Maggie Alderson on perfume and new book The Scent of You

The Mead School in Tunbridge Wells gave a professional level performance in the  ISA drama contests

Journalist, bestselling author and current Wealden Times Editor Maggie Alderson tells Eileen Leahy all about her latest novel, The Scent of You, and how her personal passion for perfume inspired it

They say everyone has a novel in them, but in journalist Maggie Alderson’s case she has had plenty. The former Sydney Morning Herald and Elle Editor has penned 12 over the past 18 years, and that’s in addition to her day job as a successful columnist and editor.

Since she wrote her first book, Pants on Fire, in 2000 – when in Australia – Maggie has won international acclaim with a collection of absorbing reads with subject matters and titles as diverse as Mad About the Boy, Gravity Sucks, Shall We Dance? and Cents and Sensibility.

‘Writing suits my adrenaline-addicted journalist brain,’ states Maggie, who has worked on nine magazines and contributed to numerous newspapers over the past two decades.

Yet despite being used to writing to deadlines and fashioning feature articles, she admits that starting out as a novelist wasn’t all plain sailing.

‘I secretly wanted to write a novel but I felt too scared,’ she says. ‘Fiction is very different to feature writing, so I took an evening class in creative writing at Sydney University to boost my confidence.’

That was 18 years ago, when Maggie was a successful columnist on The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. It’s also where she met her husband, a Serbian football player with whom she has a teenage daughter.

‘I was able to take a six-week sabbatical from my day job to do the fiction course. I then found the book easy to write, completing it in six weeks. I don’t procrastinate, in fact I have to slow myself down, so now it takes around four to six months to write the first draft and a similar amount of time editing it.’

Maggie says she still ‘makes the same mistakes’ with her books, such as ‘not working out historical timelines or people’s ages’, but every one she writes has something to do with what she has personally experienced.

Her latest tome, published last month, is entitled The Scent of You and focuses on the power of perfume and how scent isn’t just something you spritz on or smell on someone.

‘Fragrance association with times and places is also really powerful,’ says Maggie.

‘Ever since I was little, I have always adored perfume. My mother had a dressing table full of fabulous flacons. Without realising it, I honed my appreciation of fragrance by comparing all the different perfumes my mother had and forming associations with each one.’

She cites examples like associating Easter holidays as a child with the fresh green soapy notes of Diorissimo by Christian Dior, and parties with the heady scent of Fracas by Robert Piguet, heavy with tuberose and white floral accords.

Although Maggie is reluctant to give too much away about the essence of the plotline, what I can tell you is that it centres around fragrance fanatic and blogger Polly Masterson-Mackay.

As well as her olfactory obsession, Polly teaches yoga, has two grown-up children and is happily married to David – or so she thinks, until one day he announces that he needs some space and promptly disappears.

The book opens with Polly alone on New Year’s Eve, lying in bed trying to fathom where and why her husband has gone.

‘Essentially, it’s a story that explores life, love, loss and forgiveness,’ reveals Maggie. She says that Polly ‘thinks in perfume’, so as well as being a very engaging and enjoyable read, its unique edge is that it’s also a highly sensory one.

Maggie, who lives in Hastings and is currently editing lifestyle magazine Wealden Times while the Editor is on maternity leave, admits she has drawn on her own relationship with scent to ensure Polly’s character comes across as a genuine fragrance fiend.

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