Lynn PhotoI’d like to thank Lynn Michell for this guest post about writing about middle-aged heroines. In addition to writing, Lynn runs Linen Press, a small indie publishing house for women writers. She describes this as a fine balancing act “but ever since I saw Elvira Madigan, I’ve secretly wanted to be a tight rope walker”. Lynn’s previous thirteen books are published by Harper Collins, Longman and The Women’s Press, and include a writing scheme for schools and Shattered, a book about living with ME. Those closest to her heart are fiction: Letters To My Semi-Detached Son and her debut novel set in Kenya, White Lies. When not writing or editing, you’ll find her building a house and moving rocks to create a landscape in an oak clearing high above a small village in southern France.

I was talking to an experienced, well respected literary agent the other day about the characters we invent in our novels and told him that my latest novel, Run, Alice, Run features a fifty-something woman who is so fed up with living in a society that makes middle-aged women feel irrelevant and invisible that she takes her revenge in a fabulous, adrenalin-fueled shop-lifting spree. My heroine of a certain age is irreverent and wicked and bad.

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 powerful and sexy or going through an existential crisis. Middle-aged women are simply boring and bland. You can put older men in a novel, but forget all about women aged between 40 and 65. No-one wants to read about them. They’re of no interest to anyone. They’re simply not sexy.’

I am paraphrasing somewhat because this conversation took place as he escorted me (a middle aged woman) down some steep narrow 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. He was telling me frankly that, as an agent, he’d have a hard time selling novels about older women to mainstream publishers. He knows his stuff this guy, and I believe him. No middle-aged heroines.

So instead of weeping my way along the street, I gritted my (filled and capped) teeth and decided to accept his dismissal as a challenge. I was angry. I would not bin Alice Green, my latest middle-aged heroine whom no-one values. Here is a valiant women who, apparently, has no appeal to readers. In real life, as in novels, women of a certain age had better make themselves scarce. We’re useful as grannies and good citizens and volunteers in charity shops. The assumption is that our days of amazing adventures and new creativity are over.

Run, Alice, Run follows Alice’s journey from naive, pretty student at Birmingham University through affairs and marriage to her final chrysalis emergence as a heroic, rebellious, delinquent, fifty-something-year old woman. Why should the young heroines flooding the market keep this excitement for themselves? In Run, Alice, Run you will hear the older but wiser, blackly funny and irreverent voice of female oppression that many people don’t want to attend to.

RARReleaseCoverI wonder if there are other authors out there writing novels 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 very old. That, apparently, would be acceptable.

Alice Green stays as she is, without cosmetic surgery, without Guardian Soulmates where men of sixty want women in their twenties, without attending keep fit classes for the retired. I won’t give away the ending…but she triumphs.

And this novel with a middle-aged heroine was accepted by several publishers and signed up with IQ Press.

Here’s the blurb:

Respectable, middle-aged women do not embark on crazy shoplifting sprees.

But Alice Green realises that being over fifty is much the same as being invisible, so why not make the most of it? Her head-in-the-sand husband doesn’t notice the mountain of clothes and the piles of stationery. When two police cars draw up outside her house in leafy, upmarket Edinburgh, Alice back-tracks through her memories, recasting the events – and people – who chipped away at her confidence and contentment over the years. What happened between the heady university days and the sad marriage to a husband who gets more excitement from his computer than from his wife?

Run, Alice, Run is an irreverent coming-of-middle-age novel which looks with irony at the way society defines and diminishes women of all ages.

You can buy Run, Alice, Run here.




Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

0 Responses

    1. I think so, too! I think it’s great to have middle-aged heroines. It’s so refreshing to read about someone who is going through similar things.

  1. I love the sound of that book too. I’ve never understood the claim that middle-aged heroines are not wanted, when most of the readers of novels are in fact women near or about or just after middle age!

    1. Thank you! Meet Alice Green who is Every-Middle-Aged-Woman and whom you may well recognise!!

  2. Really interesting. I think a few years ago if you’d asked the same literary agent whether books about ‘old’ people will sell, he’d have said no, and then Harold Fry, The 100-Year-Old Man, Etta and Otto, came out (and probably lots more), and suddenly old people are all the rage. Perhaps Alice Green is the start of a new trend.

    1. How right you are. Look how far Elisabeth Is Missing has gone on the award lists. Maybe middle age is the new old? Or young?

  3. When Lynn wrote Shattered it was the norm for many medics & non-medics to disbelieve – and discredit- people, including children, suffering with ME… 12 years on there is acknowledgement, understanding & improvement in services… although, still a long way to go. Mainly because people fought that norm.

    Once I got over my nejerk, and very sweary, reaction to this guy’s opinion/experience of middle aged female protagonists I’m very like Lynn – I’ll accept this dismissal, this dismal preference from mainstream publishers as a throwing down of the gauntlet…

    Working on my first novel about not 1 but 3 middle aged women -like Lynn I’ll gladly fight this archaic, patriarchal trait.

    … and I’ll definitely be buying Run Alice, Run.

    1. Thank you for making the link between the dismissal of people with a life-destroying illness in Shattered – about living with ME – and the dismissal of middle-aged women as unimportant and irrelevant. Yes – the gauntlet has been picked up and I’m running with it. Join me! Good luck with your own three similarly aged heroines and many thanks for this very relevant comment.

  4. What a wonderful cover your book has! When you say the book was accepted by several publishers, do you mean indie publishers? I imagine the literary agent was talking about traditional publishing, which is a whole different ballgame – indie publishers can go with the unusual, the dare-to-be-different, anything they fancy that is well written, but trad pub has to consider the wider market – but, of course I’m not telling you anything you don’t know!

    I’m 55. I write about women in their 30s, mostly, because I have to say that, sadly, I agree with the agent. I don’t want to read about women of my age. Up to late forties, but only if they were younger for most of the book. If that makes me a traitor to my age-group, so be it!

    Masses of luck with your book, it looks gorgeous and sounds most interesting. 🙂

    1. Very interesting to have this comment from a 55 year old author: ‘I don’t want to read about women of my age’. It doesn’t make you a traitor but it does raise the question WHY?

      Run, Alice, Run was accepted by several indie publishers. I didn’t even send it out to the Mainstream Five because, as you say, the indies are the ones taking the risks and accepting the challenges, eschewing crowd pleasers for niche and innovative writing.

      Thank you for your comment and praise for the cover.

    2. Hi again Terry
      I run Linen Press – a small publishing house for women writers. I get 20 submissions a week and am looking for superlative writing that will take my breath away. So yes..another tiny press is taking risks here and signing up emergent, debut and minority writers with something important to say about women.

  5. Looking forward to reading this! It’s true… there’s no middle ground in books (and probably more so in films or on our TV screens). Twenty something women play the love interest of fifty something men. Grrrr…

    It’s interesting given I would think female readers in their 30s-50s would certainly comprise a good % of the reading population.

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