An interview with Maureen Duffy



In spring 2019 we were lucky enough to talk to Maureen Duffy FKC (English, 1956), poet, playwright and novelist. In celebration of LGBT+ History month we’re re-sharing her interview, where Maureen shares insights into her time at King’s and writing her first novel.

Maureen Duffy FKC (English, 1956) is a poet, playwright and novelist. Alongside her writing, she is celebrated for her activism on a wide variety of causes, from animal rights to LGBTQ+ causes and authors’ rights. She holds many positions of note, from Vice President of the Royal Society of Literature to President of Honour of the British Copyright Council. She was made a Fellow of King’s in 2002.


‘I had applied to Oxford, but was unsuccessful, and one of my teachers wanted me to go to Royal Holloway. But King’s, being in the centre of London, right on the Strand, settled it for me. I found a little two-room lodging with two elderly ladies that was very cheap, which was important, but also I could get the train from there straight to the Strand.’

Getting a place on a chosen course and finding somewhere to live are the first challenges to tackle but starting the course itself can prove to be the biggest test.

‘The very first language lecture we had, the lecturer came in and announced, “You must all lose your accents”, which was such a blow. We came from all over the country, all different backgrounds. Of course, we did as we were told, but it was a bit of a setback. I found it reasonably easy to make friends, there was a little group of us that knocked about together. We were rather a poncey lot and we insisted on wearing gowns! We found that some of the staff were really quite elderly but, in contrast, there were also two very young assistant lecturers from Cambridge, Mark and Molly. They brought a very lively, more expansive way of teaching with them. They were favourites amongst us.'

In time, Maureen found that there were many opportunities to take advantage of at King’s. She published numerous poems in Lucifer, the student magazine, and went on to take the role of Sub-Editor there. Writing became her primary focus and, in her third year, when not studying, she began writing plays. However, just as students do today, she also needed to work to supplement her income, and took a job in an electronics factory. Her day job inspired her, and prompted her to write Pearson, a drama set in contemporary London with characters reflective of London’s growing diversity. Maureen entered the play into the City of London Young Playwright’s Award, and, as a result, was asked to join the legendary Royal Court Writers’ Group. She went on to write several more plays, but her early success proved hard to repeat.

‘It was almost impossible for a female playwright in those days, and eventually a publisher said to me, “You keep writing these plays that nobody wants, why won’t you write a novel and I’ll publish it?”. I’d never attempted one before, but, at that point, I’d been thinking about my life, and if there was a reason why I was gay. That formed itself  into an idea, and I said to him “if I did write a novel this is what it would be about”, and the said “oh go on”. Well, he didn’t know if I could write a publishable novel, neither did I! So I wrote That’s How it Was.’

Her first novel was a success, and was closely followed by The Microcosm, set in the now legendary lesbian nightclub, the Gateways. As the first female public figure to come out as gay, Maureen has long been lauded for her work as both an LGBTQ+ writer and campaigner. In 2014, she won the Icon Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement from Attitude magazine in recognition of this. Maureen is currently working on her next novel.