All about Roberta…
Roberta Aarons lives in West London. Her interests are theatre, film, athletics (watching!) art, classical music and traveling.
Roberta was born in London into a creative family; her mother was an artist and her father a theatre historian. She originally trained as a newspaper journalist on a London local paper where she had her own weekly column.
Roberta then moved to New York to work in television news, documentaries and entertainment. She returned to London after ten years and her subsequent career included writing and producing commercials, short feature films and corporate video. Roberta also lectured and taught video production, proposal writing and presentation skills. During these years her comedy television series ‘Glad Rags’ was optioned by the then Carlton TV, but not produced.
Having started writing fiction in her seventies, Roberta now concentrates on writing fiction full time and plans to celebrate her 80th birthday with the publication of her third book.
Slippers in the Oven is Roberta’s second novel, following her hugely successful debut My Grandfather’s False Teeth.
1. How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
I wanted to examine the contemporary topic of the mother in the home versus the career wife. It was an issue for me and remains an issue for my daughter and her friends. I thought that if I could compare the lives of two sisters, each representing one of these situations, it could be a dramatic way to look at this. Then if I could work out a way to have them married to the same man, it would be even more so. Then I decided to place them in a location where they were unable to get away from each other and had to confront their history. So I chose to put them together on a cruise, so that they could not escape each other and which would also provide a colourful background and a varied cast of characters. With all those elements, I realised that I had a story that could carry a novel.
2. Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline, or are you more seat of your pants type of writer?
Characters and story are quite seat of the pants to begin with but as both my published books cover a many decades and different locations, they were carefully outlined. When I had an idea about the story I wanted to tell, I plotted dates, significant events, ages and geography very carefully on spread sheets which are stuck up above my desk. I am always worried that I might get someone married before they are actually born! Also geography and timing are precisely worked out and for Slippers in the Oven I had to work in nautical miles and make sure the ship could actually get to where I needed it to be for a particular chapter, also that it could actually achieve the voyage I had invented.
When working on the first draft, I scribble notes all the time and everywhere, walking, on buses, in the supermarket, while gardening, waiting in queues and in the middle of the night. Every room in my home, my pockets, handbag are littered with scraps of paper. This is accompanied by the intense spread sheet planning, which I carry around with me in draft form until I am satisfied. When I am in the middle of a book, I have a regular routine which is from very early in the morning, straight of bed, until I can’t sit any more, then late into the night. I take regular breaks to touch my toes and run up and down stairs. The rest of my life takes place in the afternoons, with the occasional night off.
4. How do you spend your free time?
My free time is spent sociably with friends and family, lots of theatre, film and art galleries but I unwind by taking long walks by myself along the Thames tow path in any weather. I find it relaxing and peaceful. If I am having difficulty with a plot point or ‘lost for words’, I cook. Mainly large casseroles as I find chopping vegetables relieves the tension and frustration and I can do it automatically while thinking of the book. I have been known to solve the problem in my head, then rush back to my computer forgetting that the onions are already frying in the pan!
5. What do you have in store next for your readers?
I am going to return to my first novel My Grandfather’s False Teeth and pick up the story of one of the characters who runs away from home during her teen years and disappears into the London fog. It is the 1920’s and a period that I will enjoy researching. It is also unfinished business as I am lucky that readers have asked me what happened to her. So the spread sheet is already done and up there above me!
6. Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
I have been called the queen of daft titles, as in ‘Slippers in the Oven’ and ‘My Grandfather’s False Teeth’ and indeed I am. I like daft titles, they intrigue and create dialogue but they must have relevance particularly as I get savagely interrogated about them. ‘Slippers in the Oven’ is an analogy for all the comforts the husband misses about his home after leaving his stay-at-home wife and the mother of his children for a successful career woman – her sister. Before, his home had always been run smoothly without his involvement, his drink always poured, his dinner waiting and his children settled when he arrived home from work. Talking about it later, the career woman commented ‘I think he even expected his slippers in the oven.’
A reader wrote saying, ‘I will always read to the end of your books to find out what the title is about!’ I loved that, but hope there is more to them beyond the title.
After Emma, a successful career woman, steals the husband of her younger sister Ann, a comfortable stay-at-home mother, they are estranged for many years. Reunited again at his funeral and carried away by the emotion of the moment, they impulsively decide to go on holiday together.
Unable to agree on a destination, they eventually compromise on a cruise. But intermixed with thrilling new experiences, unfamiliar destinations and the amusing antics of some of their fellow passengers, Ann and Emma find it difficult to heal their wounds.
On board the disconnected, and at times, surreal world of a cruise ship, there are accusations and revelations amid the tears and laughter as they take tentative steps towards a greater understanding of each other and their painful past.