Author Polly Phillips has many happy memories of life at university in the UK but the experience did not deter her from focusing on its somewhat darker side for her new book, The Reunion, in which the main character, Emily, has tried to forget her time at university and the events that left her suddenly leaving under a cloud.
“From my perspective I was lucky enough to go to Cambridge and have a lovely time there,” Perth based Polly tells Have
a Go News. “But I did feel quite insecure there and looked at these men with their rugby blazers and public school accents and I did think, ‘it would be nice to be you, to be accepted and be so certain.’
“I do think there was that line of wanting to be liked, to be accepted and passed for something that made many women feel particularly vulnerable.”
The Reunion, former journalist Polly’s second novel, tells of married mother of twins, Emily Toller, and her rollercoaster ride.
“There is the saying, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ but I think in Emily’s life, even though she goes through the wringer, it changes her for the better by standing up for what she didn’t stand up for previously and the revelations that come out.”
Polly says she feels lucky to be back in Perth from the UK where her book was launched a few weeks ago after its Australian release.
“I have been fortunate to have coverage there and here with supportive reviews in The Guardian and Sydney
Morning Herald. The book has been well received.
“I went to the book launch party near where I attended school in Dulwich in south-east London. Lots of school and university friends came along. It was really nice to see uni friends who had a real insight into the book and were trying to guess who I had based the characters on. I did have a pair of red shoes at uni (mentioned in the book) and friends said they remembered the shoes. It was really lovely.”
Polly wrote The Reunion in Perth after moving here with her husband Al and daughter Lalage in 2020 before the big Covid lockdown.
“My father died while I was writing the book which is dedicated to him and my mum. It was quite cathartic to have something to escape into and something so different which made me feel young again.
“The problems the main characters are dealing with are so very different from the sort of things I am experiencing in life now. It was quite a comfort and I feel lots of people would like to go back to university and right the wrongs and change the ways they behaved; so in a funny way I got to do that.”
What inspired her to write the book?
“I think it was a debate I wanted to contribute to in terms of, are we going to let these gender roles play out? I have an eight-year-old daughter, I worry for the future; we are trying hard with the MeToo movement and women are being heard a lot more but I think there is still a sense of disparity and men are allowed to get away with a lot of things.
“Now I am 40 it seemed like a fun time to go back and write about it. Sadly, The Reunion focuses on a perennially relevant topic. We have taken great strides forward but I don’t think we are there yet. The sense of male entitlement is still there.”
Polly spent her early working life as a journalist with husband Al working in the oil and gas sector.
“We had a fantastic opportunity to work in WA but moved to Copenhagen, Dubai and back to London. Having initially found Australia so far from everywhere else, I struggled to settle here but within six months of leaving I was desperate to return and eventually we did.”
Polly says she is diving into her third book at present “it is really exciting. Towards the end of book two I got itchy feet and desperately wanted to start writing. I’m fleshing out a first draft and this book will be a worthy successor to The
“I write most days but not at weekends, I like to run a lot and walk our dog so I use these times to iron out any plot holes. I must look like a lunatic, talking to myself, gesticulating and frowning, trying to work out where I am going.
“A lot of people have felt discombobulated by Covid – routines, life and priorities have changed. Losing my dad made me more determined to write and seize the day.”
The Reunion ($29.99, Simon & Schuster) is available from good bookstores.