Shakespearean sisterhood: Maggie O'Farrell on Hamnet

The Women’s prize for fiction winner discusses plague and avenging Anne Hathaway

In the run-up to publication of her novel Hamnet at the end of March, Maggie O’Farrell bought herself a vintage dress. “There was going to be a party and a book tour and I thought I’d wear it to the launch,” she says. “I remember waking up that morning and seeing that Covid had reached Italy. I took it to the dry-cleaners and, five days later when I went to collect it, everything had been cancelled. It was a very weird and rapid turnaround.”

There were no party frocks this week either, when O’Farrell overtook five other writers – including Booker laureates Hilary Mantel and Bernardine Evaristo – to become the 25th winner of the Women’s prize for fiction. “I was totally gobsmacked. There wasn’t an atom of me that wasn’t surprised,” says the 48-year-old author from her home in Edinburgh, where she has spent much of the year locked down with her novelist husband William Sutcliffe and their three children.

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