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.