‘An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither.
Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realises there’s nothing to stop her running away to France.
But back home her two daughters – the family she’s always loved, but never had the time to nurture – are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realise she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music.
And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart… ‘
Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for asking me to be involved with this post! I will hand you over to the author herself, Rachel Crowther.
WRITING WOMEN’S LIVES
By Rachel Crowther.
When I was struggling to balance working in the NHS with bringing up my children, I sometimes read articles by journalists about juggling work and motherhood, and I used to feel rather cross – because they, lucky things, worked at home, and they often seemed to be married to people who also had freelance careers, and could help out with the childcare. Writers, it seemed to me, were poor spokespeople for working mothers – or indeed for womankind and her struggles – because of the flexibility that was built into their lives. Compared to those of us who had to turn up to work every day, they didn’t know they were born.
Now I spend a fair amount of my time writing at home myself, I see things a little differently. Having your work and your domestic life occupying the same space creates different problems: without external boundaries and divisions (like going to the office) to help you keep things separate, the conflicts between different demands are very real, and different aspects of life can intrude on each other in the most literal way. Trains of thought about characters’ lives get pushed aside by plaintive accounts of a horrible day at school, or a phone call from the orthodontist. The laptop balanced at the corner of the kitchen table vies for space with the children’s homework and the makings of supper – and indeed the piles of bills, the unanswered letters, the STUFF that needs putting away, throwing away or dealing with.
Anyone who works at home will recognise the truth of this, but there’s an additional complication for writers of fiction, because living life is part of being a writer – especially if you’re a woman whose lived experience is central to what you’re writing about. If, that is, your subject matter is the challenge women face in balancing the different elements of their lives: their struggle to choose a path, to establish a role and an identity, to please everyone and still retain a modicum of self-determination. As well as balancing the loneliness of writing with the contradictory craving for solitude in which to think and write, you need somehow to manage the conjuring trick of opening yourself up to the reality of your own experience (and that of other women) but also keeping yourself – your writing self – sufficiently detached to write about it. Throw a few tantrums and baked beans into the equation, and you can easily end up wondering what on earth you’re doing with your life.
But how valuable is it to write about the private lives of women? It’s a stream of fiction with a long and honourable history, but which is, I think, seen as less than worthy these days, in the wake of the 1970’s feminism that sought to move women’s lives and experience into the public and professional sphere. Since then, in academic and political circles, it has become almost shameful for women to live in, let alone write about, the domestic world.
And of course women should live public lives. Of course they should do the same sort of jobs as men, and indeed write the same sort of books – sweeping historical sagas or chronicles of war; thrillers and grittily realistic crime novels. But even if we spend our working lives in that public realm, many of the things we really care about happen behind our front doors: the joys and dilemmas and heartbreak and compromise that make up the texture of our personal lives. Should that all be invisible? Isn’t it a perfectly valid thing to write about, in the nooks and crannies we can find for writing?
The struggle of women to identify both the time and space to write, and a legitimate and authentic focus for their writing, goes back many centuries – to Jane Austen and her tiny writing desk in the sitting room with its squeaking door that alerted her to the approach of visitors; to Virginia Woolf and her ‘room of one’s own’; to Rumer Godden, who had to support herself and her children through her writing in India during the war, after the collapse of her marriage. This struggle for identity and voice is crucially important for women – and so, it seems to me, is writing about it.
Women need to write about the vicissitudes of domestic life as it intersects (or doesn’t) with their working life, not because that’s the most suitable thing for women to write about, but because it’s important to bring that world and those issues into the public eye. It’s important to acknowledge the value and complexity of women’s lives, even when they are not dramatic or public or unique. Exploring something that all women (and indeed all people) can identify with, something that matters to them, seems to me an eminently worthy and proper subject for fiction.
And you don’t have to look far for examples of women who have used their own lives and the domestic sphere to illuminate human nature and say significant things about human existence. George Eliot, Elizabeth Taylor, Alice Munro, Fay Weldon, Maggie Nelson – the list could run to several pages – all write about families, motherhood, relationships and the domestic, and through them explore broader issues that make us think deeply about life. But even so, there’s a depressing tendency to see fiction about contemporary women’s lives as second-rate. In the divide between commercial (popular, accessible) and literary (prize-worthy, weighty, important) fiction, it often finds itself on the commercial side, dubbed as ‘chick lit’ or ‘Aga saga’.
I’m not saying that women can, or should, write only about their own lives – but simply that it’s no less worthy a topic than any other. What matters in fiction is to engage with readers and offer them something rewarding, entertaining, uplifting, thought-provoking, challenging, diverting, intriguing, moving: to make them feel the time they’ve spent reading your book hasn’t been wasted – and that the time you’ve spent writing it hasn’t been either. And if you can strike a chord, if you can make people feel you’ve understood their lives and concerns, and perhaps allowed them to feel more valuable as a result, then that’s enough of a justification for me.
(Photo credit – Roger Smeeton)
About the author.
Rachel Crowther is a doctor who worked for the NHS for 20 years and the mother of five children. She dabbled in creative writing between babies and medical exams, until an Arvon course prompted her to take it more seriously. She’s also a keen musician and cook. The Things You Do For Love is her second novel.
Thank you Rachel for writing such an honest piece. Can any of my readers relate to the content of Rachel’s guest post? Let me know!
The Things You Do For Love,by Rachel Crowther, published by Zaffre, is published 11th August 2016 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon UK.