So I decided to examine the contemporary topic of the mother in the home versus the career wife. It was an issue for me and remains an issue for my daughter and her friends. I thought if I could compare the lives of two sisters it could be a dramatic way to look at this. Then if I worked out a way to have them married to the same man, could be even more so. So I needed to find a way to confront their story that was interesting enough to carry a novel.
Coincidentally, due to an illness I was unable to fly and, as a great traveller, I needed to find a way to get abroad, so I had started taking cruises. Using this experience, I realised that if I placed the sisters together on a cruise, they could not escape from each other and it would further intensify the conflict. It would also provide a very colourful background and a wide cast of characters.
Obviously I didn’t want to write about any particular cruise I had taken, but I only wanted the ship to visit places I had been to so that I could use my notes and write about them authentically. So I created an original itinerary from a combination of my experience and cruise brochures and spread maps, measuring devices and destination leaflets all over my living room while I invented a voyage. I came a bit unstuck at one point as I hadn’t allowed for nautical miles but finally worked that out.
I then needed to create a ship and again the living room was transformed, this time with deck plans of cruise vessels. I am hardly a nautical architect but I drew various possibilities, allowing for the on board locations needed for the story and being as realistic as possible without using any actual ship that I had ever sailed on. That was a challenge and when I proudly reviewed my first ship, I realised that I hadn’t allowed space for the ever important kitchens! Eventually, I conquered it and the Brilliantina was born. That part of it was great fun and my final diagram of the Brilliantina is still on my home/office wall.
The name caused a problem as it was difficult to find a suitable name that had not been registered. I came up with many and even if they did not exist they were not free names. But the Brilliantina was clear of encumbrances and I grew to love it. If anyone builds her I would love to sail on her!
The passengers? None of them are actual people I have met but as a trained journalist I do take notes everywhere and all the time so I had plenty of references as well as many, many memories. I doubt any novelist totally invents their characters, but all are a combination of who we have known and who we imagine.
The title? I like daft titles, they intrigue and create dialogue but they must have relevance, particularly as I get savagely interrogated about them. Slippers in the Oven is an analogy for all the comforts that Henry misses about his home after leaving his stay-at-home wife and the mother of his children for a successful career woman - her sister. Before, his home always ran smoothly without his involvement, his drink always poured as he walked in the door, his dinner waiting and his children settled when he arrived home after work. Talking about it later, the career woman commented “I think he even expected his slippers in the oven.”
Writing it was fun. The research for my previous book, My Grandfather’s False Teeth, was historical, intense and fascinating but a great deal of it took place in musty libraries so it was a great joy to send myself to sea everyday as I developed the sister’s story. I relived great experiences and shuddered at excruciating ones. I hope I have taken the reader with me.
‘Slippers in the Oven’ by Roberta Aarons is available now from Amazon.