Maeve Haran’s new baby-boomer novel is straight from the heart
- Credit: Archant
Highgate author Maeve Haran is the living proof that you should write what you know. Back in the Nineties, when she had two young children and a demanding career in TV, she tapped into the zeitgeist with her debut novel, Having It All, about the emotional dilemmas of young working mothers.
Two decades later she’s done it again with her latest book, The Time of Their Lives, about a group of sixtysomething friends going through divorce, death, illness and redundancy in a society that values youth and technology over experience and maturity.
“I was meant to be writing a historical novel about a foundling but my youngest child went off to work in New York and I felt bereft with my empty nest and decided to just write what I felt like,” says Haran who, like the women in her novel, meets monthly with a group of old friends.
“I took it to the publishers expecting them to ask, ‘What about your foundling’, but they were delighted. It seemed to capture the zeitgeist.”
Haran and her Oxford University friends meet every month to drink champagne in the Rivoli bar at The Ritz.
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“My friendships definitely inspired the novel. I wanted to recreate that and write about the kind of shocks that life can throw at you, and how one gets over them.”
Ella is a widowed lawyer worrying about dementia, Sal a lifelong career girl dumped by her employer, Claudia a teacher ousted by a younger techno-whiz colleague and Laura a home-maker traded in by her husband for a younger model.
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“I wanted to include breast cancer, because three of my friends have had it and I feel it’s a scourge, and also marriage break-up. We all know it happens but I went to see a divorce lawyer and asked what she advises her clients. She says don’t take your ex to the cleaners or make an enemy of them, even when you have been dumped, because you end up harming your children.”
Haran’s theme isn’t all doom and gloom, but celebrates the possibilities for embracing older age, whether it’s revelling in newfound independence like Laura or seizing the day to do something new.
“We Sixties girls had an amazing time, we invented fashion, lived through the most amazing changes, but because of that we haven’t grown up, we are quite young with plenty of life in us yet.
“I don’t even think I am old. Being 19 in my head, I haven’t accepted it, and though I struggled with confidence in my younger years, I have so much more confidence now, it’s sort of not caring.”
Born in 1950, Haran is well aware that she’s a lucky baby boomer, one of those who came of age in time for the summer of love, enjoyed full employment, free healthcare and low house prices, and are now entering a comfortable retirement.
“We were a very fortunate generation. We have always changed the rules and we are going to change the rules and approach old age in a different way.
“At the moment it’s all living alone or in care homes. The baby boomers owe it to the old to find a better way.”
With an iPhone in her bag and her Freedom Pass in a snakeskin purse, Haran herself isn’t ready to retire.
“Other people – particularly those who had full-on corporate jobs – embrace having lots of time to themselves, but those with more flexible jobs don’t. I am not retiring to garden. I have nothing to fill the space that writing has in my life.”
It was this very flexibility – the kind of maternity leave, part-time working and job sharing that is now increasingly common – that Haran hoped to inspire with Having It All, which has been reissued 22 years on.
Hers was the first generation that expected stimulating careers, yet still missed their children.
“It made such an impact and it’s interesting to see what has and hasn’t changed. Is it still the woman who is doing everything? It’s created a lot of discussion. I think the work-life balance still involves some sacrifice, but work is much more flexible now.”
It seems Haran has succeeded, raising two daughters with good careers, a son who pledges he’ll care for his children “50-50” while enjoying a career as a novelist.
“Of course we managed because we had big enough houses to accommodate live-in help like au pairs and nannies, whereas women today are dictated to by property and money.”
The Time of Their Lives is published by Pan, priced £7.99.