Her writings often dwell on the struggles of a young woman in love and the complications that can often come from the competing claims of marriage, children, lovers and husbands.
A Duckworth novel is instantly accessible almost as a generic type; her composite heroine, always vulnerable to love, lives in the midst of domestic demands, compounded by the damning powers of a male hero. They investigate the complexities of relationships and the way people become trapped in them.
She has published twelve novels since 1959, a novella, Fooling (1994), a collection of short stories, Explosions on the Sun (1989), a collection of poetry, Other Lovers’ Children (1975), and most recently edited Cherries on a Plate: New Zealand Writers Talk About their Sisters (1996), to which both she and Fleur Adcock contribute chapters. She won the New Zealand Book Award for fiction with Disorderly Conduct (1984).
Marilyn Duckworth was the 1980 recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. She was the 2011-2012 President of Honour of the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA). She delivered the March 2012 Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, held each year as part of New Zealand Book Month, and delivered by the NZSA President of Honour.
Duckworth received the 2016 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in fiction, which is awarded to an author with a distinguished body of work. She was awarded both the Auckland University Literary Fellowship and the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship in 1996.