One of the first things Joanna Trollope does when she comes to our photoshoot is to turn down a thin strapless dress.
"At my age, it's really unsuitable to be sexy," she says. For God's sake, I'm 76. It's inappropriate. "
However, the fact is that with her chic suit and expensive cut silver hair, she is still sexy.
She's also one of the most suitable older women in London – razor sharp, entertaining, insightful and wealthy.
Her novels, which include The Choir, Marrying The Mistress, A Village Affair and The Other Family, and the TV dramas adapted from her books are rumored to have grossed her around £ 15 million (as well as a CBE for services to the Literature). . She has a four story row house in Chelsea, West London. And yet, Joanna Trollope, who has been married twice but single for 20 years, admits that she has given up men for good.
Joanna Trollope, 76, (pictured) announced that she has withdrawn from the market because she doesn't need a man for anything
"I definitely took myself off the market, yes," she says. “I think a lot of women do. I'm not interested. I don't need a man for anything.
“However, I have friends in my age group who only really feel validated when they have a man in their life. Some women always flirt and need a man and feel more authentic when they have one.
"And there will be women who might choose a man to be more than …" She pauses, "inferior because he's a man. That's good. But not everyone has to be married or have children. We have to stop judging women by the choices they make in their lives. "
Trollope, one of the great chroniclers of the life of middle-aged women, published her 22nd contemporary novel this year. Mum & Dad, which comes out in paperback this month, focuses on the sandwich generation: middle-aged people who look after their children, and also their older parents, while trying to keep marriages together.
But Trollope himself has passed this phase. "I had two husbands, but haven't been married for about 20 years – and they have been the best 20 years of my life," she says simply. Her closest male friends are gay, and as a dedicated grandmother of nine, she is very happy with her lot.
She recently grabbed the BBC's adaptation of the David Nicholls novel Us about a falling apart, mid-life couple. "Mrs. Connie wakes up one morning and says," I think our marriage has probably taken its course now. Nobody else is involved. I definitely don't want to go to bed with someone else, but you know … "" Joanna's eyes sparkle, as if everything sounds pretty familiar.
Joanna, the Oxford-educated granddaughter of a principal and a descendant of the Victorian writer Anthony Trollope, had two long marriages. She met her first husband, city banker David Potter, in Oxford and married in 1966 when he was 21 and she was 22.
Joanna met her second husband, TV playwright Ian Curteis, in her late 30s and rented a huge house in Gloucestershire. Pictured: Joanna and her second husband Ian Curteis
They had two daughters, Louise, now 51, and Antonia, 48, and separated in 1983 after 17 years.
Earlier this year she revealed, "I would have liked crowds more kids, but I was married to someone who was completely unfaithful so I just didn't want to risk it."
She met her second husband, TV playwright Ian Curteis, in their late 30s. When they married in 1985, he gave birth to two teenage step-sons.
They rented a huge house in Gloucestershire – although with four university-age children they could not afford the heating for the first three years.
I haven't been married for 20 years – they were the happiest 20 years of my life!
And yet everything seemed rosy. An interviewer, who visited the couple in 1993, remarked: "As you can feel, they are a couple who conscientiously look after each other and who enjoy making life easier for each other."
Her friend and co-author Jilly Cooper described her as "absolutely devoted".
At the time, Joanna was writing historical novels. Her husband encouraged her to write about what she knew.
The choir was Joanna's first contemporary novel, followed by A Village Affair and A Passionate Man. But it was her fourth novel, The Rector's Wife, that ousted Jeffrey Archer from the bestseller in 1991 and stayed there for 50 weeks.
Joanna (pictured) said she had a "mini-breakdown" when her marriage to Ian fell apart after 13 years
It had three top ten best-sellers that year – and suddenly they could afford the gas bill.
So it was a big surprise for many when the marriage fell apart after 13 years.
Joanna had what she calls a "mini glitch" and sometimes left her "dead soaked" with her own tears. But it was a relief to admit that she wasn't happy.
At the time she was told that she was imagining everything; that it was her fault. But she knew she couldn't stay.
Some women will always need a man and may choose a man who could be considered … inferior for being a man
One day she just put the dogs in the car and left Gloucestershire for London. "I just had to get rid of hell," she said.
She and Curteis divorced in 2001. In the same year he married another woman.
Was Trollope's career success a reason the relationships fell apart?
“The men I was married to had grown up in the generation when their social expectations were very different from now. They acted very much like the prime minister, digging into their heels and pretending everything was fine. They resented being undermined. "
So you weren't good at accepting that women have desires independent of their husbands, including a desire for a career?
After her second divorce, Joanna was close friends with French classic Jason Kouchak, who was 23 years her junior. Pictured: Joanna receives her CBE in 2019
“Because of that, there was tension in the relationship. But as I moved away from them, I realized that I didn't have to carry the can for all mistakes. "
She later says, “My idea of loneliness is an intimate relationship where you're a million miles apart. You can't find the camaraderie that you thought you had. "
After their second divorce, Joanna was close friends with French classic Jason Kouchak, 23 years her junior, for several years – but today she believes it is a relief to let go of sexual desire and jealousy.
"The thing of: I want you to be only true to me," she muses. "Is that sensible? It's a very real human emotion, isn't it?
Working women don't have time and yet society is old-fashioned and still considers caring to be a female profession
"But I think it has to be looked at." Why are we so jealous? Why do we feel undermined by the idea of not being enough for anyone? Sorry, if I don't want an X, why am I annoyed that someone else wants X? I just think this should be talked about openly, and that's what I'm trying to do with all of these novels. "
Today she lives in a big, thin house with many steps, does pilates and stretches when she gets up, and goes everywhere. She shares the same core of girlfriends she has had for 30 years (tellingly, her 2017 novel City Of Friends featured four female college friends with high-flying careers in the city).
As for the lockdown, “Writers are used to living alone, so my own company wasn't a problem. If you want a gin and tonic at 11.30, give it a try, ”she laughs.
She didn't write much, however. “I write about real life so I had nothing to write about. Because lockdown was a kind of deviation from life. It was too unreal. I think the current behavior is, ”she sighs.
Joanna (pictured), who claims she didn't have anything to write about during the lockdown, said she was bored of the conflicting rules and restrictions
"We feel like we're going back to some sort of normal, but honestly it's crazy right now." All these contradicting rules and restrictions and bans. I'm bored.
She doesn't want to live virtually. She wants to talk to the girl at the checkout in the supermarket and try on the jacket in the store.
Meanwhile, the way coronavirus policies have affected the lives of their grandchildren, ages 11-22, has infuriated them. “It was a real animal for her. I mean, in my opinion, schools should never have closed. It's horrific. "
Students locked in their dormitories are "unforgivable," she says. "What should they do?
“Yes, there are photos of overcrowded city centers. Well of course there is. And of course they drink, because the goal now is to break your head and get blindly drunk. Not to drink for pleasure, but as a kind of escape. What else did anyone expect? "
She always wanted to be an everyday grandmother as opposed to a special event, the best. “If you have children of your own, you have to make them a good citizen. When you're a grandparent, that burden is gone so you can just pamper and enjoy it and make a friend of it. "
Their daughters have five children between them and their two step-sons have four more.
Joanna announced that she occasionally sees her children's father, but never Ian Curteis. Pictured: Joanna 1994
“I see my children's father very occasionally, but I never see Ian Curteis, who lives in Yorkshire. I would never pretend these marriages didn't take place, but they are history and belong to a different period in life. But personally, I would hate not to have children or grandchildren. "
"I think one of the reasons grandparents and children get along the way parents often don't is because parents are in the middle." If you are to put it bluntly, grandparents and grandchildren share a common enemy. "
Early on, her books were lazily referred to as "Aga sagas" because of their bourgeois domestic environment. In fact, however, they are darker and more subversive. For the past 30 years she has dealt with adoption (one of her step-sons is adopted) and adultery, lesbianism, controversial wills, and post-traumatic stress.
The writer Fay Weldon once said that Trollope had "a gift to get the problem of time under control". "She likes to tackle the seemingly simple, but really very difficult subjects – how parents treat their children and vice versa – that many smaller writers prefer to avoid."
A constant theme in her books is that couples find love in the middle of life, much to the horror of their adult children. She sympathizes with this younger generation, but is also brilliant at how a damaged child can ruin a parent's chance of late-night happiness.
They feel that whenever she writes about love, there is a tiny ice in her soul.
Joanna (pictured) interviewed British people who had emigrated to southern Spain to find a better life for their latest novel, Mum & Dad
"Whatever the modern zeitgeist problem that nobody is talking about, I try to get the conversation going." We are English and culturally very reserved. So we're not talking about late-life remarriage, we're not talking about working women, we're not talking about the longevity of our own parents.
"Could we please speak openly about this and stop pretending it is different from what it is?"
She describes her latest novel, Mum & Dad, as a “modern manual” for dealing with older parents. The book is about Monica and Gus, who have lived in Spain for 25 years, where Gus runs a successful vineyard.
When Gus has a stroke, her three middle-aged children have to leave their jobs and families in the UK to save their sick parents. It is clear that Monica and Gus will never have a romantic relationship again.
& # 39; Sex. The mere idea of it was as far away from her as the moon, ”Trollope writes about Monica. But the hope is that they may be able to rebuild the camaraderie.
For Mama & Papa, she interviewed British people who emigrated to southern Spain in order to lead a better life in the 1990s. “Masses of people who messed up life in Britain went to Spain because you could have much better weather, live for half the price, and suddenly you could have acres of land and all the horses and dogs you wanted. You could live like a king "
That is, until they got sick abroad. And then once again it was her daughters who were supposed to pick up the pieces.
Joanna (pictured) said she started writing "to fill in the long rooms after the kids went to bed" before becoming a full-time writer in 1980
“I think 25 percent of working women are now the breadwinners. You have no time. Yet society is quite old fashioned and thinks that caring for anyone is necessarily a female occupation. And that's not it. "
In Mum & Dad, one of the teenagers, Marta, is self-harming. “A lot of the girls I know this age do. It's kind of a badge of honor. There is certainly contagion in this age group, but I think self-harm is about being significant. "
It's Marta's ubiquitous grandmother, Monica, who ultimately provides the stability she needs – but Trollope doesn't judge working mothers.
She joined the Foreign Office early in her own life and would certainly have come a long way if she was allowed to compete with the men in a balanced field. "I was determined not to be someone's secretary, so I didn't learn to type."
Since women had to resign from the Foreign Office after marriage, Trollope had to start her career again when she married David in 1966. Instead, she became a teacher and took a huge cut in her wages.
She began to write “to fill the long rooms after the children went to bed” and for years combined it with school work. In 1980 she became a full-time writer.
“Some women want to rule the world. others want to make jam tarts with a three year old in the kitchen, ”she says. "Until we accept that both are valid, we will get no further."
Joanna (pictured) admits she's not sure she would feel as optimistic about herself if she were younger and shows that she's happy to be 76 now
In recent years Trollope has downsized and sold their second home in the country. She made a living "giving my daughters a power of attorney when I go gaga," and has studied end-of-life care. "I've talked about things to my daughters and they're both very involved."
Such conversations with her own parents were impossible, although she and her sister had taken care of them for the past few days. Her father had dementia for 15 years before he died.
“I remember saying to a nurse in the nursing home he was in for the last two years of his life,“ You are amazing ”.
"She said," It's very easy because I'm not related to him. And he's very polite to me and very different. but if you're his child it's a different matter. ""
Still, Joanna finds aging very comforting. "I'm not sure if I was younger I would feel that optimistic." I am very happy to be 76 now. “She expects to write well into the 1990s. She saw P. D. James shortly before she died and at 94 had another book on the way.
Her message to younger women is: "Don't identify with your deepest moment". “This stereotype about life as a travel is so true. After that there is always something to do. "
And with that, London's most eligible and one of the smartest women collect their things and find a taxi.
Mum & Dad by Joanna Trollope (£ 8.99, Pan Macmillan) will be published in paperback October 22nd.
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