Woman Over 40 Does Something

old lady writing

Or are we really still talking about this?

I followed a link on Twitter to a site called Booksbywomen.org which is one of my favourites sites. Lots of inspiring stories and useful info. This particular one was from a lovely lady who was rightly excited about getting her first book published. She had been dabbling for years but finally had the break she was waiting for. Hoorah. Good for her.

But what I found depressing about the article was she focussed not on her success but the fact that her success had come when she was over 40. She didn’t divulge her age, and why should she, but why should it be an issue at all? She has written a book that an agent and a publisher feel is interesting and exciting and will sell. Who cares how old she is? The last thing I do when I am reading a book blurb is scan down to see how old the writer is. I don’t devour book reviews in the media and wonder why they haven’t made reference to the author’s age. I don’t really care. I think the only exception is when the age of the author is remarkable for example Emma Healy writing Elizabeth is Missing about an elderly lady with dementia. Emma is a young woman of 19 and her insight into the main character is really impressive and unexpected and was used by the publishers as a marketing tool and it worked perfectly. Otherwise, who gives a monkeys?

So is a woman’s age still an issue? Stop what you’re doing and have a look at this – someone over 40 has done something? Really? And then I thought about this question even more. I am also over 40 and have written a book which I believe is good with commercial value – I just need to find an agent and a publisher who agree with me. When I explain to any of my friends that I have written a book, without exception they all are supportive and encouraging. No one yet has questioned whether I am too old for this sort of caper. I work in PR and media. I head up a team of 30 most of whom are young enough to be my children. But none of them sneer at me and make snide comments about whether I wouldn’t be better off at home or make me feel like I am past it and have nothing to contribute. We are a team and they value my views and my leadership and my experience as much as I value their contribution to the success of the department.

Perhaps it’s the media’s fault. We can usually lay some blame at their door. But this time I am not so sure. Yes the pages are full of young lovelies with their hope and good skin (thanks to Greg Davies for that gem). But they also celebrate the success of older ladies too. Julianne Moore, Hilary Mantel, Sandra Bullock, Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench. There doesn’t appear to be a suggestion that they should get their slippers on and go home.

So I wonder whether this isn’t of our own making. One of the best pieces of advice I was given by an old boss was not to apologise. He stated that in business, women at all rungs of the ladder, would more often than not make a small apology before adding their contribution to the meeting whereas men never did. I kept an eye out and its true. Us ladies constantly apologise for what we do (I realise this is a generalisation and many non-apologetic ladies are available) “This might not work”, “I’m not sure if this is the right time to say this”, “This may have already been covered”, “Perhaps its not my place to comment but”. Why is that?

We are possibly the first generation of ladies who haven’t expected to throw in the towel. We can wear skinny jeans and a pair of Converses without bracing ourselves for taunts of ‘mutton’ whispered under the breath of passers by. But our mothers’ generation were perhaps not so fortunate and without those role models growing up do we harbour in the dark recesses of our minds a small voice which asks us whether all this having fun and achieving our ambitions is right and proper? We all know it is but that doesn’t seem to stop us from having to apologise for it in some way.

I believe we need to make every effort to stop. If you start living at the age of 20 and useful life expectancy is 80 (I have rounded the figures up for easier maths as I specialise in words not numbers) then by the age of 40 I have only done a third of that time. Do we really feel that we have to shove everything into that first third and if we haven’t done it by then we should forget it? That’s madness. For many of us, the first bit is chock full of other stuff anyway: marriage, career, relationships, mortgage, children. Blimey. If you look at it like that it is obvious that we will all have a bit of time to flex our creative wings once we have hopped over the 40 barrier.

I am not sorry that I have written a book and I am never going to apologise for not having had the time to focus on it before now. And I am sure no one else is particularly bothered.


Ah! So There’s No Money Then?

Or I am going to have to revise my life plans

This week the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society released a survey of writers’ earnings carried out by Queen Mary’s University of London. It made for depressing reading for anyone with spark, ambition and hope like me.

£10,500 a year is the most any author can realistically expect to earn and even that is a push as most writers receive bugger all. If you have been reading my blogs or following me on Twitter you will know my goal is to be able to give up the day job and write for a living. £10,500 a year? That won’t even keep me in gin.

What the survey didn’t do was explain why and I am puzzled. Are writers’ earnings so low because the percentage of each book sale paid to a writer is tiny? Is it because channels like Amazon and the supermarkets have driven unit price down too far leaving insufficient pie to be sliced up and shared round? Is it because as consumers we don’t value the work that goes into creating a book and are not willing to pay a fair price? I am not sure I understand when book sales, both physically and digitally seem to be holding up.

There are a few authors in the top 5% per cent that can sit and watch the cash flow into their account whilst drinking champagne on the deck of a yacht moored off Monte Carlo but it seems that to aspire to that level of success is like pitching up for Sunday league football with the idea that one day you are going to be playing in the premier league. Or learning your lines for the panto at the village hall expecting that it is the first step to inevitable Oscar glory.

So next time I think about my ambitions to give up work and earn enough through writing books to be able to be home to pick my daughters up from school I need to give myself a little patronising pat on the head and say: “Of course you will dear.” A bit like my teachers would do at school when I told them I wanted to be an author before they asked me what I was really going to do as a proper job.

But what I have discovered in last last three months having joined the Twitter community is that despite the lack of financial rewards there are many, many hopeful writers out there churning out books day in day out. Spending months and months finishing a novel in the odd half hour we can find to sit down and write.

What drives us on? Perhaps everyone else I speak to on Twitter has rich partners or a trust fund and actually earning some money isn’t important. Maybe they are all a bit more realistic in their ambitions than me?

And if there is not a lack of people like me willing to give it a punt then why should anything change? There are plenty of eager authors stoked by the fantasy that they might be the one to get plucked from the slush pile and thrust onto the best seller list. The industry is confident there will always be a continual steady stream of manuscripts to select from so I guess there is no reason to pay us more if there are enough of us willing to do it for free or next to nothing.

Having read back what I have just written it sounds like I am full of despair. But I am not. Disappointed describes it more. I won’t give up writing as I can’t. I have tried plenty of times when I have been frustrated at my lack of success, dearth of any openings or support or guidance. But those stories and characters won’t go away. What I need to do is recalibrate my plans. Learn to accept that books are likely to only ever be a hobby and that I will be drafting blogs about the challenges of writing whilst holding down a full time job on my train journey into work for another twenty years. Thank heavens I like my job.

More Salary or More Writing Time?

Or How My Choice of Job Can be Affected by my Writing Ambitions

My six month contract as Head of Communications is up and I need to pack my belongings in a knotted hanky, hang it on the end of a stick and head back out to where the streets are paved with gold to find another job.

I am fortunate that hard work and enjoying my job has given me an impressive CV and therefore some choices. I have a career and a not too shabby one either. But if you have been reading any of my previous blogs you will know that what I really want to do is earn my money writing books. And that is a monumentally difficult task to achieve I am told wherever I ask. There is no careers advice, no qualifications to take, no internships, no mentors to guide you. You just have to hope you are good enough and hope that you get some luck. Invest time and resource writing a book and slog it round to agents hoping someone might like it. Not a sound bet when you put it like that. A friend of mine worked in PR like me but wanted to be a GP. So after plenty of soul searching and financial calculations, she gave up work and went back to university to spend four years studying. Whilst this was a massive commitment, she knew that if she passed her exams, a job in a doctor’s surgery would be waiting with her name on a placard in reception at the end. Guaranteed. It was a commitment, not a risk. No such guarantees in writing sadly.

As you know if you are a follower of my blog, I am a single mother of two daughters. Whilst I get on well with their father, my wage is the only one keeping us afloat. I want it to be as big as I can get: if I am going to have to schlep into London every day, leaving at 7.30 and not getting home until 6.30, paying someone else to look after my girls after school, then damn right I want to negotiate every flipping penny. I want a top wage, a bonus too if there is one going and all the goodies and benefits I can lay my sweaty hands on. But then my current employer dangled a four day week in front of me. Now that is not playing fair.

In my line of work four day weeks, job shares, working part time are rare and not something that can be considered at a senior level so this offer nudged me off course for a while. Only working four days. One day a week free. Girls at school, house quiet. I could write. For six hours a day. Uninterrupted. Completing my second book whilst my first is doing the rounds is now a real possibility.

My salary would be pro rata of course so there would be a financial consequence but ….. But.

I could live comfortably on the reduced wage, there would be camping holidays rather than fancy all inclusives in some sunny spot. Maybe eating out less but I wouldn’t be going back to the days where I had to make a pound of sausages last for two meals or lurk around in Tesco before closing time to grab some knocked down bargains.

So it comes down to how much do I believe? I don’t have a guaranteed place on the author best seller list if I finish another book. I am told the chances of it even getting read by an agent let alone published are slim to none. I have already made a significant investment in writing the first one by taking four months off work so is it worth investing still more in another? Or is it throwing good money after bad? How do I know?

This is my dilemma. Do I march onwards with the career, reaping the financial rewards, or do I jump off the writer cliff and hope the net will appear?

Well done me!

Or why I need to give myself a pat on the back once in a while.

For anyone who follows my Twitter feed you will have seen that this week I finally got around to opening Mslexia. For anyone who has read my previous blogs you will know that it plops through the door in its plastic wrapper but it may be several days perhaps up to a wek before I am strong enough to rip off the plastic and read it.

Amongst all the really inspring and useful, I find the pages and pages of authors struggling to make a small living, prepared to not even make any money to get published, very depressing. It makes me wonder what on earth I am doing and whether there is any hope at all.

So I usually spend a couple of days with a little black cloud of gloom following me around. But then feeling the little black cloud hovering just above my head, mocking me and my ridiculous dreams of being a successful writer, makes me even more sad. So I wanted to try and find something that would banish it and there’s nothing like a bit of self congratulation to perk up your day especially as it is not a practise I usually indulge in.

I’ve written a book for heaven’s sake. It might not be published yet but I have actually written one as my friends often remind me, open mouthed in awe. Just the thought of putting 77500 words on a page in an order that makes a compelling and exciting story is enough for them to be impressed. And I should be. Despite the many people who grace the pages of Mslexia, have blogs and Twitter accounts, who have also written unpublished books, there are many hundreds more, I am sure, who would like to write one but just haven’t got round to it yet.

And Thicker Than Water is not the first one I have written. I have also written a children’s book, Araminta Winter – Superhero. Also unpublished because I became at first disheartened and then distracted by Thicker Than Water like a labrador spotting a squirrel. I re-read it at the weekend. It’s good.

I also gave up my job without another one to go to yet am back at work in another great job. That’s got to be something to be proud of surely? It was a bold move and it didn’t leave my daughters and I homeless.

And my third novel is close to being ready to write. I have pondered over it, written pages and pages of notes, considered my characters and my structure and worked out what needs to go where to make the plot zip along. Whether I will be able to afford another four months off work to actually write it becomes another question altogether. The important thing it has shape.

I also have a website and a blog. I post to my blog once a week. I didn’t have one of these at the beginning of the year. Isn’t that an achievement? I don’t have a vast number of views at the moment but I have only been doing it a couple of months.

So I have some modest achievements. They only feel insignificant because I want so much more. I spent two hours this afternoon in a training session on setting objectives – this is why I want to write for a living. I want to be on the train and see people reading my book, I want to watch shoppers thumb through a pile of them on a table in Waterstones, I want to be invited to speak at festivals and writing events about my book, I want cheques to sail through my door which will pay my mortgage.

I have no idea whether I have any hope at all of achieving even part of those ambitions. But with two books written, a third on the way, a blog and a website at least I am further to getting there than I was in January. Black cloud be gone.