Is there a market for novels about older women?
Also in today's blog
Professor Patricia Duncker
Mr Bookworm's book bargains
My diary for 22 September 2004 records that, during a crowded week in London, lunching and dining with book world people, I had a morning coffee date with two interesting newcomers to the publishing scene at the Royal Overseas League.
They were Giles Lewis and Nikki Read, MD and ED of Transita, a new publishing house specialising in fiction for women over 45.
At the time I would not have bet serious money on their survival, and one or two early Transita titles I read added to my doubts. Although I have to concede that my idea of a good novel is not in line with the fiction that reaches today's bestseller lists.
Someone else with doubts about the new publishing venture was Professor Patricia Duncker of UEA, who, in an article in The Guardian by Michelle Pauli in May 2005 was reported as having little time for Transita.
Indeed she was quoted as saying, "An imprint aimed solely at middle-aged women is a waste of time. That's what women's interest fiction is there to do: pulp fiction to feed your fantasies. There are plenty of wicked books by women that should be celebrated. What about Alison Fell's Tricks of the Light, which is about being middle-aged and as passionate as ever? The heroine of my next novel, Miss Elizabeth Webster, is 70, smart and aggressive. Bring back Miss Marple: the older woman is often a detective. Experience, intelligence and cunning are strong elements in their characters".
Seven Tales of Sex and Death
You can listen to Professor Duncker talking about her "adults only" book Seven Tales of Sex and Death at Meet the Author. It seems she suffers from insomnia and watches the late night horror movie which inspired the book. It was paperbacked by Picador in 2004 and, according to details at Amazon UK, a Financial Times reviewer wrote, 'This collection of stories confirms Patricia Duncker as one of Britain’s leading fiction writers . . . She should be required reading’.
The Duncker title which interests me is Miss Webster & Cherif which Bloomsbury published last year and paperbacked earlier this month.
The Amazon UK synopsis describes it thus –
"Elizabeth Webster is a cantankerous spinster pushing 70. Forced out of her old school teaching job, she unleashes her sharp tongue and dogmatic opinions on everyone in the English village of Little Blessington. Then one cold spring night, sitting on the sofa alone, she grinds to a dead halt. To recover from this mysterious, near-fatal illness her doctor sends her on a journey to a North African country where she ventures into the desert and has a brush with terrorism. But Miss Webster no longer cares about anything, least of all Islamic politics and suicide bombers. Three weeks after her return there is a ring on her doorbell. Standing there in the gusty darkness is a young Arab man of astonishing beauty. Worryingly, he is carrying a large suitcase. But who is Cherif? Why is he there and what does he want? Entertaining, intelligent, provocative, Patricia Duncker's new novel is a comedy of errors set in the aftermath of 9/11, in a darkening world moving towards war. This engaging tale about friendship, trust and liberation is full of reversals and surprises, tenderness and humour."
Transita's website is excellent, although while I was there I started to read the opening chapter of Redemption by Kay Langdale and felt that the third paragraph would alienate an awful lot of happily married readers, of whom there are many in the age group this imprint is aiming at.
The site includes a good blog. I was interested to see that a reference to Mary Stewart had nine comments.
Mr Bookworm's book bargains
Returning from one of his cross-island walks, Mr B unloaded a beautiful aubergine and two second-hand books from his pack. One was Mary Wesley's A Sensible Life of which we already have a copy, the other Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.
Rather to my surprise, he has since read and enjoyed the Wesley novel. But as he pointed out, three of the reviews quoted on the cover are by men.
'As usual she made me both laugh and cry.' Philip Howard, The Times.
'It is delicious…she writes with the knowledge and wisdom of serene old age and the emotional exuberance of glowing young womanhood.' Patrick Skene Catling, The Daily Telegraph.
'Such good company that in more than one sense it's hard to put down.' David Hughes, The Mail on Sunday.
I had never thought of Mary Wesley as an author appealing to both sexes before, but clearly she was and is. I'll write about the other book tomorrow.