When ill health forced me to give up teaching some years ago at the age of forty-seven, I used my convalescence to catch up on reading. But bookshops were awash with chick-lit and I struggled to find fiction that reflected my own life. Few novels featured women of my age and romantic heroines over forty simply didnâ€™t exist. Mature women appeared only as somebodyâ€™s mother or somebodyâ€™s wife and they never had sex (unless it was for comic effect.)
A thinking-womanâ€™s romance
I gave up looking for fictional heroines I could relate to and decided to write a book myself, the sort of thing I wanted to read but couldnâ€™t find: a thinking-womanâ€™s romance that dealt with real issues, had believable characters and of course a gorgeous, complex hero! I put a sensitive, creative woman in the spotlight, ignored her age and just looked at her heart and mind.
As a matter of principle I made my heroine forty-seven – my own age. This was suicide in terms of finding a publisher, but I didnâ€™t care, I was just writing to amuse myself. I had a whale of a time writing an off-beat love story about a sexy, middle-aged textile artist and a fragile younger man, a teacher and poet. I set their love story on a bleak but beautiful Hebridean island that I knew well from family holidays.
â€œRomance for Wrinkliesâ€?
Encouraged by my writing group, I found an agent, then a publisher for what became my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. It was published by Transita, a UK imprint producing books aimed at mature women. The middle-aged heroines were a hit with readers of all ages, but the books were dismissed by the media as â€œRomance for Wrinkliesâ€, â€œHRT-Litâ€, even â€œHag-Litâ€! (The ageism and misogyny of British culture beggars belief but hey, they used to burn us as witches, so things are definitely looking up.)
Obsession with Youth
Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™m not alone in thinking female readers have been fobbed off for far too long with books about women under thirty. What is this obsession with youth? Most books are bought and read by women over forty. Why do publishers think female readers want stories about much younger women?
When EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was published a young journalist asked me why I hadn’t made my middle-aged romantic heroine twenty-five (which would have made it easier for me to find a publisher.) I explained that I hadn’t been very interested in a 25 year-old’s take on life because I was nearly fifty. Young people donâ€™t seem to realise that 25 year-olds are only fascinating to other 25 year-olds.
Mature women have lived. Their lives have been full and varied, sometimes exciting, often tragic. Women whoâ€™ve been around the block a few times have collected some interesting souvenirs and have wonderful tales to tell. I write fiction that reflects that.
One of the things that has struck me raising a daughter is how, despite a good education, she has little sense of women in the 20th century – what we fought for, what we achieved, what great changes a woman of fifty-plus has seen. In my second novel A LIFETIME BURNING (Transita), I took five women from three generations of the same family and used their interwoven stories as a way of looking at what it has meant to be a woman in the latter half of the 20th century – what choices, opportunities and limitations women faced. It seemed to me that what you could make of your life depended largely on when you were born.
Now aged fifty-seven, I feel very conscious of that. Itâ€™s a good time to be in my 50s. In previous generations, I would have been regarded as old. In fact, I would have felt old!
Standing at a bus stop one day, I was chatting to a ministerâ€™s wife. She said to me wearily, â€œIâ€™m over fifty. I need to slow down.â€ I smiled sympathetically, but what actually went through my mind was, â€œIâ€™m over fifty. I need to speed up.â€
Time waits for no (wo)man. I still have a lot of living to do. So do my heroines.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Linda Gillard lives in Scotland and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. Sheâ€™s the author of STAR GAZING (Piatkus), short-listed for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2009. Lindaâ€™s dÃ©but novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY (Transita) combined her love of quilts with her love of Scottish islands and was short-listed for the Waverton Good Read Award in 2006. Visit her website at www.lindagillard.co.uk
Win your own copy of STAR GAZING by leaving a comment or question for Linda.Â A winner will be chosen randomly on January 12. The odds of winning depend upon the number of participants.Â Void where prohibited.