Maggie O’Farrell is appearing at Alleyn’s School on Thursday 18th May at 7.30pm to chat about her most recent smash, This Must Be the Place – a dazzling, intimate epic about who we leave behind and who we become as we search for our place in the world. As the author of seven fabulous books, including The Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions for a Heatwave, shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award this is an event not to miss. Ticket are £10  Book tickets online at or pop into the bookshop on Calton Ave, in Dulwich Village.

The most famous person you’ve seen or met?

When I was around seventeen or eighteen, I was in Edinburgh one evening at the time of the Festival. I was sitting on the steps of a closed cafe in the Old Town when a man walked up the steps, to try the locked door. I say ‘walked’ when actually it was more of a glide, a float, a human glissando: something in the quality of this movement of his made me look up and pay attention. He was wearing a coat with the collar turned up and a woollen hat pulled down low on his forehead, and when he realised the cafe was shut, he turned around and I saw that it was Rudolf Nureyev. His face was gaunt and chilled – he was perhaps already unwell – but, seeing me looking at him, he shrugged as if to say, but this cafe is closed. I shrugged back, as if to say, I know, what can you do? Then he walked away, down the street, his long, muscular legs scissoring up the distance.

What’s your favourite place for a night out?

It would have to involve the cinema or Chinese food or friends. Preferably two of the three, in any combination. I lived in Hong Kong for a while, a long time ago, and I still miss the food.

Cafe, pub or bar?

Definitely a cafe. I used to work in a bar when I was younger and I’ve never quite got over the smell of stale beer. I work in cafes sometimes, when the house gets too noisy, but I can’t concentrate if music is playing. A music-less cafe is surprisingly hard to find. I have a mental map in my head of all the quiet cafes near my house.

Where’s your favourite place to walk?

Hill or beach? It’s a tricky conundrum. I find walking the easiest way to unwind, both physically and mentally. If ever I have a problem or conundrum to solve, I find a stride up a hill or along a beach usually helps. I like Parliament Hill or Richmond Park or the stretch of the Southbank between the Royal Festival Hall and the Tate always yields some interesting people-watching. Water is good: the coast of Dorset is a tonic, as is Pembrokeshire and the west coast of Ireland.

When I want to relax…

I don’t have much talent for relaxing. Whenever I get to the closing part of a yoga class where you’re meant to drift off into a meditative trance, I always tend to use it as time to compile to-do lists in my head. I am partial to a bath at the end of the day, as hot as humanly possible, seasoned with epsom salts.

What is your favourite shop?

It would have to be a clothes shop; I have long had a weakness for and obsession with clothes. One of my favourite places to buy clothes is Designs on Her in Hampstead. It’s a second-hand designer place. I love not only the amazing prices but also its unpredictability: you never know what you might find there.

Best bargain you’ve ever landed…

I once picked up a Marc Jacobs handbag at a carboot sale for two quid. I also once found some Ercol dining chairs in a charity shop. The handbag probably wins out, however.

My secret ambition…

to learn to play the accordion. I used to play the piano but I’ve let it lapse so badly that I can no longer bear to hear myself. So I’m planning to start on a new instrument, the accordion. It’s a bit more portable than a piano. I can only play one tune so far but you have to start somewhere.