Older Women Writing / Writing Older Women

From Writer Unboxed:

This post is about two things: growing old and storytelling. At seventy-three I’m definitely an older woman writer, and that increasingly concerns me. Can I tackle another trilogy, or will I be too old to maintain the pace and quality by the time I get to Book 3? How do I balance that with the expectations of readers who want a book a year, delivered promptly? Is it time to put myself out to pasture? And by doing that, would I be erasing myself because of age, making my story just another in which the female protagonist must be below a certain age to be considered interesting? There is a lack of older women characters in fiction, especially in my genre of fantasy. I’ve been guilty of this myself as a writer. Many of my novels have young central characters. It’s not because I ever thought older protagonists were boring or wouldn’t sell. In the historical periods of these novels, lives were generally much shorter than they are now. Folk died in childbirth, in nasty farm or workshop accidents, in battles, or from diseases for which there were no known remedies. They were living adult lives by their early teens, and were lucky if they made it to the grand old age of fifty. It’s realistic for my active central characters to be in the age range of sixteen to thirtyish, with a sprinking of (mostly) wise elders.

I stepped out of that pattern to write the Blackthorn & Grim series, in which the two central characters are older (though still youngish by contemporary measures) and severely damaged by trauma. I loved writing that series – it was so rewarding to live the journey with Blackthorn and Grim as they worked their way out from the shadows of PTSD. Those two felt the most real of any characters I had created. But for the following project my agent steered me toward a style of story that was faster paced and featured a younger central cast. At the time I was not happy, feeling my artistic judgement and skills as a writer had been devalued. But he knows the business and his advice made good sense. We reached a compromise that satisfied both parties. The Warrior Bards series has both young protagonists and significant supporting characters who are much older, plus cameo roles for my favourite duo from the previous series.

Then came the pandemic, along with political instability in many parts of the world and the escalating climate emergency. I was not the only writer who found it difficult to be creative in a time of such uncertainty. Many of us struggled, not only to find motivation, but to deal with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. A year went by, and I had not only failed to write a new book, but could not even complete a book proposal to my own satisfaction. I wrote many words but they all went in the bin. And I grew a year older. I started to see people of my own age group move to retirement villages or become so frail they could no longer function without help. And I found that people who did not know me sometimes treated me as less than capable, speaking down to me as if I were infantile, or offering help that was not required (for instance, when I was in the supermarket staring at the broccoli while my mind was on medieval battle strategies.) My white hair and very short stature didn’t help in such situations. I started to doubt myself. Every time I couldn’t put a name to a face, every time I mislaid my phone or keys, I wondered if I was developing dementia. That’s despite knowing the women in my family retain clarity of mind to a very advanced age.

During this time of self-doubt, I continued to participate in online events with other authors and to present live talks and workshops on various writing-related topics quite capably. I was physically active and socially engaged, at least by introvert standards. I should have known that losing my keys did not necessarily equate to losing my marbles. More likely those vague moments could be put down to stress and anxiety. But I didn’t listen to my own common sense. I should have reminded myself of some remarkable writers in the same general age group, such as celebrated fantasy author Jane Yolen, who after a long and illustrious career is still busy each day writing poetry and children’s books, sending in submissions, and recording her activities on social media. I should have thought of the very popular Australian author Liz Byrski, who specialises in novels about highly individual older women who lead full lives. But I didn’t. I’d lost my faith in myself as a writer and as a human. So, did this story eventually get back on track?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed