It is my pleasure to welcome accomplished Australian author Barbara Toner to Mrs B’s Book Reviews for a Q & A session. This follows a review to come of Barbara’s new novel, Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband on the blog.
About the author…
Barbara Toner is an acclaimed author and columnist who has written extensively about the lot of women in all its manifestations and with all its glorious intricacies, both in fiction and non fiction. Her first two books, Double Shift, and The Facts of Rape were written at a time when there was demonstrably little fair play for women in the work force, the law courts or society in general.
With the arrival of her third daughter, Barbara chose to attack the iniquities in a lighter tone via a long-running column in Woman magazine. Tales from Tessa Wood, stories from a fictional marriage, charted the frustrations of a receptionist with a boring working life and an even less interesting marriage. It spawned two Tessa Wood novels, Married Secrets and The Infernal Triangle which led to contracts for Brain Street (tensions and upward mobility in South London) and The Need To Be Famous (a family‘s unseemly quest for the limelight).
Barbara wrote three further novels All You Need to Know (beautiful girl gets her looks into perspective), An Organised Woman (sisters struggle for supremacy) and Cracking America (fate versus circumstance in Nashville) while writing a column on home life for YOU magazine in the Mail on Sunday. That column inspired A Mothers Guide To Life (updated and renamed Because I Love You in 2012) and A Mother’s Guide to Husbands, each of which ignored the universal truth that advice should only be offered if sought.
After a stint as a columnist for the Guardian, Barbara began to divide her time between London and a house on the far south coast of NSW. She has since written What To Do About Everything, a modern household manual and her latest book, Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, (scandal and empowerment in rural NSW in 1919). This will be published on January 29th, 2018.
Barbara is married, has three daughters, five grandchildren and continues to live between homes in the UK and Australia.
Q. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, your latest work of fiction is to be released this month. Can you give us an outline of what we can expect?
A. This is a story about four women in desperate straits in a fictional rural town called Prospect in NSW at the end of the First World War. Each of the women has a problem that can really only be sorted out by a man, not because the women are incapable but because the expectations of what women could, or couldn’t do, in that time and place limited their choices. Strengthened by each other, they decide on a course of action so far beyond those expectations that awful consequences must and do ensue. Despite the seriousness of the theme, I’ve opted for a light-hearted approach because this is my usual voice and it suited the subject matter.
Q. What came first – the plot, characters, historical period or setting when you first set out to write Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband?
A. I was interested in writing a book about women set in a town just as the railway was reaching it. Who would come on the train? Bombala, which is an hour away from where I live and where the railway arrived in 1921, is just such a town but that really is its only similarity with Prospect. The plot and the characters emerged from a coffee with friends. We were discussing the limitations of our partners to manage tasks which would make our lives simpler – like fixing the iron or building a fence or sweeping the floor – and after a while we decided we could all do with a part-time husband. The possibilities for a novel with a part-time husband as the catalyst for action were hugely appealing. As it turned out, the significance of the railway to the plot is completely different from the one I first imagined.
Q. Why did you decide to write a historical fiction novel? What research did you need to undertake to bring this era to life?
A. The railway took me there. I did some research on how rural towns like Bombala were faring at the time and what the prevailing political feeling was in Australia but I’m no historian. I’ve opted for broad strokes rather than details.
Q. Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband features four female characters, which character did you identify with the most?
A. My feeling is that you draw on yourself when creating any character in a novel. You ask yourself, if you were that character, what would you do now? I suspect we all have multiple personalities which we embrace according to the circumstances we’re in and what we imagine is required of us. I suppose of all four, I am most inclined to be like Pearl, making fast decisions which are sometimes lucky successes but other times need a huge about of disentangling.
Q. What does your book, Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband have to say about the Australian woman living in 1919?
A. I’m not sure it says any more about Australian women than western women in general. They were constrained by the expectations of their gender that respectable women lived decent domestic lives and anything beyond that was men’s business. That was the natural Christian order.
Q. Can you tell us a little more about your other writing pursuits?
A. I’ve written a dozen or so books (all listed at barbaratoner.com) and have been a journalist since I was 17. I am currently writing a second book about the respectable ladies to be published next year.
My thanks are extended to Barbara Toner for this Q & A. Connect with Barbara here:
If this Q & A enticed you to read Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband, here is the blurb:
It’s September 1919. The war is over, and everyone who was going to die from the flu has done so. But there’s a shortage of husbands and women in strife will flounder without a male to act on their behalf.
And in the southern New South Wales town of Prospect, four ladies bereft of men have problems that threaten to overwhelm them.
Beautiful Louisa Worthington, whose dashing husband died for King and Country, is being ruined by the debts he left behind.
Young Maggie O’Connell, who lost her mother in childbirth and her father to a redhead, is raising her two wayward brothers and fighting for land she can’t prove is hers.
Adelaide Nightingale has a husband, but he’s returned from the war in a rage and is refusing to tackle the thieving manager of their famous family store.
Pearl McCleary, Adelaide’s new housekeeper, must find her missing fiancé before it’s too late and someone dies.
Thank God these desperate ladies have a solution: a part-time husband who will rescue them all. To find him, they’ll advertise. To afford him, they’ll share . . .