Writer discovers truth about middle class battered wives
David Clensy meets the Bristol writer who is opening the doors of suburbia to find the shocking truth about middle-class battered wives
FOR Amanda Prowse, when she decided to focus her next novel on domestic abuse she hadn’t expected the reality of it to come hammering home into her own cosy middle class world.
After all, the former management consultant turned novelist is living the middle-class dream. She is a proud military wife – her husband Major Simeon Prowse MBE is a dashing officer in the British Army - and for years she has had a reliable network of glamorous friends living near the family’s Stapleton home. She’s not short of lunch invitations – she’s no stranger to “doing coffee”.
Indeed, her best friend and closest confidante is TV’s Carol Vorderman.
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It was actually the former queen of Countdown who encouraged Amanda, who was then 43, to go for her second career as a writer two years ago – giving her seal of approval to her first book, Poppy Day, by writing an enthusiastic celebrity foreword.
With her elegant make-up, Sex In The City-hairstyle, and bountiful collection of sartorial accessories, Amanda is the very living embodiment of middle class comfort.
But with her new book, What Have I Done? Amanda cracks open the thin veneer of middle-class respectability and an all-too-often rotten core.
“I write about subjects that I think are important,” she explains.
“But when I decided to write a novel about domestic abuse, I was coming at it cold.
“In my sheer naivety, when I thought of battered wives, I imagined down-trodden women from Barton Hill, trapped by poverty and addicted to drugs.
“I thought I might be able to do my research by putting a call out on the internet for women undergoing abusive relationships to come forward to talk to me. But to my great shock, I soon discovered it was all much closer to home than I’d imagined.”
Amanda started by discussing it with her own circle of friends over one of those seemingly regular cafe chats.
“I was horrified to discover that far from being a remote issue, most of my friends knew someone who had been through an abusive relationship. They put me in touch with women who had been through it, or in some cases, were still going through it.”
Amanda arranged to meet some of these suffering women in her local coffee shop.
“The women who came through the door didn’t look down-trodden or bruised. They were glamorous, coiffured, successful middle-class women. They were just like us. But they had dark secrets.
“That’s when I realised that my image of a battered wife was all wrong.
“You are more likely to be standing next to a battered wife in the aisles of Waitrose than you are walking through a working class street.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of what goes on behind closed doors,” Amanda says. “How lots of families have a public face and a private face.
“Many of the women I talked to had seemingly happy lives – successful careers and beautiful families.
“Nobody knew about the abusive relationships that they kept a closely-guarded secret.
“One lady I talked to was a very successful businesswoman by day – she was a high-up executive in a bank.
“She told me how she would hold court in the boardroom, then a few hours later she would be at home laying on the lino, beaten by the husband that the outside world saw as a smiling, loving partner.
“When I asked her why she stayed with him, she said the same thing that lots of these women said to me – that she couldn’t imagine what her children’s life would be like if she left.
“That’s when I realised that women could be trapped in unhappy marriages as easily by wealth as they can by poverty.”
It also quickly became clear to Amanda that domestic abuse was not all about being physically beaten.
“Often the psychological and emotional abuse is much more sinister,” she says. “There are men who can control their wife with a single glance.
“I heard all kinds of stories from women of men who constantly checked their wife’s emails and text messages, or who kept a surreptitious eye on the mileage their wife was travelling each day – all to make sure they were not doing anything the husband didn’t know about.
“Lots of the women said the same thing – that their husband did it because they loved them too much. That was the devastating thing, that they thought these were symptoms of love.”
Amanda’s new book tells the story of Katherine Brooker, whose husband is a charming headmaster at a prestigious prep school.
By day she bakes cakes for her son’s cricket matches. By night her husband allocates points for her behaviour and punishes her accordingly.
Then one day, she kills him.
“What I tend to do with my writing is to magnify situations that a lot of people will be able to empathise with,” Amanda says. “So really it’s not so much about murdering your husband, as it is about moving on after an abusive relationship.
“I think it will strike a chord with a lot of people,” she says.
“The fact that it rocketed into the Top 10 Amazon and Kindle bestsellers list just five days after being published, was a reminder to me of how many lives this issue will touch.”
What Have I Done? by Amanda Prowse is out now, published by Head of Zeus, priced £12.99.