Why I wanted to write about women at work
On the dustjacket of my new novel WOMAN OF THE HOUR, it says:
Meet Liz Lyon: Respected TV Producer, Stressed-out Executive, Guilty Single Mother… Woman of the Hour.
This sums up the book very well. I was keen that in this, my third novel, I would put the focus on women in the workplace.
I worked in television for 15 years first at TV-am and later at WestCountry TV and my work was primarily in the area of features and live TV. On Good Morning Britain I was one of the people who booked the guests for Anne Diamond to interview and I’d write the briefs for her. I got to meet some fantastic people and some rather less pleasant celebrities but it was heady stuff. Television is a seductive industry. You feel you are at the centre of things because you hear news events before most people. You also get to meet some movers and shakers and it is difficult to give this up.
But… , and this is what happened to me, it can be a burn-out industry. You are expected to work until the show is ready. The hours are never nine to five or even predictable and this made it difficult for me as a lone parent. I left my career in television when my daughter Amelia was nine.
Most of us spend so much time at work but I haven’t seen much fiction in this area. Many books depict women as mothers, lovers, daughters and sisters, with the focus on the stresses and strains of our home and our emotional lives. I’ve seen much less fiction about a woman struggling with the pressures of work. Yet that had been my life. A working mother, trying to keep all the balls up in the air, feeling conflicted about competing pressures. I wanted to explore that.
My heroine Liz Lyon is 41 years old and divorced. Her daughter Flo is 14. Liz took on a big mortgage so that she and Flo could have a decent home. She is stressed but she needs the good pay she gets at the TV station:
‘Most of the time I feel lucky to have my job but it is at moments like this when I think about leaving the station. I’m on a good salary and I need it to pay my huge mortgage. Golden handcuffs, it’s called, being paid so much money that you feel you can’t leave your job.’
I also wanted to write a strong female character who has her weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Liz Lyon is someone who often can’t say what she means when she’s at work as she has to manage and soothe huge egos. Her inner voice is different from her outer behaviour.
A television station can have a feverish atmosphere and even more so when the shows are live. Live TV is more dangerous than pre-recorded TV because things can go wrong. When it does go wrong presenters have to cope under pressure, there’s a surge of adrenalin and feelings can run high. I try to capture this in a number of scenes in WOMAN OF THE HOUR from the moment when a guest won’t come out of Make-Up because her hair looks awful to the scene where a prominent politician tears off his mic and storms out of the TV station. Liz Lyon is left to pick up the pieces.
The novel is also about power struggles at the workplace. It’s about how you have to play by certain rules and how sometimes in order to survive it’s not about doing the right thing, it’s about doing the smart thing.
Enter to win a signed copy of Woman of the Hour by Jane Lythell. UK only. Ends 21.7.16
WOMAN OF THE HOUR is published as a hardback and e-book by Head of Zeus 14 July 2016.