On The Trail of Maggie O’Farrell

bhuna1On Friday night my OH decided to make a curry. I ‘live tweeted’ (!) this experience, as from starting to chop the carrots to his weary call of “Dinner’s ready” took 3.5 hours. I kid you not.

It’s my own fault, probably. For Christmas I bought him a subscription to The Spicery.

Every month he gets packs of spices (from the ‘Indian Restaurant Favourites’ selection) and a recipe for a curry. They have all, I have to say, been delicious but as they include all the ‘extras’ too (not the hot towels and After Eights, but things like pakoras and naan breads), they do take quite a long time to make…

We had Chicken Bhuna, vegetable rice, pakora, pooris, raita & tamarind chutney. Delicious!


This weekend I also had one of those heart-stopping moments (not connected to the curry, I hasten to add).

I was reading an interview with award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell in the latest issue of Writing magazine and she said that a turning point in her career was the encouragement she received, while writing her first novel, from novelist-tutors Barbara Trapido and Elspeth Barker on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank.

Wait a minute…! I went on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank, in the ‘90s (O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone was published in 2000, so the timing was about right) AND my tutors were also Barbara Trapido and Elspeth Barker!

Could it be that Maggie O’Farrell had been on the same week-long residential course as me, all those years ago?! Why could I not remember her?

I wracked my brains.

All I could remember about the course was sharing a ‘dorm’ with 3 other women (something I would never do now!*), and that one of the other attendees was a posh woman who boasted she could fly a plane and had been to school with Princess Anne. We were all rather mystified as to how she got a bursary to go on the course, as she was clearly loaded! She was also very rude to the guest speaker (“Don’t you think there are enough books about the Brontes?” she said to the man who’d just published a book about.. you’ve guessed it) and then she just up and left early one morning, without so much as a goodbye (and, significantly, before we could hear her read any of her work out that evening..).

I also remembered the rather eccentric but really lovely tutors.. but I couldn’t remember Maggie O’Farrell. What a missed opportunity, I thought! We could have become besties! (Not that I want to hang on the coat tails of successful writers, or anything..)

And then, in almost the same moment, I thought.. WAIT! She’s published 7 novels and won the Costa Novel Prize since that Arvon Course. WHAT HAVE I DONE?! (Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks like this).

So I started some research (because I’ve got nothing better to do). And in two interviews I read on-line, Maggie O’Farrell clearly stated that the Arvon course she was referring to took place in the winter. In one, it said it was in December, in another, it was in January. She remembered because she was so overcome by the encouraging comments from the tutors that she ran outside, ‘into the middle of nowhere and fell into a ditch at the side of the road. I was up to my armpits in frozen water. For a moment I thought, I am going to die here. I did manage to stagger out.’

I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the same course. Because mine was definitely in the summer. August, I think. Phew! I’m not quite sure why but just phew!

*don’t let me put you off Arvon! I think, now, the rooms are mostly singles.


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8 Responses to On The Trail of Maggie O’Farrell

  1. juliathorley says:

    Ah, men and their spices. i’ve spent many an hour scrubbing away at turmeric stains on the worktop.

    • To be fair (and this probably accounts, in part, for the length of time involved..!) he washes up as he goes along and doesn’t really make a mess! Which is amazing, I know. But thinking about it, perhaps I’d rather have the mess but the food slightly quicker!

  2. Sherri Turner says:

    You are not the only one who thinks like that. Most definitely not!

  3. Wendy Clarke says:

    I thought you were going to say that the rather rude, posh woman who disappeared would turn out to be the lady herself (not sure how that would likely!)

    • Wendy, I think Maggie O’Farrell is pretty hard to miss. She’s got lovely bright red hair and (I imagine) a strong Northern Irish accent. This woman definitely didn’t have either of those! Isn’t it funny how, after all these years, I still remember her (can’t remember her name but just her rudeness and her ‘attitude’!)

  4. At least you enjoyed the curry. It reminded me of the first – and last – time I tried to make an authentic Indian curry. There were dozens of ingredients in the recipe, including whole spices that had to be roasted and ground, I started on it when my husband and I got home from work (about 6pm) and dished it up just before midnight! It was horrible but we were so hungry we managed to eat most of it. Couldn’t get rid of the smell for days though!

  5. Patsy says:

    I don’t think you’re being fair on yourself for the ‘what have I done?’ comment, but it is a natural reaction.

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