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!