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, ageing 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, rather 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 middle-aged heroine whom no-one values. I would not give up on this 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 dubious revenge 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 who flood the book 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 tune in to, and you may even enjoy and sympathise with what Alice has to say.