Bestselling novelist Joanna Trollope tells Grace Hammond why women can have it all and why no one should feel guilty for wanting both a career and children.
Joanna Trollope looks the epitome of poise and elegance, her tiny frame enveloped in an elegant cream shirt and tailored leather trousers.
Famed for her family dramas which always feature contemporary social issues, flawed characters and tangled relationships. Her latest book, Balancing Act, about a family pottery business founded by matriarch Susie who employs her three daughters in the firm, raises the issue of women being the main breadwinners and husbands staying at home to look after the children.
“There’s a zeitgeist that I sense,” she says of her ideas. “In this case, it was discovering that over 25 per cent of the workforce in this country are now women who live with men they may out-earn.”
Twice divorced, Trollope brought up her two daughters with her first husband, banker David Potter, while juggling a career in teaching and later writing. She says that the choices are so much greater for women these days - and they should be allowed to choose their path without being made to feel guilty.
“Having a high-flying job and children isn’t for everyone, but it shouldn’t make other people feel inadequate. I’m all for women having the opportunity not to be berated by other women for their choices. You should be at liberty to stay home and make marmalade with the children if that’s what you want to do, or go out and run a listed company, or not have children if you don’t want to.
“I loathe seeing women slagging off the sisterhood. The inequalities between the genders are still great enough that we shouldn’t be splintering our support base by not supporting one another.”
Oxford-educated Trollope, who married her first husband at 22, recalls that when she was a young mother, attitudes were quite different.
“My older generation was very disapproving, because it was felt I should be behind the front door with his slippers in my mouth, wagging my tail. My then husband was perfectly all right with my working, as long as it was containable. I don’t think either of my husbands were entirely comfortable with any success I had - it made them uneasy.”
The multi-millionaire author has been happily living on her own for 15 years, and it’s a luxury she’ll never give up, she says.
“I’m not controlling of other people but I want to have my own liberty intensely. Independence is crucially important to me but it doesn’t extend to wanting to control other people. I just want to be free myself.”
She has been with the same partner for around 12 years and calls their relationship ‘unorthodox’, in that they don’t live together and he is much younger than her.
“He’s never been married. I think it’s the right degree of liberty for both of us and I’d never consider living with somebody again.I don’t want anyone to say to me, ‘Why can’t I see you this weekend? Why are you going to be with the grandchildren?’”
Is fidelity important to her?
“You know, I think at my age, loyalty and trust are more important than monogamy, but I think while women are fertile, sexual loyalty is crucial. But as time goes on, you shrug a bit.”
In Balancing Act, one of the characters happily becomes a house husband looking after their children while his ambitious wife follows her dreams.
“This ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ approach is infinitely too black and white. There are vast numbers of men who aren’t thugs and brutes, but who are nurturing, cosseting people. I also think a lot of men are truly interested in the upbringing of their children.”
Balancing Act by Joanna Trollope, is published by Doubleday, priced £18.99.