When I was writing Stop the Clock, I looked at lots of other books about groups of female friends that follow the outcomes of different attitudes to work and men and family life, and the decisions women make and how this affects their relationships with each other.
Here are seven novels about women’s lives and friendships that I’ve enjoyed hanging out with over the years.
- One I keep going back to was Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, which I think is just terrific – funny, frank, sexy and moving (and full of relationships with men that don’t quite work out).
- The mother (grandmother?) of all these books about groups of women has got to be Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. OK, it’s about sisters, but still – different types of woman, different attitudes to how to be a woman, and to what sort of man and relationship to aspire to. I often think of the bit where Jo passes the manuscript of her book round, and people tell her to cut different bits out and it ends up getting thinner and thinner!
- Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy. Her first. I still remember the cover, with bold red-headed Aisling and quiet blonde Elizabeth. That seems to be a common dynamic in these kind of stories – the go-for-it girl and the one who is more reserved but would secretly like to be wilder.
- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. A gutsy tomboy, a shy, lady-like girl, and a bad bloke. Warm, but also dark and surprising: southern Gothic. Cuts between the Depression and the 80s.
- Lace by Shirley Conran. Meet Pagan, the Cornish aristo; Maxine, married to a French count; Judy, the American magazine publisher; and Kate, the writer. Epic romp across decades and different countries, with designer luggage. (I wrote a blog post recently on why Lace is a much better read than Fifty Shades of Grey.)
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Brilliant telling of the stories of four Chinese women who have come to live in the US and their American-born daughters.
- Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. Again, looks at both friendship and mother-daughter relationships (the main mother-daughter relationship is pretty damn fraught, and the friends – the Ya-Yas – intervene to try to repair the damage). There’s a great scene when the troubled mother welcomes in a woman selling cosmetics door-to-door, who is hopeless as a saleswoman but also desperate, having fallen on hard times, and the two of them restore each other’s self-belief: quintessentially feminine.
Friendship and falling out in Stop the Clock
Good times bond people together– I guess it’s the honeymoon principle. Bad times, too, especially if you help each other get through them.
With old friends – the friends you make at school, or university or college, or in your first job – the history that glues you together is a compound of both the fun stuff and the disasters, plus something else; you come to define each other. The friend who knew you back then as well as now, who has seen you change, really knows you; someone you just met only sees the person you appear to be today. But change can mean distance, too; how far can the bonds of friendship stretch before they break?
The three main characters in Stop the Clock, my debut novel, are close in their mid-twenties, but their lives are set to head in different directions. Lucy, married and a mum, has no desire to go back to work; Tina is ambitious and career-focused; Natalie just wants to settle down with her boyfriend, or thinks she does. By their mid-thirties, they have ended up in quite different positions as far as their love lives and careers are concerned – but is the picture about to change yet again?
Old friendships – like any long relationship – sometimes hit a rough patch. (I still feel bad about ruining my friend’s egg poaching pan that her grandmother gave her. What can I say – in an ideal world, nobody would ever let me near a cooker.)
Stop the Clock looks at what happens when there are tensions between friends, when the goodwill built up over the years is put to the test. Following what happens to the three friends was a way of dramatising the different kinds of lives that women lead, depending not just on our choices, but also on chance – the opportunities that come our way (or don’t, however much we wish they would).