Authors pay tribute to beloved book publicist Margaret Daly
Pen portraits of a wise, no-nonsense PR gem, always with a cigarette and a bag full of books
Margaret Daly in her garden at Lullymore Terrace, Dublin, in 2006. Photograph: Frank Miller
The news came in, as it so often does these days, via Twitter. Margaret Daly, former publicist for Little, Brown and then Hatchette, beloved by both the writers she represented and the journalists she worked with, had died after a short illness.
“Badass,” was the first word that came to my mind, when I thought of words to describe Margaret. It’s the least literary word to describe a woman whose life’s work was promoting literature, and yet I think she would have loved it.
When I started working as a reporter, I interviewed a lot of writers, back in the days when British publishers routinely sent their authors to Dublin. This practice is a lot less common these days, when “phoners” have to suffice instead. Margaret was representing authors from Little, Brown at that time, and her interview venue of choice was the Lord Mayor’s Lounge in the Shelbourne.
I arrived a few minutes late one morning for my interview with one of Margaret’s authors at the Shelbourne. I was never late for interviews. Apologising to them both, I explained that the hotel doorman had objected to me locking my bike to a pole on the footpath opposite the entrance, and told me to move it and lock it further down the street, out of sight.
Margaret rose from her chair like an avenging angel, arching magnificent wings. She was a slight woman, but in that moment, she was a giant. She marched straight over to the hapless doorman, who had no idea what he was dealing with, and told him exactly what she thought of the hotel’s policy for treating those who were visiting guests. She did not hold back. I remember some line about if I had turned up in a Porsche or a BMW instead of on a bike, they would have bent over backwards to park it for me. That her authors regularly stayed in the Shelbourne and gave it good business, and that she expected better from the Shelbourne staff.
I and the visiting author – who of course I cannot now remember – were absolutely agog at this scene. The doorman came over to apologise to me, Margaret virtually holding him by the scruff of his neck. I accepted his apology. Entirely appropriately, it all felt like a scene from a novel.
I returned many more times to that hotel for many more interviews, and locked my bike to the pole opposite the entrance, and the door was always held wide open for me thereafter.
This is what Margaret did for all us arts journalists and writers. She made us feel respected. That what we did mattered. That we might be young freelance reporters, or first-time authors, but what mattered was the work we did, not the status that society conferred on us. Thank you, Margaret. You were truly badass, and we loved you for it.
John Connolly, author
I loved the fact that her omnipresent bag appeared to be related to Doctor Who’s Tardis: it could contain a seemingly infinite supply of proofs and finished books in a very small space. Mention a book, and she’d produce it.
She left phone messages for the ages, lovely rambling creations that took in one’s family, pets, health, career, and whatever else might strike her as worthy of praise or mention, before finally, just as time was running out – or even after it ran out, necessitating a second message – sharing the reason for the call. She would then end with “It’s Margaret Daly”, as though it could possibly have been anyone else. I loved her. She made me feel as though I was the only writer that mattered in the world. She made every writer with whom she worked feel the same way.
Kathleen MacMahon, author and broadcaster
When I first met her I was impressed by how grounded she was, maybe because she was always weighed down by multiple bags of books, but she had great ballast in a world that felt very flighty. “Always keep a copy of the book in your handbag,” she told me, “you never know who you might run into.” She would take no credit for any publicity she got for you: “A good book,” she would say. “A good book does my job for me.” Praise from her was like praise from your favourite teacher, perhaps because she didn’t do flattery. She was wise and warm and delightfully un-literary. She was one of the special people.
Charlie Connelly, author
She asked me to meet her in the Merrion Hotel one morning to go through some publicity ideas for a book I had coming out. It was about 9.30 in the morning, Margaret had ordered us a pot of tea and some pastries and we were the only two people in the whole place. I felt very grand. After a few minutes a proper old-fashioned gentleman of the road wandered in, threadbare suit, flapping shoes, long matted hair and beard, string holding up his trousers. Despite every other table in the place being empty he made a beeline for Margaret and I, sat down with us, reached into his jacket, pulled out a bottle of red wine and plonked it on the table. Nobody said a word. Margaret looked at him, looked at me, looked at the bottle of wine and said, “It’s a bit early for me, but if you’d like some tea I’ll ask for another cup”.
Patricia Scanlan, author
Margaret was the publicist for Poolbeg Press. They were publishing my first novel City Girl and she and my then sales and marketing manager, Breda Purdue brought me to lunch in the Burlington to form a publicity plan and itinerary. Margaret was a small, wiry, effervescent woman with an infectious laugh. She smoked non-stop.
We would base ourselves in the Shelbourne and do interviews every hour on the hour. I had never, when writing my novel, even considered that I would have to do publicity for it. I was sick with nerves.
Margaret accompanied me to every interview.
“I’m nervous, Margaret. Do I really have to do it?”
“No one is interested in your nerves,” would come the brisk response. “They’re only interested in City Girl. Don’t call it my book. Name it so it sticks in people’s heads.”
As my knees shook going into studios, photo shoots, interviews etc., Margaret would always say: “Remember you couldn’t pay for this publicity. A 10-second ad would cost 10K.” And the big grin, after a deep inhale of her fag: “Think of the noughts at the end of your royalty cheque.”
She hated airs and graces, and treated everyone she met, from the highest celebrity to production assistants, all the same. No one fazed her and no one could deny her.
Sheila O’Flanagan, author
My abiding memory is of Margaret driving me to my very first interview at RTÉ. I was still working at NCB stockbrokers at the time and she said she’d pick me up outside. I was there waiting when a Mini tore up Mount St and screeched to a stop in front of me. Margaret leaned out, fag in her mouth, and ordered me to jump in.
I had to move a miscellaneous pile of books to sit down and then we took off at 100mph. She kept turning to me and telling me that whatever else I said, I was to say the name of the book. I was so terrified at the drive that I forgot to be terrified at the interview. But I remembered to say the name of the book.
Peter Murphy, author
When I first encountered Margaret Daly as a green young journalist in the late ’90s, she already seemed to belong to another age. She was dry and funny and down to earth and she knew exactly what she was talking about. She smoked on the phone – you could hear the pause as she took a drag while filling you in on the details of some incoming writer’s schedule. She stapled actual typed amendments to press releases. She was supportive and no-nonsense and completely unfazed by some of the larger than life characters she represented.
She also gave me some shrewd advice shortly before the publication of my first novel: “Forget flowers or presents or any of that stuff. If your friends want to do something nice for you, get them to buy the book.”
Sinéad Gleeson, author
If I think of Margaret, it’s always standing outside events: smoking at the door of Hodges Figgis, or huddled in the smoking section holding forth in a vaporous cloud. A consummate smoker, she had a conspiratorial and mischievous way of wielding a cigarette like no one else I know.
Another regular prop was a tote bag slung over her shoulder, from which she would produce an endless supply of books, slipping them to you on the street if you happened to bump into her. Margaret loved her job as a book publicist, and was sometimes endearingly scatty, but had a knack for sidling up to you, paperback in hand, to declare, “Now, you’ll love this”. And she was frequently right.
Edel Coffey, former books editor of the Irish Independent
When I took over as publicity manager at Hachette, after Margaret retired, she gave me great advice that helped me find my feet in a new and busy position but one thing that struck me in her handover was her genuine concern that the “less influential” people on her mailing list would continue to be sent books. Some were young journalists working for small publications or websites with little clout, some were elderly parents of authors.
She had a great sense of responsibility for them all, and she was at pains to make sure that they wouldn’t suffer or feel any loss upon her retirement. She was a brilliant champion of young journalists too, and gave me and many of my peers valuable encouragement early on in our careers.
Bob Johnston, owner, Gutter Bookshop
I’m a huge David Sedaris fan but couldn’t get to see him when he appeared at Listowel a few years ago, but luckily he was doing an event in Edinburgh that happened to coincide with our holidays in the Highlands so we booked tickets. It was, of course, a brilliant show and at the end we queued to get our books signed and when we got to the front I gushed how much I loved him and how I owned a bookshop in Dublin and I hoped he would come back to Ireland soon.
His immediate reply was “Do you know Margaret?” Of course I was “Yes! I love Margaret, I see her all the time” and David Sedaris said “I adore Margaret, she’s the best woman ever, send her all my love” and that’s how I bonded with David Sedaris over Margaret Daly.
Heidi Smith, buying manager at WH Smith, Ireland
As a young bookseller with a huge passion for books, I was taken by Margaret under her wing. From launch parties we soon branched out into theatre going. Alegendary publicist in a seemingly constant cloud of cigarette smoke, she was a dear and loyal friend when I was starting out in my career.
My most cherished memory started with a phone call which began with “Blur? Do you like them?” I said an immediate yes, as I was a huge fan. Margaret then explained that Alex James was over for a PR tour for his book Bit Of A Blur and invited me to drop over to the Shelbourne the following day with any stock we wanted signed.
Lugging the box across town was well worth it as not only did we get our stock signed, but I got to spend time talking books with Alex James who was utterly charming. When Margaret popped out, possibly for a cigarette, Alex turned to me and said “she’s marvellous, isn’t she?” How right he was.
Reposing at Fanagans Funeral Home, Lower Kimmage Road from 5pm to 8pm on Friday, April 26th. Funeral Mass in St Teresa’s Church, Donore Avenue on Saturday, April 27th, at 10am.Burial afterwards in Fingal Cemetery (take the R123 off Malahide Road at Fingal Memorials opposite. Eircode D17 DR58). Family flowers only please. Donations in lieu, if desired, to Camphill Community, Ballybay, Co Monaghan.