Elizabeth Oldfield realises ambition
Yesterday was publication day for Elizabeth Oldfield's novel Vintage Babes, published by Accent Press.
I knew Elizabeth when we both wrote for Mills & Boon. When, last month, she asked if I would like to read her latest and very different book, I was keen to see what form her break-out had taken.
Here's our Question and Answer exchange.
Bookworm's first Question : As a reader (who has been happily married since I was 21), I find it difficult to empathise with characters in novels who have a string of unhappy relationships and/or a divorce behind them. Elizabeth, you and your husband are also happily married. Did you find it tricky to get inside the head of 55-year-old Carol, the central character in Vintage Babes, who thought she was happily married to a fellow journalist for more than 20 years until she found he was having an affaire?
Elizabeth Oldfield's Answer: Although I am happily married, I have several friends who are divorced and was able to tap into their experiences and recall their feelings. So empathising with Carol came easily.
Q : How much is Vintage Babes a reaction to writing 40 romances for Mills & Boon?
A: It is not a reaction, but a long-term ambition. Back in the Eighties my husband's job took us to live in Singapore - a great little island. I had articles published in magazines and newspapers in the U.K. and Singapore. Then I began to wonder whether, on our return to the U.K., I could make a living out of writing. I decided to write a book - mainstream women's fiction - but first I would practice on a small book. Simplistic, I know, but that's how it was. The small books which came to mind were M&B romances, which I had never read, so I bought a dozen, studied them and thought 'I can do that'. Amazingly, my first book was accepted. I had enjoyed writing it and so I continued.
Eighteen years and 40 novels later, I retired from romance. I wanted time to relax, go travelling with my husband, and, finally, to attempt my original ambition of writing a mainstream book. Vintage Babes is the result.
Q : When deciding to write a book very different from your backlist, did you consider other genres such as crime fiction, fantasy, literary fiction or even non-fiction?
A: I did attempt a 'cosy crime', which fell by the wayside, but fantasy, literary fiction or non-fiction held no appeal. My main interest - even in the crime novel - was women 'of a certain age.' Whilst a proliferation of chick-lit satisfies the younger female readers, there are few books targeted towards those of fifty-plus. Yet the majority of women readers are over fifty.
The age angle fascinated me. We all know we're destined to become old codgers one day, yet it is often a mental truth and not an emotional awareness. When the realisation dawns that you're close to being a senior citizen - or, heaven forbid, have hit sixty - we can feel shocked, cheated, traumatised. I was never meant to be OLD. How can I be when I don't feel any different to how I felt at forty, even thirty? But then look in the mirror, try running for a 'bus and listen to your conversation - there's the proof.
Q : As a former newspaper reporter, I was delighted to find the main character in Vintage Babes is a senior reporter on a small town newspaper. Your main male character is the new editor of her paper. On p 75 he says, "I've also taken a look at the wages bill…and it seems that you don't get paid overtime for the evenings nor for any weekend work." In my time on newspapers, there was no such thing as overtime. One of the pleasures of staff journalism was that it wasn't a 9-5 job. But times change and it may be that things are different now. Did you check your facts with a local reporter or editor?
A: No, I didn't research the overtime angle, I used author's prerogative. I reasoned that as the newspaper was owned by a disinterested and unaware proprietor and pretty homespun - and as Steve was allowed to do his own thing by a grateful Mr P-J - Carol getting paid overtime would be acceptable.
Q : Nowadays very few books are accepted on first submission. How many publishers did you approach before Vintage Babes found a home?
Q : You don't have a website at present. Is there one on the drawing board?
A: No, but if Vintage Babes takes off I could be tempted.
Q: Can you reveal what the next book is about?
A: The highs and lows of women in their sixties.
Writing for women in their sixties
Readers aged 60-plus are a neglected segment of the market. I look forward to Elizabeth's next book.
Meanwhile, I wish her publishers, Accent Press, would re-design their site so that visitors aren't forced to download Adobe 8.