Loneliness of motherhood

Meg Mason knows what it's like to be a lonely new mother. Her first book, a memoir, Say It Again in a Nice Voice, touched a raw nerve. It was the book she wished she'd had "to make me feel better when I was a slightly lost stay-at-home mother with no friends, no job and a serious Panadol habit," she said back in 2012.

In her new book, a novel, You Be Mother, she explores that idea again, but this time the loneliness occurs in two women, one a young mother, the other her older recently widowed neighbour.

Abi is pregnant at 21, she's moved to a new city, realising that the father of her child is still a child himself. She moves in next door to Phyllida, her wealthy, charming neighbour, whose grown-up children have all left home.

"It's a funny friendship that doesn't make any sense to the outside world or to Abi's mother or Phyll's children," says Mason.

"But it fills the gap for both of them, someone who's going into the tunnel of motherhood and someone who's emerging out the other end, they develop a real bond."

Mason says the idea of intergenerational friendships interest her greatly, especially between women.

"There are no two stages in life that are lonely in that absolutely endemic way as a new mother and a widow," she says.

"Two stations in life where you are going to be struggling to find a connection to what everyone else is doing. Everyone else is busy and important and has places to go and things to do, and sometimes [new mothers and widows] are excluded from that.

"These two women find each other and instantly bond. They become the anchor in each other's day, where before their days were quite formless."

Mason says she enjoyed writing the character of Phyllida. She says, too often, women of a certain age are invisible, not only in fiction but in real life.

"I was at the Sydney Writers' Festival and there were all these wonderful older ladies there, vibrant, charismatic, and I was thinking how often do they read their own stories?

"So often fiction is 20-year-olds falling in love, forging careers, when I'm that age I want to read about my own experiences, to be able to identify with older characters.

"Phyll is the star of the book, so dynamic, such a powerful force, she draws people to her, that older woman with a wealth of experience. She's had this fascinating life and I'm sure there are so many women like that. I know that's why I love having older women in my life."

Born in New Zealand, Mason began her writing career at TheFinancial Times in London before making the switch to writing on parenting and lifestyle. She moved to Sydney and picked up freelance work with newspapers and magazines. Currently she is writing a monthly column for Elle magazine and is the AskMegsy columnist for InsideOut. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two daughters, who are 13 and 11.

She talks about moving into a new stage of motherhood herself - the girls have had "an explosion of independence, it's a revelation", she says. They're happy to let her know they're not too keen on her writing another book because it takes time out of their family day. That said, Mason is keen on a third book, another novel.

When I spoke to her for Say It Again in a Nice Voiceshe talked about one of the hardest things about being a new mother was being the "mistress of my own time".

"Suddenly you're the one ultimately responsible for putting any bones into an otherwise boneless day," she said then. "It's an art form, you have to learn it, and it was the one thing - because I didn't have family around, I didn't have a mother around, when I had children - I found really hard."

Is this feeling what prompted her to explore a relationship between Abi and Phyllida, one which is almost family, but with enough twists and turns, and a few lies, thrown in?

"I think it was. It's a story about the families we have, and the ones we want, or we think we want."

YOU BE MOTHER
Meg Mason
Fourth Estate $32.99

This story Loneliness of motherhood first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.