She may be 84, but Fay Weldon’s work as a novelist, playwright, TV dramatist and scriptwriter still sparks debates in many a book club and beyond.
Weldon, whose work includes the hit series The Life And Loves Of A She-Devil and The Cloning Of Joanna May, has lived long enough to be confident in her views on contemporary life, and today talks airily in detached tones about what ‘one’ does and what ‘one’ thinks.
Her outspoken opinions on feminism have often courted controversy, but after a lifetime spent people-watching, three marriages, four children, four stepchildren and a clutch of grandchildren, she’s come to the conclusion that men are now under the cosh.
Both men and women may have suffered as feminism has evolved, she reflects.
Weldon, also a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University, has been writing for five decades and is famed for her contemporary fiction seen from the woman’s perspective.
Only now has she decided to make a man the hero in her latest book, Before The War, a novel about love, death and aristocracy in interwar London.
Starting in 1922, it focuses initially on Vivien, a 24-year-old plain but intelligent singleton who, at nearly 6ft tall, is known unkindly by her family as ‘the giantess’.
Vivien is rich, so she travels to London to bribe charismatic editor Sherwyn Sexton, who works for her publisher father, to marry her, as no one else will. Sherwyn desperately wants his own book published - and sees marriage to the boss’ daughter as his chance - so he agrees, unaware that she is pregnant with another man’s child.
Like so many of Weldon’s female characters, Vivien is a big square peg in a small round hole within her society.
“I’ve always written about characters like that, because they make up the mass of the female population and tend to be overlooked by media cameras,” Weldon observes.
Yet without giving too much away, Sherwyn, who begins his marriage with dishonourable motives, ends up the good guy.
“People change. In this book I have a male hero, and I’ve never written about a man before in this way. One just became more sympathetic towards men.
“As society changes and men increasingly seem to be getting a hard deal, you begin to see things from their point of view.”
Weldon, who has said that women must try harder to stop judging and start liking men, has been married three times. Her third husband, poet Nick Fox, is also her manager. They live on a hilltop in Dorset.
Why is marriage important to her?
“Because I was brought up at a certain time in a certain age and marriage was what girls did. A girl’s ambition was to get married and that’s all I ever wanted to do.”
She believes it’s much more difficult being a mother now.
“Being a mother is now all time and emotion-consuming. In the old days, it was simply not. You fed your children on evaporated milk, put them down the end of the garden without a cat net over the pram, and got on with your life. And we all survived and we were happy.”
Describing herself as a ‘write-aholic’, Weldon has already begun a sequel to her latest release, called After The War, featuring the same characters.
She’s active on Twitter, is up to speed with computers and other technology and even reads celebrity gossip online: “I think the language is very funny. I look at it down the side of the Daily Mail online because one can’t help it. ‘Wardrobe malfunction - side-boobs showing’,” she says, giggling.
“Once we used to have saints, now we have celebrities and they all perform much the same function.
“Human nature remains what it is but takes different forms.”
:: Before The War by Fay Weldon is published by Head of Zeus, priced £18.99. Available now .