The Weekend Wives and their houses – Christina Hopkinson

The Weekend Wives and their houses – Christina Hopkinson

Christina Hopkinson’s new novel, The Weekend Wives, is out in paperback this week. Three women find their lives unravelling as secrets emerge while their husbands work in far-flung places leaving them to fight on the home front. Here the author explains why the women’s homes and the way they look are so useful in finding a way into the characters and their states of mind.

Some authors have very precise ideas about their characters’ looks or how they might dress – you know those novels who describe in great detail the designer Christian Louboutins or the tawny locks of their protagonists.

While I know how my characters look to me, it’s not particularly well defined nor is it something that I’d feel I want to share with readers on the page. I’d rather there was something left to the imagination.

But as to how they decorate their homes… that’s a different matter. I know exactly how their homes look and feel, all of which helps me to develop their personalities more deeply. It’s almost as though I have to be able to sit on their sofas before I understand them.

In my second novel, The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs, the protagonist Mary feels frustrated by the dissonance between the chaos of her surroundings (messy house, young children, lazy husband) and the ordered life that she desires. She senses somehow that her house is a physical manifestation of her own failings as a modern woman, in the way that some people, I suppose, might feel ashamed to be caught without make-up.

Her nemesis, Mimi, has a vast and immaculate house, including a kitchen which is so minimalist that there aren’t even handles on the cabinets. It’s as though Mimi’s home represents a sort of purity to which Mary can only aspire.

The three women who make up The Weekend Wives of my latest novel all have issues that are in some ways connected to  or reflected by the physical surroundings of their home.

Initially I found it hard to get into the skin of one of them, Sasha, who is being stalked by a woman from her husband’s past. Then I saw a converted chapel featured in a lifestyle magazine and being shown off to beautiful advantage by its owner. It was stunning – high ceilings, cashmere throws in bright colours, artworks placed casually yet perfectly. By being able to picture Sasha living there, surrounded by this loveliness, I could understand her decisions better. She’s quite a cool, self-contained character who pours warmth and joy into her home. It is the embodiment of the love she feels for her children and which makes her decision to ignore the cracks in her marriage and flaws in her husband more forgivable.

Tamsin, the second of the weekend wives, lives in a show home so devoid of warmth that the sofas still have their plastic protective covering. In her life, houses are not homes but ‘investments’. She, too, is a bit like a beautiful, expensive piece of furniture with her real self wrapped away in wipe-clean cling film.

The third of the trio is Emily, who has moved to a rural area with a craving for an idealised, idyllic life for her children – one that she’s read about in Enid Blyton books and which may never have existed, let alone now. As a consequence, her kitchen described as being almost like a stage set for the perfect country hearth – old-fashioned Roberts radio, oil-fired stove, cute dog and a jam jar filled with wild flowers. She needs to be able to dress the theatrical stage of her life in order to feel like she can convincingly play the part of the rural earth mother.

Maybe it’s trite to equate the interiors of my characters’ houses with the interiors of their souls, but I’m fascinated by what our surroundings reveal about us. Just don’t ask to have a nose around my house… I fear the insides of some cupboards would indicate a mind filled with chaos and disorder.

The Weekend Wives by Christina Hopkinson is available now in paperback

What sisterhood means to me by Christina Hopkinson

What sisterhood means to me by Christina Hopkinson

‘Sisters, sisters… there were never such devoted sisters’ goes the classic Irving Berlin song from the film White Christmas (and it’s all very lovely until the most unsisterly last line: ‘And lord help the sister who comes between me and my man.’).

I never had a sister, but was a girl sandwiched between two brothers, surrounded by local families who seemed to churn out boy-children in batches of two and three.

To be both bookish and sisterless was a cruel fate. Little Women, The Twins at St Clare’s, Lucy and Susan in The Narnia books, What Katie Did… the classics mocked me with their giggling and loving loads of sisters.

I think my whole school career was a search for a surrogate sister. I found none in primary school, quite the contrary, I was mocked for wearing the same style underpants every day from a Marks & Spencer multi pack instead of the days-of-the-week ones sported by the rest of the girls in my class.

Secondary school would be different, I hoped, but the girl I picked out on the first day, Jenny, dumped me by the first half term. She was probably overwhelmed by the whiff of desperation and neediness.

I looked around the classroom, keen to find someone else not paired off already in the best friend game of musical chairs. And there she was, Bini, a funny, smart, quiet and quirky person in amid a sea of mostly conventional girls. She had sisters of her own, but far older and already away at university, so perhaps she too was looking for a surrogate.

She was and is everything I could want in a sister without any of the bickering and competitiveness that I see every day played out between my two daughters. Together we played endless pingpong matches, watched old Hollywood musicals and invented a game where we gave every other girl in the class points for their talents (and by coincidence always ranked ourselves number one). Her parents’ house was next door to school while mine was a winding bus drive away in the deepest countryside so I spent as many nights at hers as at my own.

I’m a horribly competitive person who is to quick to compare myself unfavourably and resentfully to others. And yet, even in adolescence, I never did to her. We were always each other’s backstop, ally and cheerleader, always rejoicing in each other’s small triumphs. She went from skinny child to knock-out beauty almost overnight aged 17 – model figure but with curves – and despite being far from gorgeous myself I was just so proud to have her as a friend and marvelled at how those boys who’d only ever been interested in the precocious blondes were now drooling. I’ve still got the glossy magazine spread that she modelled in aged 18.

And she was generous back. We went off to the same university to read the same subject and she was the one I celebrated with when I got an unexpectedly good degree (despite hers being unexpectedly mediocre).

And now decades on, we’re both middle-aged with three children (a boy and then two girls apiece) and, until recently, living a couple of miles apart. But then, horrors, work and opportunities have taken her family to Los Angeles. I’m not jealous of her house with a swimming pool and the adventure she’s on (well maybe a little this week when our boiler broke down on the coldest night of the year), but I do miss her horribly.

It’s not fair, I want to stamp my feet, we used to speak every day and see each other every week, like the best sisters imaginable. And now it’s once a year and emails.

But sisters, birth or chosen, are allowed to make their own choices. Perhaps I need to find myself a surrogate-surrogate sister. I could start, I suppose, with the four, yes four, lovely sisters-in-law that I’ve acquired a long the way…

Our authors share their most romantic moments ever (part 2)

Our authors share their most romantic moments ever (part 2)

Our authors are a lucky bunch! Catch up on part 1 of their most romantic moments here. 

TAMARA MCKINLEY, author of Echoes from Afar

The most romantic gesture I’ve had was from my husband.   We’d been engaged as teenagers and drifted apart, only to meet and fall in love again thirty-five years later.   He always knew I wanted to go home for a visit to Australia, so he bought tickets for us to fly there for my birthday and to visit family and friends.   I’d been away for many years and I cried when we touched down in Sydney and he whispered, ‘Welcome home,’ but the most magical moment was when we walked on the beach that had been my childhood favourite, and he presented me with a childhood favourite, a Violet chocolate bar – similar to a Crunchie, but with dark chocolate.   Needless to say, I shared it with him and then stole chocolaty kisses as we watched the sun go down and listened to the parakeets return to their roosts.

Read all about how Tamara was inspired by her favourite city here 

CHRISTINA HOPKINSON, author of The Weekend Wives 

The most romantic, chick flick thing ever to happen to me was during my end of first-year exams at university. I studied at the sort of place where you have to wear traditional gowns to do exams in an ancient hall, which only adds to the cinematic flavour of this story. As I was midway through my last exam, a tall rather dashing looking man strode up to the front desk to pick up some more paper. As he did so, he casually threw a note onto my desk which read: ‘Will you come to the Trinity Ball with me tonight?’. I went bright red and spent the rest of the paper distracted, especially since I couldn’t go with him because I was, Cinderella style, actually working at the ball.

I feel like that story should end with the words, ‘and that’s how your father and I met’. Instead, we had an awkward conversation after the exam and I was later aggrieved to find I had flunked that paper and he’d got himself a first!

ALEX POTTER, author of Love From Paris 

It was a freezing day in December and I was travelling home on the bus, laden down with supermarket shopping bags. It had been a long day and I was tired and suffering from a stinking cold. Traffic was bad so I texted my husband to tell him I was running late. Finally, as the bus pulled up at my stop, I wearily got up from my seat. It was already dark and as the automatic doors opened, I braced myself for the ten-minute walk home. Then I saw him, sitting at the bus stop waiting for me with a large, steaming Hot Toddy he’d just made and the biggest smile, my husband. As I stepped off the bus he handed me the flask of hot whiskey and honey, grabbed my bags and walked me home, his big strong arm around my waist. Now that’s what I call romance.

Read about Alex’s 7 favourite books set in Paris here 

CHRISSIE MANBY, author of A Proper Family Adventure 

It’s not your traditional hearts and flowers that touch my heart. A cup of tea in the morning is the way to make me smile.

If you liked this post, then catch why not catch up on…

Authors reveal their worst Valentine’s date stories (part 1)

Authors reveal their worst Valentine’s date stories (part 2)