Wednesday, 17 February 2010

HEROINES IN THEIR PRIME? APPLY WITHIN

Since you ask, I'm 48. Middle-aged, c'est absoluement moi. I am, I like to think, in my prime. I am more in control of my life than ever before, I buy more fabulous shoes than I did when I was younger, I make more effort (I have to) and more radical decisions, earn more, want more, accept new experiences, meet more and more interesting people, and exciting things happen to me - sometimes not in a good way, but excitingly, nevertheless. Some of the things that happen to me even make pretty good stories.

But apparently I couldn't be in a novel. What utter tosh. Isn't it? Or is it?

Publisher and writer (and woman of a somewhat similar age), Lynn Michell, drew my attention to this the other day, because she blogged about it here. Do go over and read what she says.

Lynn quoted a "well respected" literary agent as having said:
‘I can’t sell a novel these days about a middle-aged heroine. No publisher would touch it. Give up. Youth is exciting. Old age is interesting. Middle-aged men are either powerful and sexy or going through a crisis or thrilling baddies. But forget all about women aged between 40 and 65. No-one wants to read about them in novels.’

I really hope he is talking tripe. Not just because it's obvious (though not the point) that in real life middle-aged women are no more or less capable of being all the things needed in stories - they are vulnerable / feisty, strong / weak, tragic / domineering, lucky / unlucky, sexy / shy, betrayed / murdered / attacked / hated / loved, criminal / dramatic / damaged / heroic. But because lots of modern novels do feature women of a certain age. Surely. Don't they?

Lots? Er, like, give an example. Erm... Here's where I run away because I am (honestly) frantically busy - for which there's a very good reason which I will tell you quite soon. So, it's over to you, my fabulous, well-read blog-readers, to come up with novels written in the last few (say sixish) years, featuring a heroine aged 45 - 60. Catherine, Sally, Emma, Daniel, Jo(s), Jane, David, Cat, all of you... come on, please.

Because, if you can't come up with some answers, the "well respected literary" agent was right. 

And if he was, I'm doomed, and so are some of you. Not interesting enough, eh? Would he like me to prove to him that I am perfectly capable of providing the murder and intrigue which he so doubts?

I really want him not to be right. Would it not be absurd if he were right? Fundamentally weird? After all, are we not the main reading demographic. So, if he's right, is it our fault?

PS I should add that I am a huge Fay Weldon and Bernice Rubens fan and they certainly had middle-aged heroines - however, BR hasn't written anything in the last few years, being dead, and I haven't read any FW in very recent years. To be fair to the agent, FW is well enough established to sell anything. So, who has taken on FW's mantle?

76 comments:

The Virtual Victorian said...

Wasn't there a very big selling Elizabeth Buchan novel - Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman? Hope I've got the title right - I do know that my 'middle aged' friends were all mad about it.

Essie

writerspet said...

Two Nick Hornby books I can think of – How to be Good, and Juliet, Naked. Pretty successful commercially, doncha think?
Lija

adele said...

Self publicizing time here! I have a middle aged woman in all my adult novels but the heroine, (sharing equal billing with her daughter) of "Made in Heaven" is definitely middle-aged. You can insinuate these terrifying creatures into a novel just fine if you sprinkle the book with characters from other age groups. What aboutbooks by Rose Tremain? Maggie O'Farrell? Sue Gee? I'm sure they write about women in their forties.

Sue said...

I can't believe this is true and I shall now devote any brain down-time to thinking of examples. Off the top of my head, Eliza Graham's fantastic book 'Restitution' is about Alix who is about 60, although most of the story is flashback. Umm... Joanna Trollope's Friday Nights focussed on a group of women friends of all ages. My own two novels both feature middle-aged women. In 'On Dangerous Ground' in particular my main protagonist, Pru, is a woman in her early fifties. My latest PLR figures show that 22 thousand people have borrowed it since the beginning of 2007 so Pru must have been interesting enough for those readers. I'm going to keep thinking!

Nicola Morgan said...

Adele - hooray! Of course, silly me.

Virtual V, Writerspet, Sue - excellent news / ideas. Keep 'em coming! I know the "well respected2 (and probably equally middle-aged) agent must be wrong. I guess what he was saying was HE couldn't sell them because HE didn't want to read them and couldn't imagine anyone else doing so. Which is his prerogative, I suppose.

Julie Weathers said...

Claire in Diana Gabaldon's series starts out at 27 I believe. In Dragonfly in Amber she is 47. And the books and excitement keep on coming. There is no reason a middle-aged woman can't be exciting and I'm not talking about the "cougar" stereotype.

What about Miss Marple?

Murder She Wrote?

Catherine Hughes said...

Oh of course I can!!

Diana Gabaldon's 'Outlander' series features the heroine Clare Randall Fraser - from the ages of twenty-eight to (so far) fifty-six. The latest book was published in January of this year in the UK. I've reveiwed the series so far on my RWL blog. And Mrs Fraser and her husband still have - ahem - plenty of marital activity going on, too.

OK, so that's an established series, but I have also read Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman and wasn't there another Elizabeth Buchan book with a forty-something protagonist?

I'm also pretty sure that Jane Jensen's Dr Jill Talcott, protagonist in 'Dante's Equation' is over forty or very near it. And how old is Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton's alphabetical PI)these days? Forty-ish, for certain.

Nah! to the agent. I've just turned forty but I don't look it, I don't feel it, and I don't care about it. But I know I write better with a bit of life experience behind me. I couldn't have written my novels at thirty and certainly not at twenty!

Catherine Hughes said...

Great minds think alike, Julie, and post at the same time, too!

Kate B said...

Vikram Seth's 'An Unequal Music' - a jaw breakingly beautiful book with a wonderful female love interest who is not only middle-aged, but deaf!

It's the writing, not the stereotypes we love, surely?

Katex

Jane Travers said...

Anything and everything by Mavis Cheek, who publishes something new every 2 years, including this year! She is a rare thing; a writer whose latest book I will always pick up and buy immediately, without even glancing inside. :)

Old Kitty said...

Hi

Older women ROCK!!!!

Here's a list of romance books -

http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/gs_v_sta_hot_older_women/

It's a blog piece from 2007 but still relevant today if editors like wossisname (who should remain nameless out of shame and disgrace) are able to hold such OLD-fashioned and OUTdated and views...!

:-)

Take care
x

Anne Wareham said...

And who reads most novels?

Sophie Playle said...

I just finished reading 'Little Children'. Many of the characters (and the main character) in that were middle aged women. I loved the main character.

Look what I found on Wiki:
http://wiki.feministsf.net/index.php?title=List_of_works_featuring_middle-aged_or_old_women

Blossom said...

I hope this isn't true– it sounds like an article from the Daily Mail. My heroine is 45 and that's no age these days. She's in her prime, I'd say! Her two best friends are in their 50s and 20s respectively.

As other posters have pointed out, Elizabeth Buchan and Joanna Trollope write about women in their 40s. And Judy Astley, Katie Fforde and Trisha Ashley have had heroines well stricken in years in recent books.

What is the problem with lead characters over 25? I'd rather read about someoen who has knocked about life a bit and experienced ups and downs.

I think you're probably right, Nicola –  it's because the well respected agent can't relate to characters in this age group that he's not interested.

As if there isn't enough ageism about without it spreading to fiction!

Katie said...

Just had a brainwave!

'The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery features a French concierge of a certain age as the heroine.

Katie

Ellen B said...

I haven't read it, but Real Life and Liars by Kristina Riggle features a middle-aged heroine and seems to be doing quite well.

I'll be checking out some of the books mentioned here, I like reading about women older and smarter than me.

Sarah said...

Oh good grief!

I remember that some of Adriana Trigiani's books have "older" heroines- especially the Big Stone Gap novels.

Anonymous said...

The comments so far seem to be supporting the agent's point, as a list of novels (preferably first novels published in English, as I think it's safe to assume that's what the agent was referring to) with female protagonists from 25-40 would be ten times as long and far more commercial.

But how about The Help?

I was told (by a female editor of a certain age) that I needed to make my middle-aged female lead younger and more beautiful.

The Proe

sheilamcperry said...

This is a topic quite close to home for me, so thanks Nicola.
One of the books I've read recently not only had two very different middle-aged women as joint heroines / central characters, but one of them went off at the end with a much younger man as well. I can't remember the title or author at the moment - it wasn't a great book by any means - but it was quite a satisfying read. My own current project is a mystery series (until I run out of plots) which features a group of characters aged from late 40s upwards - tried to shoe-horn in a young man in his early 20s but somehow I didn't find him interesting enough to write about.

DanielB said...

The heroine of Douglas Coupland's 2004 novel "Eleanor Rigby" is specifically stated as 42.

The heroines in Joanna Trollope novels are often middle-aged, aren't they? They often have teenage or grown-up children, at least.

How old is Phil Rickman's spiritual investigator Merrily Watkins meant to be? She has a teenage daughter...

Oh, and Donna Noble from "Doctor Who" is supposed to be 40-ish, I think, and she has featured in quite a few books!

Theresa Milstein said...

Somebody should tell Anne Tyler to stop writing for older women. And then someone should admonish Merryl Streep for playing all these meaty middle aged parts in movies (some based on books) that keep earning a ton and getting her Academy Award nominations. For shame.

Colette said...

I'm not sure exactly how old she is, but one of my favorite heroines is Kay Scarpetta (medical examiner) in Patricia Cornwall's bestselling series. She has definitely been solving crimes through middle-age.

Ann said...

There's The Hot Flash Club series by Nancy Thayer. Very funny light reading. Wives Behaving Badly, Perfect Love, That Certain Age and Everything She Thought She Wanted all by Elizabeth Buchan.
Just to name a few.

Hilery Williams said...

Hi
My son has sold his first novel for a huge advance(due out early 2011, Hamish HAmilton, Agent Andrew Wylie) with a narrator in her 50's looking back on her life. She's a bit like me.
And how about A S Byatt's main character in 'The Children's Book'?

Dan Holloway said...

It's a sad state of affairs isn't it? Without harping on, it's another reason I'm glad not to be looking for a publisher. My WIP has two MCs, one a woman in her late 40s, the other a woman in her early 50s. With apologies for plugging, here is the synopsis that demonstrates amply why no publisher would go near it. It is, however, a story I feel absolutely compelled to write - and one I will be proud to self-publish.

When her son Simon dies on a gap year in Egypt, 53 year-old art teacher Ella Hart decides to give her childhood dream of artistic success, sacrificed for her family, a last roll of the dice. She soon falls in with Solange, an alcoholic ex-model, singer, and punk who persuades Ella to give away literally everything she does for a year.

As Ella’s work and lifestyle begin to win her the attention she has always craved, she embarks on deperate affair with her 16 year-old student, Matthew. Initially excited by Ella’s life in the public gaze, it’s not long before Matthew wants her to himself. As Ella starts to question whether her art or her lifestyle have earned her the world’s attention, Matthew reveals his trump card in the bid to possess her: he offers to take her on a boat trip through the Mediterranean and up the Nile to the place where Simon died. But when Ella insists that Solange come too, it becomes clear only one of them will return.

Told through the eyes of Jack, the disaffected chronicler of Ella’s project, A Life Drawn Freehand examines everything today’s society understands by the word free, dissecting the boundaries between career and vocation, love and jealousy, public and private, art and life; and owes debts to works as disparate as the films Three Colours:Blue and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the novels Sophie’s Choice and Love in the Time of Cholera, and the confessional art of Tracey Emin.

behlerblog said...

48?? You're a kid! No wonder you can wear spike heels that take you from 5'4" to 6'. My Jurassic-era feet rebel and cripple me for days after my feeble attempts to appear hip.

Ok, characters over 45. I didn't write it - one my authors did - and it's utterly hysterical and poignant.
The Hair Princess and the Hog Temple Incident is filled with retired folks living in a retirement home.

And personally, I think the agent is silly. Good characters of age mixed in with a great plot are most certainly viable.

Rebecca Knight said...

Books aside, as someone rapidly approaching her birthday, I find it terribly exciting that you are in your prime, and doing more fabulous things than ever before :D.

I'm just beginning to realize, as I leave my 20s, that life is just getting better and better. I, too, am making more money, buying better footwear, and having more adventures than my poor, younger self, and I wouldn't go back for anything! Being an adult RULES!

I'm very excited to have some middle aged adventures myself, and need books to inspire me! :D

A N Other Old Bag said...

Going off on a tangent, but on a slightly related note…

Do you think that agents/publishers might not be keen to take on middle-aged women writers (I mean ones who are trying to break into the business, not those with established careers).

Or, is it really all about the writing--as long as you write a brilliant book (at the right time etc., etc.) you have a shot?

I’m a 46 year old unpublished writer of children’s fiction and I often think I’m deluding myself.

Sally Zigmond said...

I'm so pleased Lynn of Linen Press has brought this up. In addition to all the other books and writers mentioned, the later novels of Margaret Drabble come to mind and also Margaret Forster, whose latest novel is about grandmothers.

I like reading about women of my own age. We are often in what I call the sandwich years. We are stuck in the middle of being mum to young adults who are launching out into the adult world of marriage and careers but worrying also about our aging parents. Both need our help and advice but both resist strongly.

It seems to me, however, the more 'popular' fiction world has yet to catch up. After all, it's a fact that the majority of book buyers are women over fifty (in which group I proudly stand.)

AS far as popular fiction is panning out these days: first we had chick-lit--or the search for Mr Right. Now we have so-called hen-lit (juggling children, husbands and career) so I think the next BIG THING, as these authors also grow older, will be Old-Trout-Lit--or rather, joking aside, mother-hen-lit about the dilemmas and pleasures of middle-age.

Several years ago Transita was launched in order to address this very problem. The novels all had 'older' heroines and her well-written and well-received but the publishers fulled the plug on the imprint--not I think because the idea was bad but that the marketing and selling wasn't the best and the media seemed to get the wrong idea, believing it 'ghetto-ised' older women.

Having said that, my characters in Hope against Hope are in their late teens/early twenties at the beginning but they do mature. I suppose I let market forces dictate this but I preferred my characters when they were older to the callow youngsters they were at the start.

A fine mature Burgundy is a much better drink than a callow Beaujolais Nouveau.

Nicola Morgan said...

You are all utterly fabulous.

The Proe ("anonymous") - even you are fabulous, but wrong. Because this isn't about whether there are MORE books with sexy young protagonistae, or whether they are more commercial, but it is about whether there are enough and commercially successful enough books with sexy in-their-prime heroines to prove that agent wrong. He said no publisher would touch them. He's wrong. OK, a greedy publisher might not, a publisher who only wanted to pander to male lasciviousness, but a sensible publisher who knows about reading demographics will take good books that enough readers want to read. They do and they have and he's not a sensible agent but a very naughty boy.

Karen Schwabach said...

How about Alexander McCall Smith's wildly successful Botswana series? The heroine is described as in her 40s.

And is Jon Hassler still writing? His heroes and heroines tended to be elderly folks.

Nicola Morgan said...

AN OTher Old Bag - there is absolutely no way that being 46 is going to stand against you. I was 40 when i was first published, also as a children's writer. It IS about the writing, really. On the other hand, there is a limit, beyond which age can go against you, but 46 is no problem. If you write the right book in the right way etc, you will get there. I'm writing a book about how to do it right now, actually...

Emma Darwin said...

God, that's depressing. Dare I suggest that maybe a female agent would find us easier to sell?

My first thought was Joanna Trollope, also Kate Long, who writes brilliantly in just that 'sandwich years' patch, and sells by the truckload, as well as being on TV with The Bad Mother's Handbook.

And forgive the plug, but the MC of the modern strand of A Secret Alchemy is about to have her 50th birthday, and no one has turned a hair.

Much of of the other MC's story was of her middle age (even old, by 15th century standards - I was constrained by historical fact). May I boast that the sex scene between her and her husband garnered a rare comment from my US editor: 'Great, great scene...' So it can be done, and it's one I often read at readings. You just have to get the lighting right, but then don't we all?

David Griffin said...

> "On the other hand, there is a limit, beyond which age can go against you, but 46 is no problem."

Ayee Nicola, you're frightening me! I'm 56 next birthday, still unpublished...

On the subject of the post, I can't think of an example of a middle-aged woman s a main character, so I'm not much help there...

:-)

PS I have a nasty cold; I'm very bunged up still, feel hot and grot: hope no one catches a computer virus reading this! ;-)

womagwriter said...

I see Emma D's beaten me to it with a mention of Kate Long - I'm currently reading her latest (A Mother's Guide to Cheating) whose MC is a 50-something granny.

With middle-aged protagonists, no, scrap that, protagonists in their prime an author can explore so many more emotions than with a younger character, yet the character can still be lively and active. For example the MC in Kate's latest lives for her grandchild, and the love she has for this little boy at this stage in her life is a different thing to what she felt for her daughter, 25 years earlier.

Rosy Thornton said...

Just to add my penn'orth. My second novel, 'Hearts and Minds' (2008) was a campus satire of which the MC was a Cambridge Senior Tutor (female) aged 41, struggling between career and family. My forthcoming fourth novel 'The Tapestry of Love' has a female MC of 49, a divorcee with adult children who is setting up a business as a seamstress in a mountain village in France.

Middle-aged women are some of the main buyers of books. And most of the most amazing, vibrant, diverse, fascinating, admirable, funny and feisty people I know are middle-aged women.

Anonymous said...

Well, there are some examples of everything. I mean, there's nothing that every single publisher will reject. Clearly that was a bit hyperbolic on the agent's part.

The question, seems to me, is better phrased as, "Do female protagonists of 45-60 seriously undermine the salability of a novel by a new or midlist writer?"

I think the answer is probably--unfortunately--yes. On the other hand, the Botswana series comes pretty close to disproving my suspicion. Black Olives also springs to mind--but I think you're setting this naughty agent up as a bit of a straw man, if you're pretending that he really thinks a heroine of 45-60 is impossible instead of just a lot harder.

And to undermine my point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matron_literature

Proe

Nicola Morgan said...

Proe - I do like you when you become so reasonable! You are even in danger of making me become reasonable. I take your point and I think you're right. It's wrong that you're right and you're only a bit right, but I'll give you that.

Emma Darwin said...

No doubt there is an industry-wide point to be made, just as there is in TV and everywhere else. But I can't help thinking of the thing about motes and beams, in connection with this agent.

But could it possibly be that because HE doesn't want to read about middle-aged women, (whereas HE thinks that "middle-aged men are either powerful and sexy or going through a crisis or thrilling baddies.") that he's not very good at selling books with them in it?

After all, it's always said that agents only take on authors whose work they fall in love with, because it takes that much passion to sell it...

Emma

Susannah Rickards said...

Zoe Heller wasted her time creating Barb Covett in Notes on a Scandal, then I suppose. And Patrick Gale shouldn't have bothered with Rachel in Notes From an Exhibition.

If only they'd listened to this agent they'd not have idled their time writing these best sellers. Heller must feel so foolish that her lame duck then went on to be touted all round the cinemas as an award winning movie. Honestly, some writers are so bloody minded. Anyone would think a woman over 40 has matured into a character worth examining.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Miss Garnet's Angel - Salley Vickers.

and isnt Tracey Chevalier's novel about the Victorian lady fossil hunter (not read, hence the dim post) about a lady of a certain age?

catdownunder said...

Oh miaou - I am a little late here and now I have to think og something nobody else has mentioned! Hmmmm Ann Cleeves character Vera Stanhope is nearing retirement.
It is comforting to find characters of a certain age when your own fur is going grey!

mindmap1 said...

Nicola!

Love this post!

Okay, Elizabeth Buchan, Joanna Trollope, Katie Fforde who has just guested on this blog.....and.....drum roll.....
NORA ROBERTS!! Yes - the one and only - who has sold how many hundreds of millions of books? (she must be doing something right.)
Her 'Black Rose' book with Roz Harper as the late forties heroine, with a hero in his fifties, is the 'kick-ass' single parent with three grown up sons, running her own business, dealing with a ghost and a love affair. Phew, I'm tired just thinking about it.

Kate Lawson's 'Keeping Mum.' Heroine is in her late thirties with a mother who has a toy boy twelve years younger than her. She also wrote 'The Bad Mother's Handbook.'

Dan - do NOT give up - send your work out there and check out who published these books.

'Old trout lit' - I love it. Don't forget demographics - there are many baby boomers who will soon have plenty of time on their hands to read about 'real' people. I smell an opportunity here people!

Christine

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Mary Wesley. She was 70 when she published her first book and went on to publish a lot more - and many of her MCs are middle-aged and older women.
Barbara Trapido.
Wendy Perriam.
But oh, it makes me want to weep. Nicola, what IS the age where getting published becomes impossible? (I'm 57).
Susiex

catdownunder said...

Why should there be an age limit Susie?????????? Please Nicola tell me there is hope for ancient cats!
I believe there is. There has to be!

Roisin McAuley said...

I'm glad Anne Tyler and Mavis Cheek and others have been mentioned. I could add Annie Proulx - wasn't that great character, Quoyle's aunt in The Shipping News, in her sixties? My first novel - Singing Bird - was published when I was in my fifties. The narrator was also a woman in her fifties. My latest novel Finding Home has a 62 year old narrator who finds love with a man her own age. The novel I'm currently writing has several characters aged 50+ including a 75 year old. What matters is trying to tell a good story with believeable characters the readers will care about. And isn't it the case that the majority of novel readers are women aged over 40 (at least)?

Arabella said...

Personally, I like older heroines. But maybe that's because I'm in my 30s now and finally feel like a bona fide, really super mature adult. Plus, my heroine is middle-aged. If somebody would just publish my book . . .

Nicola Morgan said...

Arabella - you are a mere child! But you are very welcome anyway.

mindmap1 - Nora Roberts indeed - the No 1 borrowed author in libraries last year.

Lynn - 5' 7 without my heels, I'll have you know.

Emma - I will come to your readings!

Gosh, all of you - well done for absolutely littering this comments section with proof of this guy's narrow-mindedness. It says more about him than our industry.

Jemi Fraser said...

Phew! I'm glad to see so many examples - I was getting worried. I've been reading more YA lately, so I was having a hard time coming up with an answer.

Emma Darwin said...

Now, of course, I am absolutely DYING to know who the agent concerned is... (I assume he doesn't make most of his living selling that vast and vastly profitable category, Women's Fiction.)

Worth saying, too, that agents can't sell anything at the moment - in the sense that every kind of book is harder to sell than it was. But I do wonder if an equally well-respected agent who happened to be female would be so categorical.

Nicola, when I have a reading in your part of the world, I'll let you know! And promise to read at least some of that scene.

hampshireflyer said...

@ adele - yes, Maggie Gee... there's no way Vanessa Henman and Mary Tendo aren't in their forties.

Is the question actually 'can you have a middle-aged female protagonist who isn't positioned as someone's mum?'....

catdownunder said...

I mentioned this to someone else and he said, "Mrs Malory but I can't remember who wrote about her. Simon Brett's got a couple of women about that age. Oh and there is that dreadful Agatha Raisin. Not exactly literature but quite good fun I suppose." (He reads copious quantities of detective fiction.)
It made me think of something - do women characters of this age tend to be less 'sympathetic' than many others? I do not know.
Nicola, may I print this post off for the bookshop group?

Queenie said...

From a quick trawl of my bookshelves:
Anne Tyler 'Back When We Were Grownups' (2001) - Rebecca Davitch is 53.
Carol Shields 'Unless' (2002) - Reta is nearly 44 when the book begins.
Sylvia Brownrigg 'The Delivery Room' (2006) - Mira Braverman is 60ish.
And, going slightly off piste, in Sara Maitland's volume of short stories - 'On Becoming A Fairy Godmother' (2003) - every single story has an older woman heroine.

For those worrying about older writers, Elizabeth Waite didn't start writing until she retired; she signed with the well-respected agent Darley Anderson at the age of 70; and she has now published 17 books.

Dan Holloway said...

Nicola - "it is about whether there are enough and commercially successful enough books with sexy in-their-prime heroines to prove that agent wrong" - absolutely - I see that as one of the reasons FOR being a militant self-publisher of books in areas I've been told are "unpublishable" owing to commercial restraints. The advantasge I have as a self-publisher is that if my book flops no one will say it's the genre that did it, they will simply put it down to being self-published tat, so I'm not damaging the genre's cause. On the other hand, were it to become even a moderate success, it would open doors for others. That has to be something to aim for - however misguided you think the implemntation?

Mindmap1 - I am 100% not giving up - I am more productive with my writing than ever, am about to perform at the second leg of a big reading and music tour to promote outr collective's books, and am optimistic as anything about the future - I'm just not interested in having a publisher.

On the subject of unpublishable subjects, my last novel was declared unpublishable whilst I was hawking it around a year ago, but I a paper I wrote ABOUT writing the book was included in a collection of papers about the Fall of the Berlin Wall that HAS just got a publisher. Which makes me wonder whether there isn't some kind of meta-fiction paving the way for fiction thing going on? So perhaps the answer is to write lots of articles ABOUT fiction with middle-aged female protagonists as a first step?

Pelotard said...

Interesting things happening to interesting people. Why should I care about gender and age?

Of course, I know a woman who thinks otherwise. She will only read about middle-aged Caucasian women, because that's what she is. There's no actual prejudice involved in this -she simply finds it easier to relate, and fully expects novels to be published targeted to any demographic on the planet.

Captain Black said...

Jane Tennison; Kay Scarpetta (to repeat Colette); Rosemary & Thyme, though I've a feeling that might have been written straight for telly; Dolores Claiborne; Paula Mayo, though that's a bit of a cheat as she got rejuvenated.

sheilamcperry said...

I had a vague recollection of an unlikely middle aged heroine in a Christopher Brookmyre novel so I just looked it up and it is 'All fun and games until somebody loses an eye' and the start of the blurb from his website goes: Jane Fleming, forty-six and three years a grandmother....

I think she gets quite a lot of the action, in many senses of the word, as the book progresses! Although I must say some of the impact is in the surprise factor as she is such an unlikely heroine.

SF said...

Alexander McCall-Smith's Isabel Dalhousie - 40-something, with a gorgeous younger lover. I love those books.

Bridget Jones would be well into her forties now. Surely there's a market for her continuing adventures?

gentlewomanthief said...

I'm afraid I don't have any examples I can think of off the top of my head, but I am sorry to report that I have heard this 'advice' elsewhere - on my MA in Creative Writing course, no less! To paraphrase - it's hard (if not impossible) to sell fiction about middle-aged women.

That's sad - my Mum's middle-aged and is still a person, for goodness sake. She's certainly more interesting than any middle aged men I know! Then again, I suspect it's simply an extension of a number of other sexist ideas: middle-aged men are attractive (hence the term 'silver fox'), women over 40ish are not (unless they're prepared to get scalpel-happy); no one bats an eyelid when a middle aged man has a relationship with a younger woman, while an older woman with a younger man can still cause a stir (albeit probably less so than in the past) ... and there are more I could go into, but I should probably try not to go on a rant about sexism!

I recently started reading 'Ship of Magic' by Robin Hobb and one of the main characters so far has been a middle aged woman (Ronica) who is so wonderfully written it makes me quite utterly envious of Ms Hobb's characterisation skills!

Jo Franklin said...

These days I am a slave to children's fiction so haven't been reading much for adults at all. But The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams has middle aged women protagonists. Still looking forward to reading it.
I need to be marooned on a desert island for a couple of years with my 'to be read' bookcase and a resourceful Man Friday to look after me - arhh, my idea of heaven.

womagwriter said...

To Mindmap1 - Kate Lawson did not write The Bad Mother's Handbook - that was Kate Long.

mindmap1 said...

Womagwriter - thank you for that, I have the book in front of me and it says on the cover Kate Lawson, 'Keeping Mum' as the author -'What do you do when Mum's behaving badly?' - purchased from Sainsburys. Do you think this is a pseudonym? Has Kate Long written under Kate Lawson?

And Dan, I'm delighted your doing so well and enjoying the journey. There are real opportunities opening up in self publishing and in e-books etc.
Good Luck.
Christine

Sue McMillan said...

Nancy E Turner wrote three novels about Sarah Agnes Prine - in the last two, Sarah's Quilt and The Star Garden, Sarah was well in her forties. A feisty,pioneer with two suitors, set in Arizona - 1906. Great read. And her life was just as interesting at 40 odd as it was in her 20's with the first book These Is My Words.
Life begins at 40! It doesn't end.

AnnieC said...

Not quite 45-60, but the heroine in Kathy Lette's latest novel is 43 I think. And it's a romance of sorts, too.
I am late 40s and my first novel is being published in Australia later this year. I'm afraid my heroine is mid-thirties - it's sort of necessary for the plot. However, for my next novel I plan to have a female MC around 40. My characters will have to age with me!

Glynis said...

Marie Sharp is 60 in: No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year by Virginia Ironside.

Book Maven said...

Tyler, yes, yes, yes! And Jumping the Queue, Mary Wsley's first novel had a heroine who was I think 70, so that might disqualify her (do women become interesting again after 65,when they might be detectives or batty or murderers?)but she did have sex with a much younger man.

And the wonderful Thursfay Next in Jasper Fforde's books is now firmly middle-aged.

Floot said...

I was going to suggest Thursday - she starts off 30-odd and arguably old for her age, and the books follow her for quite some years.

I'd also put the Sisterchicks books into the pot http://www.sisterchicks.com/

Despite some misleading cover pictures, all the one's I've read have been about women in at least in their thirties or forties. (And I read them first when I was in my twenties and loved them)

They're very much by women, for women, and obviously as Christian lit their market is a smaller pond than most (I have also found that, unfortunately, editorial values tend to be less high in the smaller markets, but can't recall offhand whether these books suffer from that reality), but they are very popular within that market and don't seem to suffer from having older protagonists.

Floot said...

Further thought: I'm not a huge fan of the book, but of the five or six main protagonists in The Jane Austen Book Club, all but one were woman and several were middle aged.

Queenie said...

Judy Astley 'Blowing It' 2006 - Lottie is in her mid-50s.

Nicola Morgan said...

Gosh - such a lot to reply to.

Catdownunder - of course you may print off and use the post - just make sure you tell people where you found it!!

David, Cat and others - I will definitely do a post about whether the age of the WRITER matters. Coming up within the next ten days.

Thank you all for your wide-ranging suggestions of books by and about middle-aged women.

Miriam Wakerly said...

Rather late – can but repeat yes, Bernice Rubens, Elizabeth Buchan, Vikram Seth, Anne Tyler … but seems shortsighted to stipulate prohibitions. Look at who goes into bookshops and libraries! Buyers and borrowers are often women over 60, never mind in their 40s! Such ageist statements – and I have heard them too – could become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we listen for long enough, we may believe it, with writers obediently falling in line.
Not that I’m a best-selling author or anything (yet!!), but my books do have older main characters. This is partly because it would be derisory for me to try to get deep inside the head and skin of a 30 year-old, but mostly because reading is one of the key pleasures of middle-age and retirement (and of any age, I know), and those readers usually like to relate to their own generation. IMHO there should be a range of ages, types, shapes, ethnic groups and so on – as a reflection of real life, not some artificial cut-off.
Now I must think of some writers not already mentioned! Oh well, how about Salley Vickers, Miss Read, Rosamunde Pilcher, Penelope Lively … not that difficult after all. Still thinking though!

Floot said...

O! Yes, Salley Vickers - Miss Garnet is a classic.

Another set of middle aged ladies... Terry Pratchett's Witches. They are characters in or heroines of several of his books. They sometimes have younger sidekicks (Agnes Nitt, Magrat Garlick - though the latter is hardly a spring chicken) but Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are definitely not young!

Other fellow witches-or-similar of varying degrees of importance also fit into that age bracket - Mrs Gogal, Mrs Pleasant, Old Mother Dismass, Miss Tick... and there are many more that I can't bring to mind at this moment.

Colette said...

Oh Nicola, Please tell us the age of the writer doesn't matter. If the odds of getting published go down with age, then we are all doomed!

catdownunder said...

Surely the question has to be, "Can you think the age you want to connect with?"

Jo Treggiari said...

So Late on this but wanted to mention Kate Atkinson and her great older female characters.

Suze said...

I'm also a little late, but I read Jeanne Ray's books when I was in my thirties and LOVED them. They really gave the sense that I had something to look forward to! The MCs were both in their 60s. Jeanne Ray started her writing career at 45 with encouragement from her daughter, Ann Patchett. They are utterly delightful books. I must dig them our for a re-read!