Published in 1983 and centred round a plain woman completely consumed by jealous rage when her husband cheats with a beautiful romantic novelist, The Lives and Loves of a She Devil is Fay Weldon's most famous novel.

Now three decades later, the New Zealand-raised author returns with a sequel, The Death of a She Devil, which instead focuses on the fortunes of a male protagonist.

"It occurred to me there was something very new to say," says Weldon. "I'd been hearing about Germaine Greer getting into trouble for talking about transgender and I thought the time was more than ripe for a fictional dispatch on the current state of the war between the sexes."

Death of a She Devil features Tyler Patchett, the beautiful but wilful young grandson and heir of the original She Devil, Ruth Patchett, who resolves to change gender after concluding women now have it easier than men.

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The balance of power between men and women has changed in the nearly 35 years since she wrote the first book, says Weldon. She now suspects whereas some women once wanted to have life more like men, the roles, at least in the Western world, have reversed.

"Women are now as free as men to earn money, decide their own sexuality and fertility, and to marry or not as they choose. And they still get to dress in clothes that are much more fun and can wear makeup."

While the 85-year-old believes men now have much the same problems as women did in the early 1980s, The Lives and Loves of a She-Devil reflected the uneven relationship that existed between them then.

"It came out at the peak time of righteous indignation against male oppression, when women were having an exceptionally hard time at the hands of men," says Weldon while -- perhaps somewhat contradictorily given her earlier declaration -- fearing not enough has changed in the intervening years.

"We've all had to go out to work, which on the whole has been a good thing, although you may have to learn how to enjoy it while you struggle with your work/ life balance."

With Ruth, the ageing She Devil, now running the Institute for Gender Parity in the High Tower, men are conspicuous by their absence for much of The Death of a She Devil.

Only Tyler and the now-infirm Bobbo, Ruth's unfaithful former husband, are among the cast.

"It's an indication of how the world now seems to be more female-dominated. Women are, in general, much less dependent on men and are also much less likely to spoil their prospects by foolishly falling in love with a man.

"In the first book, Bobbo's lovely mistress, Mary Fisher, has romantic love as her strength and defence in her war with plain, practical Ruth Patchett. Mary Fisher still exists, but is now a ghost of the past, haunting the High Tower."

Weldon has allocated smaller roles to the original novel's three main protagonists. She says that's because it's a new, young world so the previous protagonists are looking in from the edges.

"Both novels are about transformation and also about envy. Ironically Tyler turns into Twyla using cosmetic surgery in the same way the She Devil was trying to turn into Mary Fisher."

Having claimed in an interview with the Sunday Times that women still like to see themselves as "victims", Weldon's views on feminism haven't been warmly received by some.

"I can stand it," she says. "Because we have to be able to look at ourselves objectively and if we can laugh at ourselves so much the better.

"People managed to do that with the first She-Devil book, so let's hope they manage to do so again."

A new generation of younger feminists hasn't always responded favourably to the opinions of their forebears.

"We're seeing that now with how the Fourth Wave of Feminism -- in which men are welcomed into the movement -- don't always react favourably to the Second Wave, which insists on seeing man as the oppressor. I'd like to think we're all getting better at shifting and changing our views to reflect a rapidly changing society."

Like The Lives and Loves of a She Devil, which was made into a popular BBC television series in 1986, The Death of a She Devil will also be adapted for the small screen. Weldon says the plan is to re-make Lives and Loves followed by The Death, but she has no plans to make the books a trilogy anytime soon.

"I'll have to wait another 35 years," she laughs, "So maybe I'd have to come back from the other side to write it."

However, she would be open to the prospect of a follow-up to any of her other 41 novels.

"I can see that a continuation of 1989's The Cloning of Joanna May would be really interesting. It ended with the wife cloning her husband, so she could bring him up as her son in the hope he'd turn out better than the original. I wonder what on Earth happened next? I'd like to write it and find out."

Lowdown

The Death of a She Devil by Fay Weldon

(HarperCollins, $35)