Glossy Talk: Maggie Alderson on feminism, CLEO and her final column for Good Weekend

Glossy Talk: Maggie Alderson on assorted things: feminism, CLEO, royal weddings and her final column for Good Weekend

Maggie at her book launch in Surry Hills, Sydney c/o
When we caught up to talk shop about her new book, Shall We Dance, which should definitely be made into a movie starring Emma Thompson (as Lulu Landers) and Keira Knightley (as her daughter, Theo), Maggie Alderson had some very interesting things to say about editing CLEO, feminism and motherhood. 

So with her final Good Weekend column appearing this coming weekend and a royal wedding on the agenda, I thought it time to let Maggie loose on GWAS. Here goes...

I feel personally involved in the Royal wedding, as I went to the same uni and did the same degree as [William and Kate] – just 25 years earlier! I knew the exact house they lived in. I’ve met them both and they’re lovely. So far she has managed to stay grounded – her family help with that, I think – and I so hope she is able to hold on to that.

I have to be honest, though, and say I’m glad it’s not my daughter. Seeing that almost unbearably iconic ring on her finger vividly brought back all the tribulations his mother went through. But I loved Will carrying it around Africa in a backpack. He is so determined to be normal, despite his insane fate of birth, I think they will be OK.
I was acting editor of CLEO in 1993/94 while Lisa [Wilkinson] was on maternity leave having her first son. I was deputy editor from May, then acting editor for however many months she was off, then I was deputy again. I was there a couple of years in total and it was so much fun. Then I was made editor of MODE. I did that for just over year, then The Sydney Morning Herald rang me and I joined them as a Senior Writer.

I have a slight sense of guilt about CLEO. I was at the height of my own sexuality – in the mid-30s, sex becomes very important which I’m sure is biological to make you have babies. I got all caught up in that and I did some pretty crude stuff. And I feel in retrospect it was a bit irresponsible. So now I’ve got a little girl of my own, the thought of her being brought into that world… I’m a little bit more conservative now about that sort of thing.


Maggie and Peggy c/o The Daily Mail
I’d made decisions in my life that led me to the point of being 39 years old or 40 years old, and I hadn’t had a child. I tried to get pregnant for five years, and was just at the point of getting IVF. At the same time, a friend of mine in New York was having IVF. She was older than me and she was doing it with a sperm donor. And she was going sadly insane with hormones. I just felt, it’s not for me.

I’ve got lots of friends who, for whatever reason, haven’t had children – some absolutely chose not to, some couldn’t, some left it too late, some married men who already had teenage children and didn’t want to have more. On the whole, they are absolutely happy with their decisions and they have amazing lives. So it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have children.

But there is never a right time to have a baby – that old cliché – just the same as there’s never a wrong time. I'd made a decision to lead an incredibly fully life without a child and then along came Peggy. I fell pregnant at 43. I'm so grateful. I was incredibly lucky.


It’s not a dirty word to me; it’s the most important thing, the most shaping thing of my life. And it makes me really sad to think young women say, “I’m not a feminist, but…”. Well, actually, you are a feminist, or you are reaping the awards of those who were brave enough to say they were.

One of the things I love about Australia is feminism is much more out and proud here; it really is a dirty word in the UK. But I think you need it more here; Australian men are much more sexist, in all honesty. One of the things I noticed when I moved here is that men and women are much more separate in Australia. They live parallel lives, which I think goes back to convict days. I’ve thought about this a lot. In the UK, men and women are much more mixed; we’re comfortable with each other.

The pay disparity between men and women in Britain is as bad as it ever was. That film, Made in Dagenham, has just come out – the one where the women strike over pay – we do [have equality] in legislation, but in real life we don’t.

However, I do understand there are genetic imperatives that make women’s professional needs different to men’s. And I am a bit old fashioned about very little babies needing to be with their mothers. I’m very fortunate because I don’t need to go into an office. When [Peggy] was very little, I was with her all the time. And then we had a nanny who would come to the house – but I would be there, so I would always have my meals with her, but I was always there. And my husband shared it with me equally. I still think I was away from her too much as a baby because I used to go off to the fashion shows and be away for five weeks of the year and that was too much.

Women who are the major breadwinners and have to go to an office nine to five, five days a week, I think that is really hard – I don’t judge them if they have to put their baby into childcare, but I’m glad I didn’t have to do it. I don’t know what the answer is.

I think having them in your 30s is wise. In your 40s, it’s a lottery – not only might you not be able to conceive, the odds of having a child with a chromosome defect just get... It’s like backing a Melbourne cup favourite, the odds just get ridiculously short.


Image c/o The Paris Apartment
I’ve just formulated recently that I actually like clothes, rather than fashion. Fashion has become such a crazy consumerfest and I’m scared by my own lust for stuff. I’m an incorrigible shopaholic – I LOVE stuff. Such beautiful shops everywhere. But fashion seems to be a wheel that’s spinning faster and faster to get us to buy more.

I love vintage, and that’s why I set the book in a vintage shop. I will get just as much pleasure buying an old vintage scarf as I would buying this season’s bag. You assuage your guilt about having given in at Primark by buying vintage pieces that you know are ecologically sound. To me they go hand in hand. In the UK there’s a great premium on being an individual and you’re respected for having your own style yet within it mirroring the big trends.

I went to the shows for many years and it was exciting to see new ideas, or old ideas reinterpreted. Doing the shows was fun – it was worth it for, particularly the Alexander McQueen shows I saw, Prada shows, Tom Ford for Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent… You really did come out feeling uplifted. It was an artistic experience. Like an amazing dance performance, you just felt enriched for having seen it; just marveling at human creativity. 


Maggie's book-filled bathroom c/o Real Living
When I’m writing a book, I have a separate office outside the house, which is just for writing books. I had to separate it from home because at home there’s always washing to hang out. I’m not a procrastinator – I don’t lie on the sofa and watch telly, I’m much too terrified to do that. So I have this little separate room that’s only for fiction. I don’t have an internet connection. I have my music and my tea, I take my little carrot sticks and my oat cakes in there to stop myself buying biscuits. I do my yoga and I go up to my office and I’m there from 9 till 5. And I write my journalism at home. But I’m about to change that…

Reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, has made me decide to do it the way he does it; to write 2000 words a day and then stop. I think he’s right – I spend too much time on my own. So I’m going to write 3000 words a day and then allow myself to get out and about and see people. I was getting really isolated.

Living in this seaside town and working on my own made me go a bit introverted, which is against my nature, so I need to change my life a bit; so I’m actively trying to get out more. It gets easier to stay in. I’ve started doing this drawing and painting course and it’s so good for me. I’m with people and I’m using a different part of my head.


It’s pretty much what I’ve already said on the blog, although I wrote the column first, because at that stage it wasn’t public. Really it’s for all my lovely older readers who aren’t on the internet. I am really sad I’m abandoning them. Mind you, I had a lovely email from an 80 year old man just yesterday, telling me how much he loved the column.

See also:
Maggie Alderson to pen final column for Good Weekend
Maggie and Gret Don't Do Sex

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Angela said...

Oh thankyou Erica for this today, and thankyou Maggie for so many brilliant years of GW. x

xenien_x said...

You have to wonder how many of the major British glossies (not glossips) will run with a Kate Middleton cover in the next couple of months...maybe all of them??

Shauna said...

Swoon! Fantastic interview... thank you :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Erica,

Thanks for posting this interview. I always like to read about how other people work as writers.

I started a novel this year and I've always trying to create a life-writing balance.

I don't like to be in front of the computer all the time.


Anonymous said...

I think "A" would like this as well