Saturday, 11 August 2018

CHARACTERS: HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM? YOUNG OR OLD?




Fay Weldon recently wrote a piece in the Writing Tips feature on her website entitled ‘What age are your characters?’ In which she said: ‘Publishers, who these days tend to turn away novels by middle-aged women about middle-aged women on the grounds that they are depressing, are probably wise to do so.’  That in itself is a depressing statement. You can read the complete feature here: http://fayweldon.co.uk/writing-tip/what-age-are-your-characters/

The feature has upset a few readers and writers on social media. She must surely have forgotten the success of authors like Hilary Boyd, Veronica Henry, Joanna Trollope, to name but three who write about older women? 

Fay Weldon is a highly experienced writer but is she right when she says older women - who are prolific readers of fiction - prefer their novels to feature young women rather than old?

Anne Williams, a respected blogger (http://beinganne.com) in a review of Fanny Blake’s latest book ‘An Italian Summer’ says of the characters, ‘the fact that they’re beyond the first flush of youth makes such a refreshing and welcome change’. Anne also told me she actively seeks out books with older protagonists with whom she has some common ground.

Personally I lose patience very easily with young characters in chick-lit taking decisions that are so clearly wrong for them. To be honest I find the term chick-lit slightly patronising and off putting and rarely read in that genre anymore. I like the books I read (and write) to have a mix of characters of all ages, both male and female. Once past the age of 50 whilst we can, of course, remember what it was like to be 20 or 30 and recognise and understand the problems characters at those ages have, I don’t believe we identify or relate to them as an older reader - our life experiences have moved us on! Mature readers can identify far more easily with older characters at a higher level when there is a common interest and maybe a mirror placed on their own life experiences.




Claire Baldry who last year started the FB group ‘Books For Older Readers’ has this notice about the group pinned to the top of the page: ‘This Facebook group is intended for readers in mid-life and beyond and writers who write books which particularly appeal to this age group. As with all ‘genres’ it is very difficult to give an exact definition, but books discussed in our group tend to include themes such as second chances, late life career changes, adjusting to retirement, bereavement, and love in later life. At least some of the content is likely to reflect the perspective of the more mature characters.’ Claire’s group is going from strength to strength with an active membership highlighting books for this particular demography of society.

Reading Fay Weldon’s theory that older women prefer to ‘identify with themselves when young, not as they are now, in the days when they were sexually active, agile of limb, and not afraid of adventure’, I laughed out loud. Oh come on, in an age when 50 is supposed to be the new 40, they maybe ‘less agile of limb’ but they are certainly not afraid of adventure or of having relationships.

I like writing about women who have ‘lived a bit’ and at least six of my books have older protagonists. ‘Summer at Coastguard Cottages’ published late last year featuring new relationships and second chances managed to gain an orange bestseller flag on Amazon, so I think women most definitely do like to read about older characters. It’s not depressing, it’s actually life enhancing and encourages women to never give up on their dreams or ambitions. It may be difficult to do but it’s rarely too late to change things. 


One part of Fay Weldon’s feature I do agree with wholeheartedly though, is the following statement: ‘Women past their nubile prime don’t get parts in films or jobs announcing on TV. It shouldn’t be so, but it is.’ 
My personal opinion on having older feminine characters in books, grabbing at life with both hands, starting second careers, falling in love and having adventures, is that it can only be a good thing. At the very least it's a way of adding something positive into the fight of discrimination against older women. Discuss!

13 comments:

  1. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. My Cat Carlisle series features a 40 year old woman, who will age with the series. I've got an idea for another series cooking with a protagonist who is pushing 60. She's tough and smart and well aged. Great post. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks Terry - Good Luck with your series.

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  2. Great blog! I've just finished writing a book about a woman who's dreading her approaching 50th birthday, and have started another about a woman who's almost 40 but feels unsettled with no idea where her life is going. There's a lot to be said for older women.

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    1. Older protagonists do have a lot to offer plot wise don't they Kath? Good luck with both the finished book and the new one.

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  3. Interesting post, Jennie. It's ridiculous to assume that women over 50 aren't open to new experiences and adventure. Being an unpublished writer of a certain age, I hope to have a whole new career still ahead of me! My grandmother was an inspiration to our whole family (ask my teenage sons), remaining active, travelling and interested in local and world events until into her nineties! I've also read numerous articles highlighting that millennials are enjoying far less sex than previous generations, whilst the silver generation are experiencing the highest increase in sexually transmitted diseases - go figure! I'm happy to read novels with characters of any age as long as they are interesting and take me to settings and periods and situations I haven't read about before. I don't believe for one minute that younger female readers aren't inspired by a protagonist who forges her own path, simply because she has celebrated her 40th birthday. Great discussion.

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    1. Your grandmother sounds quite an inspirational woman Rae. I agree about characters needing to be interesting at whatever age they are.

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  4. I wonder if publishers of romance shy away from older protagonists as they fear it will limit their audience. I have to admit, as a woman in my 20s and 30s, I would have been reluctant to read a romance relating to a woman in her 50s 60s and 70s. As a 20 year old, anyone in their 40s was my own mother's generation and not something I wanted to think about, let alone read about.

    On the other hand, older women are happy to read a romance relating to any age as they have experienced that age at some point and can relate to it.

    However, having said all that, I would happily write an older heroine. I would also enjoy reading about one, but ... I am older now.

    I would just like to mention I am speaking in general terms. I know there are younger women out there who would be happy to read about an older woman falling in love, but in general, I suspect most would prefer younger ones.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I think publishers of pure romance do tend to shy away from older protagonists Victoria for the reasons you point out. But, where the romance and love interest are part of the overall plot rather than the main storyline, and with characters of various ages, novels can appeal to a larger audience - both female and male.

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  5. My latest release, Gold Plated, tells the story of a woman on her Seventies who has to face life changing decisions, which she does, with courage and rrsiliance. Her life becomes a new adventure.
    My readers are loving it and certainly don’t seem to find it boring!
    http://author.to/ChristineCampbell

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    1. Thanks for commenting Christine - glad to hear your book is doing well. Congratulations.

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  6. A most excellent blogpost, Jennie. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say and not a lot with Fay Weldon. She was once quoted as saying 'First person present tense is very easy to write, very easy to read, and even easier to forget'. How bloody rude! How dare she! I'd say - neck above parapet here - that Ms Weldon just hasn't been able to accept that she is older and is still hankering after things she had, unable to enjoy the things she has now. For the record, the characters in my wip are 36,38,41 and 62. So there!

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  7. Thanks Linda. Not heard that quote from Fay Weldon before.

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