Photo: Barker Evans

Friday Nights: Joanna Trollope

16th February 2008

It’s difficult to imagine the poised and elegant Joanna Trollope, once dubbed queen of the Aga saga, waving a football scarf and chanting with the Chelsea crowds on the terraces of Stamford Bridge… but this tall, thin, Oxford-educated writer – a distant relative of the 19th century novelist Anthony Trollope – revealed during a recent promotional talk at St Clement Danes School, Chorleywood, that football has become her new passion.

While researching her latest novel, Friday Nights, which examines the intricacies of female friendship, Trollope, 64, was looking for inspiration as to how a man could beguile the eight-year-old son of his new girlfriend – and football sprang to mind.

“My publisher’s driver has been going to Stamford Bridge since he was seven and I asked if he’d take me,” she recalls. “I thought I was going to be mildly interested, but I was absolutely bowled over. It was partly the stadium itself, which was extraordinary, and partly the atmosphere. We were in the Matthew Harding stand. I was yelling my head off and couldn’t believe how partisan I felt.”

Since that first match, Trollope has been to the training ground and met the players, including John Terry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Frank Lampard, as well as Chelsea manager Avram Grant. The cover of her new book even has the Chelsea strip on it.

“My six-year-old grandson is a Liverpool supporter but he thinks he can sink his principles long enough to come to Stamford Bridge with me,” she enthuses.

Her latest novel centres on the friendship of an eclectic group of women – some married, others not, with various offspring – who meet on Friday nights with the retired professional spinster who started the group. Friendships seem strong and stable, until a man is thrown into the mix and starts dating one of the women, which then puts the female friendships to the test.

“The female friendship has come to assume an extraordinary importance in modern life,” she says. “Because families are now so scattered, we need to have this intimacy with other people in our lives. We are making our friends into family and we are requiring a particular loyalty and intensity from these friendships.”

Trollope, who is meticulous in her research, also went to a trendy nightclub in Ladbroke Grove to find out about female DJs, the basis for one of her characters. The music of choice was ‘house’ which, she was assured, was optimistic, with a 4/4 beat, rather like Mozart.

Born in the Cotswolds in 1943, Trollope grew up in Reigate, Surrey. Her father, who studied classics at Oxford, ran “a small, eccentric but extremely successful building society” in the City. Her mother, Rosemary, now in her late 80s, is an artist and author.

Trollope married banker David Potter, had two children and then met her second husband, TV dramatist and playwright Ian Curteis, when she was 37. He was also married at the time. She left her first husband for him; they both endured messy divorces and were married in 1985. Trollope left Curteis in 1998 and has not had a live-in partner since. She lives alone in west London and says that she is now in the happiest phase of her life.

Initially she wrote historical romances – published under the name of Caroline Harvey, a combination of her Trollope grand-
parents' first names – but felt the books weren't going anywhere: “It was the wrong genre for the time.”

She later embarked on contemporary fiction, firstly with The Choir in 1988, but achieved real success in her late 40s when her fourth novel, The Rector’s Wife, became a best-seller, knocking Jeffrey Archer off the best-seller spot in 1991. In her subsequent novels, her chosen topics have included adoption (Brother And Sister), step-parenting (Other People’s Children) and marital breakdown (Marrying The Mistress) among other issues.

She writes a book every two years and already knows what the next one is about, but remains tight-lipped on the subject. Book tours, literary festivals and charity work take up much of her time now, along with her extended family and seven grandchildren. She admits she doesn’t have the energy she once had.

At home she is as meticulous about tidiness as she is about her work. She tries to be strictly disciplined with writing, but it gets harder: “It’s just that I’ve done it for so long. I don’t want to let my readers down. My first number one was The Rector’s Wife in 1991 and I’ve had number ones and twos without fail ever since. There’s a feeling of not wanting to disappoint.”

If you missed her talk in Chorleywood, or want to catch a glimpse of the famous author at play, then you should look out for her on the terraces at Stamford Bridge. You can’t miss her – a tall, willowy blonde, waving her Chelsea scarf with glee…

Best-selling author Joanna Trollope talks to Hannah Patterson about female friends, family – and football.

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