Margaret George is a rolling stone who has lived in many places, beginning her traveling at the age of four when her father joined the U.S. diplomatic service and was posted to a consulate in Taiwan. The family traveled on a freighter named after Ulysses' son Telemachus that took thirty days to reach Taiwan, where they spent two years. Following that they lived in Tel Aviv (right after the 1948 war, when it was relatively quiet), Bonn and Berlin (during the spy-and-Cold-War days) before returning to Washington DC at the height of Elvis-mania where Margaret went to high school. Margaret's first piece of published writing, at the age of thirteen, was a letter to TIME Magazine defending Elvis against his detractors. (Margaret has since been to Graceland.)
But it was earlier in Israel that Margaret, an avid reader, began writing novels to amuse herself when she ran out of books to read. Interestingly, the subject of these was not what lay around her in the Middle East, but the American west, which she had never set foot in. (Now that she lives in the American midwest she writes about the Middle East!) Clearly writing in her case followed Emily Dickinson's observation "There is no frigate like a book" and she used it to go to faraway places. Now she has added another dimension to that travel by specializing in visiting times remote from herself.
Neither of these horse sagas got published, but the ten-year-old author received an encouraging note from an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, telling her she had a budding talent but should work on her spelling.
It was also in Israel that Margaret started keeping land tortoises as pets, an interest which she still follows today. She had a great affinity for animals and nature and that led her to a double major at Tufts University in English literature and biology. Following that she received an MA in ecology from Stanford University---one of the earliest departments to offer such a concentration. Today she is active in environmental and animal conservation groups.
Combining her interests led her to a position as a science writer at the National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda, Maryland for four years.
Her marriage at the end of that time meant moving, first to St. Louis, then to Uppsala, Sweden, and then to Madison, Wisconsin, where she and her husband Paul have lived for more than twenty years now. They have one grown daughter who lives in California and is in graduate school.
Through all this Margaret continued to write, albeit slowly and always on only one project at a time. She wrote what she refers to as her 'Ayn Rand/adventure novel' in college and her 'Sex and the City' novel in Washington DC. It was in St. Louis that she suddenly got the idea of writing a 'psycho-biography' of Henry VIII. She had never seen such a thing done but became convinced the king was a victim of bad PR and she should rescue his good name. Her background in science meant that only after thoroughly researching the literature and scholarship on Henry VIII would she embark on the novel itself. She sought the guidance of a Tudor historian at Washington University for a reading list, and proceeded from there.
It was actually fourteen years between her initial idea and the publication of THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF HENRY VIII. The book made an impression for several reasons: first, because no one had ever written a novel sympathetic to the king before; second, because it covered his entire life from before birth until after his death, making it almost a thousand pages long, and third, because it was so fact-filled.
Following Henry VIII in 1986, she wrote MARY QUEEN OF SCOTLAND AND THE ISLES (1992) and THE MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA (1997.) Now MARY CALLED MAGDALENE is published in June of 2002, to be followed by HELEN OF TROY in 2006. THE MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA was made into an ABC miniseries in 1999, starring Timothy Dalton and Billy Zane. It has been translated into thirteen languages, including Finnish and Korean.
What started as an offhand idea has blossomed into a way of life---becoming a biographer and spokesperson for those whom history has misunderstood. She chooses people that appeal to her rather than having a specific agenda, but because of the years of intense scholarly research required, she must limit herself to subjects either in the ancient world or in renaissance Britain.
Each subject leads her to explore places and meet people she would not have access to otherwise, and that means that each book is an adventure in itself. For example Margaret has a collection of vintage posters from Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra," including one in Czech.
Margaret is not home as much as she would like--- despite a life of travel she really likes being at home---but when she is home she likes to pursue her interests in tortoises (she belongs to the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society), as well as archaeology (she is a member of the Archaeological Institute of America), movies (the Wisconsin Screenwriters Forum), photography and outdoor activities.
Margaret's family is of Scots/English/Irish background; one branch were Quakers who came to America in the early 1700s. Finding no land left in Pennsylvania they migrated south through the Cumberland Gap and settled in Tennessee and Kentucky. Another side of the family settled in Mississippi. The patriarch of this branch was known as "Hard Money Scott" because he always demanded cash for purchases and paid in hard cash himself. Supposedly Tories captured him during the Revolutionary War and held his feet over a fire to get him to reveal where his money was hidden, but the old skinflint refused and ended up with burnt feet but with his Scott Treasure intact. He had buried it near Scott's Ferry in South Carolina and the family legend is that it's still there. Today it's under a dam. If it's there at all…
Margaret was born in Nashville, Tennessee. Her parents shared the love of words, ballads, and story-telling associated with the south; her father came from a town near Oxford, Mississippi, where Faulkner lived and wrote "the past is never gone, it's not even past"; using language well and fancifully was a way of life there. Margaret's father was an eloquent speaker and writer and when she read Cicero's description of Caesar's writing---'his vocabulary is so varied and yet so exact' she knew he could have been describing her father as well. She dedicated MARY QUEEN OF SCOTLAND AND THE ISLES to him.
Through family lines of both birth and marriage Margaret may have inherited the Kirkpatrick "Curse of the Black Swan." In medieval times it was said that any Kirkpatrick sighting a black swan would instantly be stricken and die. Since there were no black swans in Scotland at the time, was there much danger of this? Nonetheless descendants are warned to stay away from bird sanctuaries that might harbor a black swan. Since the black swan is native to Perth, Australia, Margaret will not be vacationing there. (It has been suggested that the black swan in the curse was actually a heraldic device rather than a real one. But why take chances?)