Articles Authors Bookmarked Five Minutes With Romance

Five Minutes With: Jane Wenham-Jones, Author, “Mum in the Middle”

Humour can be a very good vehicle from which to explore our darker issues, says author Jane Wenham-Jones. In conjunction with International Mother’s Day, we talk to Wenham-Jones about her fifth novel, Mum in the Middle. She explains how romantic comedy provides the ideal fictional framework for the exploits of a very ordinary hero: a single mother with three kids.

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Tess is a not a typical hero. She isn’t a Valkyrie. She hasn’t got super powers. Her courage is manifested via her patience in enduring mansplaining, and her preference of female friends over a love interest (read: a man). When you wrote Mum in the Middle, were you thinking of the millions of us who go about our day doing all these amazing feats that never get mentioned on our LinkedIn profiles?

Ha ha – I suppose I was just following that old mantra – write what you know! It seems to me that however much progress we make on the gender equality front, it is still the women who are looking exhausted. They tend to be the ones who are holding it all together – the kids and the domestic machinations, doing an online shop with one hand while unpacking the dishwasher with the other.

Mum in the Middle tells the story of Tess, a divorcee who juggles family life with work and relationship. Image source: ©HarperCollins

Mum in the Middle tells us what romance could potentially be like after three kids and a divorce. You entice us with a story about a woman who struggles on a daily basis to keep her family together, pay the bills and look after her elderly mother, without demystifying romance.

Can you tell us a bit more about the romantic conundrum that Tess faces, and how you came up with the storylines involving David the playboy, Rob the ex-husband, Malcolm the middle-age grump and a very young admirer / stalker?

Oh gosh – you know writing a book is always compared with having a baby and there is something in the analogy.  I find that afterwards the details of the birth are pretty blurred – you can only recall it hurt and you screamed a lot…. I tend to have various ideas for characters and then find a way to fit them all together. Many once-married women still have the ex in their lives – it is hard to avoid it if you have offspring together. Malcolm was inspired by a friend of mine – included for my own entertainment – and the older woman/younger man combo is ever more common these days.

“However much progress we make on the gender equality front, it is still the women who are looking exhausted.”

I am intrigued by Tess’s relationship with her mother, who suffers from dementia. This reminds me of Guy Kennaway’s Time To Go (Mensch Publishing). Recently, I spoke to Nicola Cornick on how romance can be the poetic license for difficult discussions on relationship issues. Can romance, or humour, be a good platform for this? Or is that subject too dark and best left to non-fiction or heavier genres?

Ah – lovely Nicola. We are in the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) together. I think humour can be a very good vehicle from which to explore these darker issues. My appreciation of the black comedy of a situation often serves me as a coping mechanism. My very first novel, Raising the Roof, has a fairly harrowing chapter about mental illness but it was still billed as a romantic comedy and readers told me it worked for them. In fact I got quite a lot of response about that particular story strand.

Raising The Roof touches on mental illness and is categorised as a romantic comedy. Image source: ©Penguin Books

“I think humour can be a very good vehicle from which to explore these darker issues. My appreciation of the black comedy of a situation often serves me as a coping mechanism.”

You touch on another issue in Mum in the Middle: the experience of a woman still capable of being romantically involved who is also a grandparent. Why don’t we see more of this in popular fictions? What is it about the grandparent status than renders a menstruating woman undesirable, at least in fictions?

I really didn’t know it did! I suppose if that is so, then it is because the word “grandmother” conjures up an image of a little old lady with silver hair. Whereas these days she is just as likely to be an ultra-glamorous fifty-something – or younger – with a demanding job, a full social life and a dating app on her phone.

Is Malcom Mr Darcy? Does the modern Mr Darcy have to be an aloof romantic hero?

Mr Darcy hadn’t occurred to me but I like a hero who isn’t all tall, dark, handsome and irresistible. Characters are more interesting with a few flaws and I am attracted myself to the gruff exterior with heart of gold beneath.

What book did you last read?

I am currently reading The Mitford Murders because I am going to interview Jessica Fellowes at Whitlit fest – a forthcoming literary festival.

E-book, PDF or print?

I always like a “proper” book best… 🙂

About Jane Wenham-Jones

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Editor, Story Of Books. Co-founder, GLUE Studio. A writer since 1995.