Dorothy L Sayers
Fabulous and dead

"Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.” Dorothy L Sayers.

When ill health forced me to give up teaching some years ago, I used my convalescence to catch up on reading. This was 2000 and bookshops were awash with chick-lit. (Jane Austen and vampires hadn’t yet been discovered by the marketing men.) As I was forty-seven, with only a limited interest in shopping, shoes and handbags, I struggled to find commercial fiction that reflected my taste or even my life. Few novels featured women of my age centre stage. Romantic heroines over forty simply didn’t exist. Mature women appeared only as somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife and they never had sex (unless it was for comic effect.) 

Fabulous and 50-something
So I gave up looking and decided to write a book for myself, the sort of thing I wanted to read, but couldn’t find: a thinking-woman’s love story that dealt with some serious issues, had believable characters and (of course) a gorgeous, complex hero. I put a vulnerable, creative woman in the spotlight, ignored her age and just looked at her heart and mind. (And so did my hero.)

As a matter of principle I made my heroine forty-seven - my own age. This was commercial suicide in terms of finding a publisher, but I didn’t care, I was just writing to amuse myself. And I did. 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 who was a teacher and poet. I set their love story on the bleak but beautiful Hebridean island of North Uist, a place I knew well from family holidays.

Encouraged by my online writing group, I found an agent, then a publisher for what was to become my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY - long out of print, but now available again on Kindle for a mere 86p.

My first novel.
86p/$1.99 on Kindle
EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was originally published in 2005 by Transita, a fiction imprint aimed at mature women. Their middle-aged heroines were a hit with female readers of all ages, but the books were dismissed by the media as “Romance for Wrinklies”, “HRT lit”, even “hag lit”.  On Radio 4 Mariella Frostrup referred to the new imprint as "frump lit". (The ageism and misogyny of British culture beggars belief - but hey, they used to burn us as witches, so things are looking up.)

When EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was published a serious young journalist from a serious Sunday newspaper asked me why I hadn't made my middle-aged romantic heroine twenty-five, since this 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 don’t seem to realise that 25 year-olds are only fascinating to other 25 year-olds.)

After EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, I wrote more novels with heroines in their 40s and 50s and, to my surprise, this aspect of the books has appealed to readers of all ages. Many young women have written to me to say how refreshing it was to read about older women for a change, women who presented positive role models.

Diana Athill - Fabulous and 93
Female readers have been fobbed off for far too long with fiction 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? Think of  the success Diana Athill has recently enjoyed with her memoirs and short stories. Readers can't get enough. Why? Because mature women have really lived. Their lives have been full and varied, sometimes exciting, often tragic. Women who’ve been around the block a few times have collected some interesting souvenirs, not to mention a few scars and they have wonderful tales to tell. I like to think I write fiction that reflects this.

Currently on offer - 99p/$0.99
Standing at a bus stop one day, I was chatting to a minister’s wife. She said to me wearily, “I’m over fifty. I need to slow down.” I smiled sympathetically, but what actually went through my mind was, “I’m over fifty. I need to speed up.”

Time waits for no (wo)man. I still have a lot of living to do. And so do my heroines.


Linda Gillard has three indie e-books on Kindle: EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, HOUSE OF SILENCE and UNTYING THE KNOT. She will be publishing a fourth, A LIFETIME BURNING in January 2012. 

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY has just been selected for the reading list of the bloggers' Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2012 

You can find Linda's website here and her Facebook author page here.


Lee said…
As an old hag who devoured Athill's memoir, I want to stand up and cheer along with you! However, if only 25-year-olds are fascinating to other 25-year-olds, why do so many adults read YA novels?
Kathleen Jones said…
Absolutely Linda!!! I'm with you all the way on this one. I spent the first half of my life bringing up children (some of it as a single parent) - now I'm making up for lost time and there isn't too much of it left. Slow down? Never!!!!
Lee said…
May I make a small suggestion? I couldn't find a link to your Kindle edition of Emotional Geology> on your website, though of course an Amazon search proved successful. Such direct links are a help to potential readers.
Linda Newbery said…
Excellent post, and points to a really daft aspect of the publishing world. I should think the majority of reading groups are made up of women in their 40s, 50s and beyond (mine certainly is!) and they don't all want to read about 25-year-olds. I wonder if reading-group awareness is starting to change publishers' preconceptions? There seems to be such a notion as a "reading-group book".
Linda Gillard said…
Thanks for the suggestion, Lee. You're not the first person to suggest that. Hitherto my website never had much traffic and I didn't think to organise a link, but I think the Kindle books have now made that a priority.
Do agree with all you say here, Linda. And it isn't just women! When I finished a reasonably complete draft of my novel The Physic Garden - whose main character is a very old man, remembering a series of traumatic incidents in his earlier life - and coming to a major realisation about himself as a result - the very young 'reader' who my then agent asked to comment on it dismissed it with 'but it's just about an old man!' You've only to look at the kind of comments made about older people on the Apprentice (to Nick's wonderful facial expressions!) to realise that the young haven't got the foggiest idea what older people might like.
Anonymous said…
FRUMP-LIT! (Please pardon the screaming...) I've always known there had to be a good reason why I just couldn't warm to Mariella Frostrup - that nasty, dismissive little phrase makes everything clear.

Linda, I too am cheering you - and having enjoyed two of your books enormously (A Lifetime Burning and House of Silence) - I'm now off to download Emotional Geology.
Linda Gillard said…
Thank you, Gilly. I still remember the little chuckle with which Frostrup uttered the deathless phrase "frump-lit". Well, she's now 49. "And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges."

Catherine, I for one would love to read The Physic Garden. It sounds just my sort of book. But what do I know? I'm 60 next year, so clearly on the scrapheap. I'll be celebrating my sad decline with my son who's taking me to see Bruce Springsteen live at Sunderland.
Now THAT sounds like a celebration!
Dan Holloway said…
Many congrats oin the MIA listing- it's a fantastic project
Susan Price said…
'Just about an old man'!!? Good God. And she was employed as a reader? That says it all.
I like to read about all ages, and I'm right with you, Linda. I love your books - intelligent, witty, just great reads.
Could it be that a lot of editors are younger than 50?
Rosalie Warren said…
I'm 56 and agree with everything you say.

When I sent 'Low Tide, Lunan Bay' to an appraisal service I was told that my 46 year old heroine should be at least 10 years younger. Reluctantly, I complied. Although the book found a publisher, I still regret my decision. In fact I'm not sure I succeeded anyway because one reviewer said she sounded more like 46 than 36!

'Emotional Geology' sounds wonderful and I'm going to read it soon.
Linda Gillard said…
Katherine, I think a lot of editors are actually younger than 35. Either that or they're using that special face cream they keep advertising on the sidebar of my Facebook page. (The one that apparently makes 50-year old women look 25.)
Hi Linda, I love your zest for life, and your determination. It just shows you were there's will etc. Had no idea there was such a thing as 'hag lit' or 'frump lit'! It'd make your blood boil, if not for the fact that we 'older' women writers are thick skinned, determined and uncontrollable by any earthly forces ;) Looking forward to reading Emotional Geology!
Linda Gillard said…
Thank you, Marianne. I think my zest for life is the by-product of many years of depression! I'm also mildly bipolar so it's been a roller-coaster.

The years in the publishing wilderness really got me down (especially the 2 editors who said they probably wanted to publish me and then took 6 months each to decide no, actually, they didn't.) I just wanted to give up writing and put it all behind me.

But I couldn't. I found I had to keep writing and so I came to accept that writing is its own reward. What really mattered was that I should keep making up my stories, keep playing with my imaginary friends.

(I sometimes wonder if you have to let go of something, really let go, for it to land in your lap.)
Pauline Fisk said…
Thanks for the Dorothy L Sayers quote. I shall make much of it!
Linda Gillard said…
It's good, isn't it? I'm indebted to author Sara Maitland for drawing my attention to it.

Popular posts

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

A Glittering Gem of Black, Gothic Humour: Griselda Heppel is intrigued by O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

The Splendid Rage of Harlan Ellison - Umberto Tosi

Little Detective on the Prairie

Misogyny and Bengali Children’s Poetry by Dipika Mukherjee