Sally Magnusson is the eldest daughter of the Icelandic journalist and historian Magnus Magnusson and the Scottish newspaper journalist Mamie Baird. She grew up in and around Glasgow in houses that were always filled with stories: the journalistic variety in which both parents were continually engaged; those hilariously told by her mother about her early life in working class Rutherglen; and those told by Magnus straight from the medieval Icelandic sagas which he spent much of her childhood translating from Old Norse into English.
It’s probably little wonder that she ended up a newspaper reporter and then a broadcast journalist herself, delighting in fashioning other people’s experiences (and sometimes her own) into articles, programmes and non-fiction books.
Although brought up in Scotland, she has always felt profoundly connected to her other homeland, the northerly nation of Iceland, in which her grandparents started their family before moving in 1930 to Edinburgh, where her grandfather Sigursteinn Magnusson opened an office to handle fish exports to Europe. Her first adult novel, THE SEALWOMAN'S GIFT, is set in Iceland in the seventeenth century; highly critically acclaimed, THE SEALWOMAN'S GIFT has been described as 'a remarkable feat of imagination' (Guardian) and is a Zoe Ball book club pick. In her memoir DREAMING OF ICELAND she traces – by way of several generations of her own family – the country’s development from an impoverished, isolated colony of Denmark to the self-assured independent nation it is now.
She began her journalistic career as a reporter on The Scotsman. As a broadcaster she has worked in news, politics, current affairs and religion. In the 1980s and 90s she presented the BBC’s Breakfast programme in London for many years, before moving back to bring up her family in Scotland, where she anchors the flagship Reporting Scotland twice a week. On Radio 4 she presented the popular genealogy programme Tracing Your Roots on Radio 4 and continues to be one of the presenting team on Radio Scotland’s Sunday Morning With.
Her bestselling memoir about her mother, WHERE MEMORIES GO:WHY DEMENTIA CHANGES EVERYTHING, has been credited with improving knowledge and understanding of this widespread brain condition. Out of that experience she founded the personal music for dementia charity Playlist for Life in 2013.
She has travelled the country and beyond for BBC’s Songs of Praise, including presenting a controversial edition from the heart of the Calais “jungle” camp in 2016. She has presented many current affairs documentaries for the BBC, along with BBC2’s Daily Politics, Panorama and a range of BBC1 daytime programmes. These include the hard-hitting series Britain’s Secret Shame (which was credited with raising awareness of abuse of the elderly in Britain’s care homes and won a Royal Television Society award for Best Daytime Series in 2004), along with the follow-up series Britain’s Streets, and the first two series of Missing. She also won a Scottish BAFTA as part of the team covering the Dunblane tragedy and in 1998 an RTS award her exclusive Diana: My Sister the Princess.
Her non-fiction books include THE FLYING SCOTSMAN, a biography of the athlete Eric Liddell, the ever-popular FAMILY LIFE and three HORACE THE HAGGIS books for children.
She lives in the countryside north of Glasgow with her husband Norman and whichever of their children currently requires a roof.