.
Looking back on getting her first novel, After You’d Gone, published, O’Farrell says: ‘There’s never really a straight line between starting to write a novel and finishing one, and even between finishing a novel and publishing a novel. So [the manuscript] was sent out I think to five or six publishers, and they all said “no”. And then I spent another year rewriting it and redrafting it, and then eventually somebody did pick it up then.’
She also describes what it was like to watch Hamnet at the RSC and The Garrick, where Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of the novel is now playing and breaking the theatre’s box office records. ‘I think she’s done an amazing job,’ O’Farrell tells Break Out Culture. ‘It was an extraordinary phone call to get, certainly. I remember my agent calling me up and saying, “The Royal Shakespeare Company have been in touch and are thinking of making a play of Hamnet”. And we had this conversation back and forth about what it meant and what it would be like, and at the end of the conversation there was a long pause and she said, “So, do you want to say yes?”. And I said, “Oh, sorry, yes! Did I not say? Definitely! Yes please!”.’
O’Farrell also tells us about how she’s been shaped by suffering from viral encephalitis as a child and her 17 near brushes with death, recounted in her autobiography I Am, I Am, I Am.
The episode is a fascinating insight into the mind and working practices of one of our most popular novelists, and you can tune in below (or click here to find the episode on your preferred platform).
Hamnet is running at The Garrick Theatre until 17 February 2024. nimaxtheatres.com