I was talking to a well respected literary agent the other day about the characters we invent in our novels. I was telling him about my latest, soon-to-be-finished (I promise) novel which stars a fifty-something female who is so fed up with living in a society which makes middle-aged women vanish that she takes her revenge by going on a fabulous shop-lifting spree. My heroine of a certain age is irreverent and wicked.
His response made my jaw drop.
‘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 am paraphrasing somewhat because this conversation took place as he escorted me (a middle aged woman) down some steep stairs and I didn’t want to stumble in shock and break a fragile, aging ankle.
I’ve told this tale to a few female writing colleagues who suggested I should have kicked him where it hurts but he was not expressing his own boredom with middle-aged heroines but reporting what, as an agent, he could not sell them to publishers. He knows his stuff this guy, and I believe him.
So instead of weeping my way along the street, I gritted my (capped) teeth and decided to accept his dismissal as a challenge. I will not bin Alice Green, my latest heroine whom no-one values and who takes her shocker of a revenge on an ageist society.
I might put up the first chapter later.
Is there anyone else out there writing a novel with a heroine in the banned age group? Are you going to give her a face-lift and bum-tuck to bring her up to acceptable aesthetic standards and send her on a sexy adventure? Or, knowing no publisher will read your writing if you leave her un-airbrushed, will you put her away in a drawer where no-one can see her? Or you could fast-forward twenty years or so and make her old. That would be OK.
So please hold up your hand if you are writing about a woman aged 40 -65! I want to hear from you.