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About Margaret Cook

Margaret was born in 1944 in South Africa to British parents, brought up in Somerset, and studied medicine at Edinburgh University in the sixties. Here she was active in student politics (including nationalism) and debates, where she met fellow student, Robin Cook whom she later married.

Margaret worked full time in NHS hospitals even while bringing up their two sons, and kept the household functioning while Robin pursued his political career at Westminster. She made her own career in haematology, taking a consultant's post at St John's Hospital, Livingston. Here she was an important factor (according to Tam Dalyell) in Robin's selection as Labour candidate for Livingston. She was also appointed Honorary Senior Lecturer in medicine at Edinburgh University.

With a full and busy life, the family began horse-riding on holiday in the New Forest, and continued in Scotland. At the same time Margaret took up the oboe, but quickly realised she had no time to do both these leisure-time activities. The horses won. In time the family would become horse-owners and compete in pony club and riding club activities; a down-to-earth world far removed from Jilly Cooper's glamorous and moneyed creations!

When Robin became UK Foreign Secretary in Tony Blair's government of 1997, the couple famously split as a result of the press 'outing' his affair with his secretary. Dragged unwillingly into the limelight, Margaret made the best of the catastrophe and became a writer. The rest is history, as detailed in her book, 'A Slight and Delicate Creature.'

Now retired and married to a very different Robin, namely Robin Howie, Margaret continues to find writing is something of an addiction; just like bird-watching, reading, gardening, painting and all the other manifold activities of their lives.

How I Got Into Writing

It is said that people who are avid letter-writers are potential authors. But letter-writing is a dying art, and so I hope that authors are not a dying breed.

Letter-writing certainly worked for me, although this is going back to a time before the Web and its numerous vehicles of instant contact took over the world; namely 1997 - when there was a revolution in British political life. The New Labour dawn rapidly went sour, especially for me. My then husband, Foreign Secretary no less, announced on the evening BBC News that our marriage was over.

The world is accustomed to male political high-flyers treating their wives with contempt, and I had an avalanche of letters from women who had suffered similar abandonment, although less publicly.

These letters expressed sympathy and solidarity, and told their own stories. I found them incredibly moving and soothing. I answered every one, and found it therapeutic to do so. I wrote by hand too, in those days before universal typing skills.

Margaret Cook

One letter in particular I remember so well; from the wife of a headmaster, whose entire life had revolved around her spouse. She lost not only her husband, but her identity, her home, her own role in life, her income, her social contacts; everything in fact. Even to me this felt like a smack in the solar plexus. I realised how much better placed I was to cope with the crash, having my own role and professional life, income, friends and support network. I have never forgotten this lady and wish I had kept in contact.

Since then I have always advised young women to keep a measure of independence in their married lives if they possibly can. I shudder when I hear some say with a smug smile - Oh it wouldn't happen to me!

But that's another story. I was sad when I ran out of letters to answer, which happened eventually. I began to write to the press. The press! That was a dangerous thing to do, rather like playing with a wild animal; enchanting at first, until it turns and rends you. My relationship with the media had ups and downs, especially with the publication of my memoirs which caused a veritable media storm, in the middle of which I sat at the mercy of snide and sardonic commentators. Generally opinion divided along gender lines. Establishment alpha males did not like seeing one of themselves exposed. Most women enjoyed the moment.

It's not easy to see your reputation shredded in a free-for-all that has scant regard for the truth and absolutely no insight. Yet so determined was I to write and publish the memoir, 'A Slight and Delicate Creature,' I would have done it even if it meant facing the gallows as a result. Greed or revenge, of which I was accused time and again, were not motivators, but a need to segregate fully from the man I had married and supported for thirty years.

Writing is a strange business. It rapidly becomes addictive, perhaps because it is the best way of discovering deep within yourself what you really do believe. And there is no doubt that I was not alone in dealing with a life crisis by turning to writing. To me now, the process is quite the most important aspect, not the publication, though that is desirable. I welcome the trendy, cool new enthusiasm for self-publishing that means you are not at the mercy of the whim, mood or prejudice of 'experts' in the book business. That is truly enabling.

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