The female experience is deeply complex, particularly the caring and domestic roles we seem to unthinkingly carry. From small, we’re urged towards dolls, mini ovens and cleaning sets – it’s no surprise we grow still wearing the weight of these tasks. I love the thoughtful fluidity and acceptance of the young people in my life, their natural desire for equality and fairness. I wish this could permeate the older generations – those more set in our ways, gender roles and expectations.
The more I’d write of Lives Like Mine, the more I wanted it to centre a character just like me. A stay-at-home mum of almost 40. Doing everything yet doing nothing. And as everyone moves forwards it becomes ever clearer that you’re just the vehicle propelling everyone else on, while nothing really evolves for you. At least, that’s how I felt. Returning to study in my mid-thirties was terrifying, but I needed something more. I’d lost myself in a baby bubble and struggled identifying with the person I’d been before the kids – the mother role dominated everything else. I thought this was an interesting concept to examine within the character of Monica, too. A person drowning in duty, unwilling to fight against the status quo of home equaling her world and the real world equaling her husband’s.
“Bored Housewife” is a tiring phrase - also highly dismissive. To stay at home means devoting all of yourself, all the time, to the upkeep and care of others. There is no clocking off, no paid holiday, no sabbaticals. Rather than acknowledging the thankless mostly invisible mechanics involved in keeping family life turning, bored housewife implies lazy – or spoilt. Considering how the pandemic lockdown meant burnout or a full-on juggle overload for so many women; mothering, educating, feeding, housekeeping, real-world career working, caring, caring, caring - boredom seems more an illicit fantasy. But it is very easy to see how undervalued and invisible these roles become, when you’re permanently existing within them.
It seemed a lovely idea to me, to write a woman going through the motions, who’s then sparked back to life in the most exciting of ways – a sexual rebellion! We discover the absolute truth of Monica through her sexuality, the one space she feels utterly herself. Despite the terrible wrong of it, the affair restores Monica. It’s only when she can truly confront and accept who she is that she can rise to fight her other demons. I love Monica. It wasn’t hard slipping on her shoes, but I’m certainly greyer because of her!
The daughter aspect is perhaps the most complex role for Monica. Both she and her mother are frozen in friction and stuck in time. Yet, despite their hostile distance, Monica shadows her mother’s tastes and behaviours, carrying the patterns of her parents into her forties. I do believe that Mother-daughter relationships are utterly unique, and in the book, I let the characters tell their story – I do believe that everyone’s own version of events is always utterly unique, too!