Maggie Alderson, author of Shall We Dance?, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

by |November 5, 2010

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Maggie Alderson

author of Shall We Dance?, Mad About the Boy, How to Break Your Own Heart and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in London and brought up in deeply provincial Staffordshire. I loathed the smalliness of school and thank my parents for my true early education from the books, travel, cultural experiences, newspapers and outright nutters (their friends…) they exposed me to. My formal education didn’t really start until I got to the University of St Andrews. I have an MA in art history which is my proudest achievement (apart from my daughter). It was such a privilege to be part of that institution.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

A writer, a journalist, a magazine editor. I don’t feel I had any choice in it. There was nothing else I ever wanted to do except those things.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

The romantic notion of ‘The One’. There are an infinite number of ‘Ones’. It’s all down to which compromises you are prepared to make in favour of other qualities. I’ve always put a good sense of humour and a good sense of sex ahead of the bank balance in my choice of mates. (BBGuru: Reminds me of The Whitlams lyric – People say love only comes once in a lifetime – well once is enough for me. She was one in a million, yeah, so there’s five more just in New South Wales.)

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Anarchy in the UK’ by the Sex Pistols changed my life. Not to mention my hairstyle. I started my own punk fanzine which got me my first job on a magazine. The musical ‘Hair!’ which my mum took me to when I was 11 blew my mind and opened it to the glory of youth and freedom. I danced on stage at the end with the cast. In Birmingham. Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love showed me that a book can be screamingly funny – and deeply touching – a duality I have aspired to achieve ever since.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

See answer 2. I didn’t have a choice. I had to do it.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Shall We Dance? is the first novel I’ve written with two points of view – a 49 year old mother and her 21 year old daughter take alternate chapters. I loved writing the brattish kidult Theo so much. I was like that. A little shit. The book is about all kinds of relationships and friendships between different generations. And it’s set in a vintage boutique because I am obsessed with old clothes.

(BBGuru: The publisher’s description: Loulou Landers is about to turn forty-nine and she’s feeling seriously overlooked. She hasn’t had a relationship for twenty years, her 21-year-old daughter Theo is giving her the cold shoulder, and is that really a bunion making it so painful to walk, or is Christian Louboutin losing his touch? Theo can’t see what her mum is so hung up about. It’s only another birthday. And she has more important things to think about – mainly herself. For not only is Loulou permanently single, but so is Theo – despite her legendary good looks.

But over the course of a summer, everything changes. Two men set out to get both women back in the love game. The only problem is that both mother and daughter keep their burgeoning romances secret from each other. Because, in each case, there’s a thirty-year age difference. And that’s only one of the issues. Click here to order.)

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope that my books are a treat – a delicious escape like settling down with a box of chocolates and an old movie. I hope my readers will have laughed and been moved (see 4.) and maybe turned on a little. I also hope that the characters will live on for them as they do for me. I still miss Uncle Percy.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I have pathetic brainy girl crushes on Martin Amis and Peter Carey. I would clean their shoes. (BBGuru: Totally understandable, as pics show.)

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’d love to see my books made into films – as long as I could have script approval. Then I’d like them to be Oscar nominated so I could go to the Oscars in a fabulous frock and meet George Clooney. Well, you did ask…

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read and write. Read critically – that’s why I started my book blog, to make myself read in an active analytical way. And write every day. Don’t worry about the outcome, just write.

Maggie, thank you for playing.

Did you know you can follow Maggie on Twitter? Click here

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

Follow John: Twitter Website


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