The Cloak of Invisibility - by Debbie Bennett

I read an article online recently about the invisibility of the middle-aged woman. And to a certain extent it’s true. At 53 (ssh!), I no longer get wolf-whistled in public, although to be fair, I never really did attract huge amounts of attention in that way (although I had my moments as a student – a red leather mini skirt was a great way of getting a taxi in Liverpool in the mid 1980s). I have no interest in clubs, or staying out until the sun comes up and these days I’d often rather be at home with a good book or film, instead of in the pub.

I’m never going to be an astronaut, or the prime minister either. Fortunately, I accepted both of these facts early on in life; I’m not clever enough for the former and having non-British recent ancestry (I'm part-Chinese) excludes me from the latter. I’m not bitter.

But we all want to be noticed, don’t we? Just for the right reasons. Yet still we women of a certain age go out in our cloaks of invisibility, especially us writers. Well, me, anyway. We were brought up not to be pushy, not to shout me, me at every opportunity. So how on earth are we supposed to master this thing called self-promotion? Men who self-promote are assertive; women are pushy. Not fair, is it?

So I make myself get out there. I offered to help out at the relaunch of a local “book group” the other evening. Not one of those groups where you all read a book and then meet to discuss it – really, I just don’t get them. I read a book for personal pleasure and I have zero interest in anybody else’s opinions (unless it’s my own books, of course, and I’m reading reviews). No, this group is more of a meeting of people who like books – readers, writers, bloggers, editors. Anybody with any interest in books. Having missed every “committee” meeting for a variety of reasons (snow, Slimming World …) I said I’d do whatever they wanted. Which is how I found myself doing another reading and Q&A above a wine bar in Knutsford.

I hate readings. I long for that cloak of invisibility, convinced I’m boring the pants of everybody. I estimate my audience, to gauge how many swear words I can get away with and how much editing I’ll have to do on the fly. But I cope. Several people asked intelligent questions and everybody seemed happy.

And I’m doing it again. A local library has invited me to join a panel of two other female authors at the end of the month for readings and discussion. No payment – but the opportunity to connect with new readers, and of course the sales table too! I said yes, of course, and I’m assuming they’ve done some research and know what they are getting. I’ve even invited my mum.

But when you think my nearest library has been less than interested in me as a writer, it does make me wonder why this one is different. Here in Cheshire, we are no longer a county – we are two unitary authorities in East and West (Why? Don’t get me started down that road). I live in the east of West Cheshire and my venue for this panel is in the west of East Cheshire, so I’m hoping that this new UA will be more welcoming and I might even get a foot in the door of the library system here. Baby steps.

And it’s a whole new audience. I will know nobody there – except perhaps my mum! Time to throw off the cloak of invisibility! I’m thinking I’ll go for the statement outfit and act the part to go with it.

Wish me luck. What can possibly go wrong? :-)


Jan Needle said…
May I be the first to wish you luck!
Bill Kirton said…
It seems that you're managing to overcome your invisibility quite well, Debbie. Lots of luck with it. Wish I could be as proactive. But then, I also wish that I didn't use words such as 'proactive'. BTW, I loved the little ambiguity of 'perhaps' in 'I will know nobody there – except perhaps my mum!' I'm sure you'll recognise her.
Fran B said…
Encouraging! I sent my local library service a copy of my first novel and never got even an acknowledgement. I haven't had the heart to try again. But maybe I will now. Four novels down the line, I have more confidence - I hope. Like you, I long for invisibility. I just want to know that somebody somewhere is reading my books . . .
Debbie Bennett said…
Oh dont get me started on libraries, Fran! Local buyer would love to stock them - but they can only buy from their library supplier in Cumbria who can only buy via Gardners. And while I can ebooks into Gardners, I can't get paperbacks there via CreateSpace. And it isn't worth reprinting with Ingram with all the hassle and costs, just to get a few books into my local library, which I won't get PLR for anyway, since I doubt Northwich is in the annual representative PLR selection. So I donated copies instead. Meh.
glitter noir said…
Best of luck to you! Invisibility is best...but when you must shed it, be brazen.
Jan Edwards said…
Few people could not notice you for long. I remember those Fantasycon outfits! Hush money in a plain brown envelope please :-)
Umberto Tosi said…
Good luck with the reading, and going forward, Debbie. Visibility aside, your work always makes us take notice.
Debbie Bennett said…
@Jan. What is it they say? Good friends know your secrets; best friends were the accomplices ... :-)
Unknown said…
Good luck, Debbie. Public speaking is my biggest fear and I have a reading coming up in July. Please let me know how you get on - play the part, break a leg!

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