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? :-)