Maggie O’Farrell: ‘I’ve revealed the secrets I’ve spent my life hiding’

An armed ambush, a traumatic labour, near drownings... The novelist tells Decca Aitkenhead about her brushes with death

• Scroll down for an exclusive extract from her new memoir

In an average year, Maggie O’Farrell comes close to death several times. Seized with terror, she dials 999 and is rushed to hospital in a white-knuckle dash that navigates the border of life and death. Breathing becomes impossible, the skin bubbles and blisters; as consciousness fades, cardiac arrest can be just minutes away. The death O’Farrell must come this close to, over and again, is not her own but her daughter’s.

O’Farrell’s middle child is eight years old. Ever since the age of two, she has suffered extreme allergic reactions between 12 and 15 times a year, which can be triggered by – and this list is far from exhaustive – sitting beside someone who ate muesli for breakfast, or at ...