Author Barbara Toner divides her time between two daughters based in England and one in Australia. Brought up in a staunch Catholic family, she tells Julie Houghton about her latest book, the intriguingly named Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband.
What is your first memory of wanting to be a writer?
I certainly made stuff up to amuse myself as soon as I knew how to form letters and I decided to be a writer the minute someone told me I was good at it—probably my mother!
Books were a huge part of our childhood. I was one of four and our mother took us to the library before we could read and read to us. We went to the library as often as we could. I think we were allowed three books at a time in the holidays. We weren’t allowed to have a television and we were only allowed to listen to the ABC so books were the primary entertainment, plus playing cricket in the street.
How influential was your education in Catholic schools?
A Catholic education makes a lasting impression and part of that is the firm moral base it provides which I have always appreciated. Our mother was a very good Catholic, whose faith provided a clear moral compass which was supported by our education. The older I get, the more grateful I am for the spiritual awareness it instilled as well.
What was your career trajectory after school?
When I left school I wanted to be a writer and I really liked the idea of being a journalist. It was, and remains, a very competitive field. My father arranged a meeting with the editor who offered me a job as a copy girl. This was actually a weeding out process. Only the very keen were prepared to be copy boys or girls for as long as it took for a cadetship to become available in journalism or photography.
It was usually years. I fell out with a sub-editor over a carton of orange juice after 18 months and resigned. I was incredibly lucky to be offered a graded journalist’s job by the editor of Pix, a magazine that featured women in bikinis and articles on fishing. I stayed there for 18 months, then married and went to England.
What do you most enjoy in writing about women?
Most writing is about why people do what they do and since writing fiction is largely a matter of speculating on human behaviour, their point of reference at some point in the process is themselves. Writing is fundamentally an egotistical occupation, which of course makes it hugely enjoyable.
I’m not sure if at rock bottom men and women think differently from each other, but they have been raised differently so their expectations of themselves and others can be different. I’m on safer ground writing about women but I have fun wondering about men as well...
You say that you really like to support The Salvation Army—why?
I‘ve always appreciated the work of The Salvation Army. It is a brave, staunch and reliable supporter of those in need, when choosing between which NGO or charity to support is increasingly fraught for me.
What prompted your latest book?
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband was a title that came to me after a conversation with friends about the management of their households—who was responsible for what and where the annoying lapses were, in interest, ability or energy, that meant critical jobs just didn’t get done or done well.
The idea of a part-time husband was mooted and it glued itself to other ideas I’d been nurturing and so it came to be set in a rural town at the end of the First World War.
Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-time Husband is reviewed on Warcry's mini review.