Daisy Chain

Maggie Ritchie

10 September 2021
Headshot of Maggie Ritchie.

With a father employed by the British Council and a mother who found it difficult to pursue a teaching career, Maggie Ritchie’s early years were ones that exposed her to a world packed with possibilities – but suggested that the options for women were limited.

Raised in many countries, such as Zambia, Venezuela and Spain, she was eventually settled into an Edinburgh girls’ school at the age of 16 by her Scottish parents and soon set about carving out her own distinctive path through life.

This led to a career in journalism, putting herself in the midst of the macho world of 1980-90s Scottish newspapers. And she thrived.

Yet since childhood Maggie had always yearned to write novels. At this year’s Wigtown Book Festival she will be discussing her third, called Daisy Chain, which was published in June.

Given her background it is perhaps not surprising that her books frequently feature determined female characters who are seeking to live the way they want to in times and places where the odds are stacked against them.

The origins of Daisy Chain go back to 2010 and a visit to an exhibition of work by the Glasgow Girls at Glasgow School of Art.

It had quite an impact. Maggie says: “I was blown away by the art, the different artefacts and all the stories really behind these women.”

Eleanor Allen Moore particularly caught her attention as someone who was “quirky and interesting”, travelling with her family to Shanghai in the 1920s where she painted anything and everything from street scenes to the inside of opium dens.

The story Maggie ended up writing is an historical novel that follows the fortunes of two friends from Kirkcudbright (a spiritual home of the Glasgow Girls), Lily who wants to be an artist and Jeanie who dreams of being a dancer.

The book takes readers to Glasgow (a city mixing grandeur and wealth with slums and disease) and to the even more extreme environment of Shanghai where rich American and British expats enjoyed exclusive, hedonistic playgrounds, while many Chinese endured squalor in districts dominated by criminals gangs and drugs.

Maggie’s journalistic background has ensured that she is thorough in her research, and she followed in Eleanor’s footsteps with her own trip to Shanghai, parts of which still have resonant echoes of the colonial era.

The need to recreate worlds with different technologies and attitudes can make historical novels especially challenging. Maggie says that the level of research she feels is necessary to get it right means she always swears she will never write another.

But it seems that the lure of the past is ultimately irresistible as her next novel will be set in the Scotland of the 1950s.

If you would like to hear more from Maggie Ritchie, be sure to book tickets for her Wigtown Book Festival event here. You can purchase a copy of Daisy Chain from our online bookshop.