Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Is there a market for novels about older women?

Also in today's blog
Professor Patricia Duncker
Transita website
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 website

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.


At 29 May, 2007, Blogger Richard Havers said...

Your point about novels aimed at women of a certain age is interesting and I think it applies in many areas of publishing. Clearly a publisher loves a big hit book that crosses demographic boundaries but there are by definition only a relatively small number of titles that can achieve this.

Publishing is just like every other business and relies on profit, but profit is not just about turnover. I think the future will see more targeted publishing and along with it more targeted and intelligent marketing from smaller nimble publishers. Of course the danger for any business is how to manage growth and not allow the turnover God to seduce you into altering your strategy.

At 29 May, 2007, Blogger Lesley Cookman said...

Giles and Nikki weren't new to publishing when they set up Transita, anything but. They already had the extremely successful "How To" imprint, which is still going strong.

At 29 May, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 29 May, 2007, Blogger Jane Gordon-Cumming said...

I think a lot of people got the wrong idea about Transita when it first appeared, and imagined it offering Mills & Boon type romances for older women. What it has provided is a voice for women who wouldn't otherwise have been been published at a time when most commissioning editors seem to be barely over 30. The Transita stable includes a huge variety of novels, from straightforward Romance to quite dark literary works, - and a comedy about a grumpy old man and his cat.

At 29 May, 2007, Blogger Susie Vereker said...

My second son, then in his twenties, also enjoyed Mary Wesley's books. I have just bought her biography, now in paperback.

Glad you liked the Transita blog. Actually, I reckon Redemption is pro-marriage, as you will see if you read it.

all best, Susie Vereker
(Transita author)

At 29 May, 2007, Blogger Susie Vereker said...

My second son, then in his twenties, also enjoyed Mary Wesley's books. I have just bought her biography, now in paperback.

Glad you liked the Transita blog. Actually, I reckon Redemption is pro-marriage, as you will see if you read it.

all best, Susie Vereker
(Transita author)

At 03 June, 2007, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

really age should be no barrier on all sorts of books: I loved Mary Stewart as a teenage boy (having got into her via her more teenage-friendly Arthurian books, but then working my way through my mother's stash of the rest of her fiction)plus all sorts of books by men and women of all ages and eras. It deeply depresses me that there is the expectation that people should only want to read books by people of the same gender and age as themselves. If you think about it it's a ludicrous proposition ("Oh, no Mike, I haven't read The Kite Runner because, y'know, I'm not like from Afghanistan") - I mean, really, isn't fiction supposed to be about getting into places, thoughts, feelings that are not necessarily our own. It's actually something I get quite heated about, given too much rumination. My eldest child is currently doing GCSEs and looking at how lame the curriculum is nowadays ("why, when I were a lad...&c &c") and I think it's largely from the belief that people can't relate to experiences that diverge from their own.

Oh, I despair.


I despair.

Shuffle off.

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