When the Boys Are Away

Meg Miller has had enough of living out of a suitcase. She’s spent three years trailing around the globe with two children, following professional sailor boyfriend, Simon. However, when she returns to Dublin she realizes that all her friends have moved on, leaving her with only her eccentric family for support.

Then life suddenly becomes brighter when she teams up with her neighbour, Tina. Tina’s in the same boat, her husband works from home Monday to Friday, and the two new friends start to enjoy their man-free life.

When Simon announces he’s moving home for good, Meg quickly discovers that living apart is sometimes easier than living together. But when Simon’s past comes back to haunt him, she realizes that it’s time to stop playing and start fighting for what’s really important.

Background to the Book (Website Exclusive)

After Always the Bridesmaid, When the Boys Are Awayis probably my favourite of my earlier books. Just after writing it my partner in a strange case of life imitating art, Ben announced that he’d been asked to do an Olympic campaign. So Meg’s life became my life for a while. This is one of the articles I wrote in 2007 about the experience.

The Secret Life of a Sports Widow Last October my partner, Ben, announced he’d be asked to do an Olympic campaign. Ben, who’s tall, built like a brick and English, has been in Ireland for seven years now, six of them living with me. Before relocating to Dublin he was a professional sailor, working on a succession of rather glam race yachts. ‘Oh really?’ I murmured, distracted by our youngest, Amy, who was trying to feed popcorn into the mouth of the video recorder. ‘It’s always nice to be asked, isn’t it?’ He was hopping from one foot to another, like a child who needs the loo. It was only then I noticed his open, hopeful face. He looked at me, sea longing in his eyes. ‘It’ll only be for eighteen months,’ he said. ‘And there wouldn’t be all that much travel; not really.’ My God, was he seriously considering it? Ben had been asked to do an Olympic campaign previously, and we’d both decided it would be impossible, what with the two children, the mortgage, and his job as IT director in an electronic trading house. Now we had three children, and an even bigger mortgage thanks to the interest rate increases; so what had changed? ‘I know, I know, it’s probably not practical,’ he said after a moment. ‘But as you say, nice to be asked.’ His face dropped. I took a deep breath. ‘Let’s talk about it.’ And so it began.

In a rather ironic life-imitating-art twist, I’d just completed a novel, When the Boys are Away, about a full time sports widow, Meg Miller whose partner, Simon is a professional sailor. It’s based somewhat on my experiences trailing Ben around the globe to all the big regattas: Race Week in Antigua, The America’s Cup in Auckland, Cowes Week. In the book Meg is questioning her mostly long distance relationship with its inherent difficulties, while trying to deal with her increasingly sullen teenager, Dan, fending off her ex, and dealing with eccentric Polish builders. Little did I know that in time I’d be in the same boat, minus the ex and the builders. Well, to be accurate, Ben’s in the boat, I’m stuck with the usual household mayhem.

Because three months on, Ben is in Miami for two weeks, sailing his Star boat in a pre Olympic regatta with his team mate, Prof O’Connell, and I’m at home, muddling through with a tetchy toddler, a moody pre-teen, and a baby with chicken pox in every nasty place you can think of. Dragging out the bins, rebooting the computer in an effort to fix it, breaking the wheels off the dishwasher . . . you get the picture. But it’s not as if I’m the only one who’s been abandoned by her man. Recently I’ve met more and more women who are holding the fort alone while their husbands work or play abroad. One of my neighbours is a work widow, her husband’s job is London based and he commutes every week, driving to the airport in the small hours of every Tuesday morning and flying home every Thursday night. She’s pretty blasé about the whole arrangement, recognising that it enables her to take a career break while her baby and toddler are still little. Plus, she points out, she can slob around in a tracksuit and eat fish fingers for dinner if she feels like it, and the house only gets properly tidied on a Thursday, in time for daddy’s return.

But other women get tetchy and disheartened. I spent three weeks living with the British America’s Cup wives in a four star hotel in Auckland and it was a real opener. Many had put their own lives on hold to be there, supporting their men. Their husbands and boyfriends left at dawn and were rarely home until nightfall. When they did get back, exhausted after a full day on the water or in the boat yard, all they wanted to do was eat and flop in front of the terrible Kiwi television before falling into bed. When I arrived many of the women had already returned home to friends, family and a more normal routine. The ones that did stick it out were trying to make the most of the swimming pool, the maid service, and the incredible landscape. They organised trips to the beach, mums and tots mornings, and shopping trips. But it wasn’t easy. It’s amazing how feeling second best to either work or sport can undermine a woman’s confidence.

It’s even harder for sports widows because for our men it’s not about work, it’s about having fun, usually with other men. They’ve chosen to be away from us and their children. And that’s what makes it difficult. Knowing we’re second best to a golf course, a rugby pitch, the ocean. I mean really, how can I compete with the ocean?

So when Ben first mentioned the Olympic campaign, why didn’t I just say no? Well, the way I see it, life’s short. Ben’s thirty four and his competitive sailing years are ticking away. For sailors there are two holy grails – The America’s Cup and the Olympics. He’s already been involved in an America’s Cup campaign, if only for a brief spell, but it was enough to satisfy that craving.

Who am I to tread on his dreams? He’s a good man, devoted to the kids, patient and understanding. As a full time writer I’m already living my own dream. Ben drives me all around the country to readers’ events and bookshop signings, and puts up with my late night scribbling in bed, my long phone calls to fellow writers, my moaning about deadlines. So for the next eighteen months I’m supporting him for a change.

Would I have my old life back with Ben by my side every night? In a heartbeat. But if it means a man who is always wondering ‘what if’? Then no. Because being with someone means letting them fly. Or in my case, sail.


Webb is one of the best in the genre, with each novel toppling the last. The Bookseller

The story is told with Webb’s characteristically light touch, so Meg’s quirky take on life stops her running aground. Nautical but nice. The Irish Times

Meg is so cleverly drawn and easy to identify with. Hattie is definitely more Samantha Jones than Charlotte York and she keeps the ‘naught-ical’ rather than nautical theme running through her quest (to find a rich husband). With the summer beckoning, girls’ minds are turning to play and with this page-turner in your beach bag, the boys can stay away that bit longer! Irish Independent

When The Boys Are Away is a fantastic read, filled with exceptionally loveable characters that you’ll hate leaving after the last page. This is an unputdownable book and I can recommend it with full confidence that it won’t disappoint! Evening Echo