Wife Support System is about three mums who are frustrated by the lack of support they get in their family homes. They decide they’ve got the balance wrong. Instead of living with their husbands and struggling with careers, childcare and housework by themselves, they should live together, and help each other out, and date their husbands.
At first, communal living seems like the answer to their prayers – childcare on tap, rotas for cleaning and someone always available to cook dinner (no more last-minute pizza delivery!). But over time, resentment starts to grow as they judge each other’s parenting styles and bicker over cleaning, cooking and whose turn it is to buy toilet rolls.
But as one woman has her head turned by a handsome colleague, one resorts to spying on her husband and another fights to keep a dark secret, they need each other more than ever. But can the women keep their friendships and relationships strong? Or will their perfect mumtopia fall apart?
Hi Kathleen can you tell us what was the inspiration behind Wife Support System?
The inspiration for Wife Support System came on a typically frantic day. I was trying to test spellings, get to an after-school club, cook dinner, book a plumber and meet a work deadline. Oh, and complete the simple task of making a gas mask for a school project that was due in the next day. Many of my friends are struggling in the same way and it occurred to me that if we lived together, we could help each other out and life would be much easier. Providing I didn't ask for help with the gas mask.
I’m not as brave as the three women in my book to do this (although I am often as desperate), but it was great fun imagining what issues would occur, both with each other and their husbands.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes! I’ve always loved writing. My style is witty (you may disagree after reading this blog post) banter and when I’m writing it’s as though I’m chatting to friends. I wrote my first book, The Ghost of Cripple Creek, when I was 10. It filled two exercise books, although quite a lot of that space was devoted to illustrations. These must have been awful, as I can’t draw for toffee. Fortunately I don’t like toffee, so I’m not too concerned about this. I submitted it to a publisher, who sent me a letter saying that it wasn’t right for them, but that I should keep writing. They didn’t return the book though. I’m still upset about this.
I wrote short stories throughout my teens – I have several rejection letters from Jackie magazine – and started a couple of novels in my twenties, but never got very far with them. (I blame the close proximity of my local pub.) I wrote a novel when I was pregnant with my first daughter Eve (not being able to go out drinking meant that I had much more time on my hands than I was used to), about the pros and cons of being pregnant. The main con being not able to go out drinking. I finished the novel, but wisely abandoned it.
As a journalist, I had an outlet for writing in my day job, but still longed to be a novelist. I got slightly sidetracked from this goal over the years by work, children and Mad Men box sets. It was Eve’s words – 'Stop talking about writing a book and just write one' – that gave me the motivation to knuckle down and write Wife Support System. I began writing the day my youngest daughter, Elena, started primary school and it got published a week after she left in year six. If someone had told me it would take seven years, about 20 rewrites/edits and countless rejections from agents and publishers I’d probably have cried and gone back to watching Mad Men.
What other jobs have you had?
I’m an NCTJ-trained journalist and was managing editor of a publication for the leisure industry for 12 years. After having Eve and Elena, (who are now 12 and 14 – there’s currently a lot of door slamming going on), I became a freelance journalist and now write a column for Writers’ Forum magazine.
Randomly, I trained to become an aerobics instructor in my twenties and taught evening classes. This was a bid to satisfy my secret desire to become a dancer. As that’s clearly never going to happen, teaching exercise to music seemed to be the next best thing. It wasn’t quite the outlet I’d hoped it would be and I only did it for a couple of years. What I really need is to become such a successful author that I get invited to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. Alijaz – are you limbering up in anticipation?!
How did it feel when your first novel was published?
Amazing, but not quite as I’d imagined. I’d envisaged spending the day sipping champagne while never-ending bouquets of flowers arrived and my family waited on me hand and foot.
In reality, it was a normal day with me waiting on my two daughters and chauffeuring them to their various social engagements. I guess they’re keeping me grounded!
I did get to have some champagne in the evening, but there was no sipping involved. Plenty of quaffing though!
What other books have you written?
My other novel, Second Wife Syndrome, was shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print (CWIP) prize in the unpublished comic novel category. It examines, in a humorous way, the challenges that blended families have with step-children and co-parenting with ex-partners. The blurb is… Determined not to be the resentful second wife, Marie tolerates Scott seeing his first family (that she has never met!) more than his current one. Instead, she focuses on the other aspects of her life: stopping three-year-old Anna using the swear words her grandma taught her – just because they’re in French doesn’t mean they’re not rude; promoting her dressmaking business via social media, without accidentally using the dick pic her cousin sent her; and avoiding the new, Idris Elba-lookalike doctor. He might be hot, but he’s not taking Marie’s quest to quit sugar at all seriously, mocking her insistence that it’s causing extreme paranoia. But it must be. Why else would she sometimes feel as though someone’s watching her?
It didn’t win CWIP but I’m thrilled it was shortlisted. I’m currently editing it with the hope of a publishing deal at some point. Hopefully it won’t take seven years this time!
Have you ever had writer's block?
No, the reverse. I can’t stop writing and waffle on for far too long. Wife Support System initially had four women living together and came to 180,000 words, which is 80,000 words too long! I had to take out one of the women and completely rewrite it. Several times!
What motivates you to keep writing?
I just love it. Time flies when I’m writing. It’s as though a film’s running through my head and I can’t write fast enough to get the story out. When I had to pick the children up from school, I used to set an alarm to remind me, as I was worried I’d be so absorbed I’d forget the time and not collect them!
Where is your favourite place to write?
In a penthouse in New York overlooking the city, with a cocktail by my side. Unfortunately this scenario is pure fantasy.
When we’re not in lockdown I write at my local library. It’s the best way of ensuring I don’t get distracted by jobs at home. Plus I feel it’s important to support libraries. They’re an endangered species and if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them.
At home, I write in what used to be my youngest daughter’s bedroom, but is now a study/dumping ground for things my daughters and husband no longer want but aren’t ready to get rid of. I’ve put my own pictures up, but haven’t redecorated or even taken the bunting down. I claim that this is for sentimental reasons, but really it’s because I can’t be arsed.
What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
1. Give yourself permission to write. I treat writing as a reward that I only allow myself to do when I’ve done all the other jobs. The trouble is, there are always other jobs to do, so I could go days without getting any writing done even though I’m itching too. I need to follow my own advice and prioritise my writing.
2. When you sit down to write, don’t waste time perfecting what you wrote last time. Instead, focus on getting the story down. Then go back and edit and perfect it when you’ve finished writing the book. I wasted countless hours tinkering with chapters of Wife Support System that I ended up cutting out.
With Second Wife Syndrome, I had a deadline to meet to enter the Comedy Women in Print prize so hammered it out. I didn’t even have time to read it before submitting it. I wouldn’t recommend doing that under normal circumstances though!
3. Tell the story you want to tell and don’t worry about what other people might think of it when they read it. There wouldn’t be any swearing or salacious behaviour in any books if we all worried about what our grandmas would make of it. (I’m very impressed with my use of the phrase salacious behaviour. Usually I just say shagging. My grandma would be impressed!)
Which authors inspire you?
I love all styles of books but I particularly enjoy ones that make me laugh out loud. Catherine Bennetto, Lucy Vine and Kirsty Greenwood all do and I really hope that my books make people laugh too.
What are you reading at the moment?
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho. It’s a brilliant romantic comedy about a Chinese woman trying to fulfil her mum’s plans for her to make partner in her law firm and marry well. I recommend it!
Who would you choose to play your favourite character in the film of your book?
I see Wife Support System more as a TV series than a film. Although if Steven Spielberg rang and said he was interested in buying the film rights I wouldn’t say no!
In my mind Erica looks like Nana Munchetty, the BBC Breakfast presenter. Very beautiful and glamorous with cropped black hair and a no-nonsense approach, but who also likes a laugh. I know Nana Munchetty isn’t an actress but she learned to dance on Strictly, so maybe she’d learn to act to be in the film!
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves by The Eurythmics, performed by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franlin because Wife Support System is about women pulling together.
Thank you so much for joining us today Kathleen and congratulations on being shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print award for unpublished novels.
Her debut novel, Wife Support System, was inspired by her own feeble attempt to juggle a career with childcare, never-ending house ‘stuff’ and, outrageously, occasionally some time for herself. She is still struggling.
Kathleen’s novel Second Wife Syndrome has been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize 2020.
Both novels are contemporary, humorous, women's fiction.
Kathleen writes a column for Writers’ Forum magazine and contributes to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s magazine Romance Matters. She also wrote short stories for Jackie magazine in her teens. These were, thankfully, never printed.
Kathleen lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two daughters.