Women, books and reading

It’s almost the end of June and my new book will be in the bookshops in a few days. It’s always an exciting but also a nerve wracking time: waiting to see it on the shelves, worrying whether people will like it or be disappointed. But it’s an enormous thrill to stand in a bookshop and see the books lined up and people studying the cover, flicking through the pages and reading the first few lines.

A Month of Sundays is similar to my previous novels in that it is a story about four Month of Sundays coverwomen, four very different women, who are all at some sort of turning point in their lives. In fact, it’s a book about women, books and reading – my three favourite things – oh and of course it’s about getting old, so actually my four favourite things!   But it’s also different from some of my other novels because usually the characters move around quite a bit, but in this one they’re heading from their homes in different parts of Australia, to a beautiful house in the Blue Mountains where they will meet each other face-to face for the first time.

Ros, Adele, Simone and Judy are the last surviving members of an online book club. They’ve talked books once a month on Skype for years but never met in person. Now Adele has been offered the use of a gorgeous house in the mountains and she’s asked the others to join her. It’s a bit of a risk for all of them; the book club has been their comfort zone, and now they’re going to test that pleasant but slightly awkward connection by living together for a month. And there’s a challenge; each one has to bring a book that will tell the others more about her. Will their club survive the proximity, or will they walk away from it having lost something that’s become special to all of them? Well I’m not going to tell you too much more about that! But I will tell you why I decided to write this.

I’ve always felt that women have a special connection to books, we buy and read more books than most men and we seem to be deeply attached to them, especially to novels written by women. In the past when women were excluded from public discourse, when they were confined at home, and their friendships were viewed with suspicion, they learned about each other through novels, particularly those written by women. For writers it was a way to reach out to others, and for readers a way to see their own lives and others through the characters. They saw that the way they felt, the things they longed for or wanted to rid themselves of, their strengths and weaknesses, their anxiety and loneliness, their pleasures and satisfactions, even their resentments, were not peculiar to them. They learned that they were not alone. I’m fascinated by the connections between women and their books, and I’ve been working for some time on a non-fiction book about it, but I keep getting in a mess with it, putting it aside for a while and going back to it again, and again. I thought that writing a novel might help me to work out what I’m trying to do.

I’m also interested in book clubs: the sheer number and diversity of them, the fact that it is predominantly women who set them up and attend regularly, and how significant they are to the members. And I very much admire the discipline that makes people commit to read a book chosen by someone else, on a regular basis. I am such a picky reader and always have a stack of books that I’ve chosen and that I’m dying to read, so while I do read books recommended by friends, I don’t have the discipline to stick with them if I don’t like them after the first two or three chapters. I enjoy talking books informally with friends, but I just don’t have the discipline for a club.

So, what I set out to do in A Month of Sundays was to put four strong minded women in their late sixties and seventies together in a house together for a few weeks and see what happened. It didn’t turn out as I anticipated, but then it never does. Oh! By the way, I forgot to mention, that there is fifth member of this book club – a cocker spaniel called Clooney. He doesn’t do a lot of reading, but he does stir things up from time to time. So it’s not just four but five of my favourite things: women, books, reading, getting old and dogs! I hope you’ll enjoy it.