Tag Archives: The New Age of Ageing

Is Age a Barrier to Good Writing?

At a time dominated by the cult of youth, does the age of a writer matter? It always seems that publishers are looking for the next bright young thing. I have seen it suggested that this is to ensure that they will get a return on an author likely to write several books.

Things are changing. We live in an ageing society, in which more people are living longer. It is likely that there will be more older writers in the future. In our book, The New Age of Ageing, we considered the effects of our ageing population, not just on the individual, but also on families, our communities, policy. In this post I explore on the effects on publishing.

Ageism in society

Writing about age means identifying and confronting assumptions about age. There are plenty of discriminatory practices in our society. We can start with how older people are usually seen: conservative; physically weak and declining; not interested in sex and not sexy; defined by death (all those bucket lists).

My posts reviewing fiction about older women has revealed a more nuanced set of characters, with some feisty older women (see Moon Tiger, and The Dark Flood Rises) and some respectful views of older people with Alzheimer’s (Elizabeth is Missing) as well as caricatures of the eccentric and declining.

But what about older writers? We can count on Martin Amis to say what many people think about older writers, quoted by Michele Hanson in the Guardian,

Octogenarian novelists ‘on the whole [are] no bloody good. You can see them disintegrate before your eyes as they move past 70’.

Let’s look at late starters and writers who write into old age.

Late starters

Late, in the publishing world, means after 40. The most famous late starter was Mary Wesley, whose first book for adults Jumping the Queue was published when she was 70 years old. She went on to publish nine more novels and a memoir.

Dinah Jefferies, author of the best seller The Tea Planter’s Wife, published her first novel was when she was over 60. People had informed her that she wouldn’t find a publisher because of her age. Three of her novels have now been published. She told Saga Magazine in February 2016,

I read time and again that you have to be under 60 to be able to succeed at writing. All it made me think was, “I’ll show you. I’m not having that”. (Saga Magazine February 2016)

Keeping on

The list of writers who kept on writing, or who are still writing, is long and distinguished. Michele Hanson referred to Ursula Le Guin, Fay Weldon and Ruth Rendall. I add Diana Athill, Cynthia Ozick, Mary Weslely, and Elizabeth Jane Howard. And there are more.

I recently reviewed a novel by Edna O’Brien, The Little Red Chairs. The author was 84 when she published this her 17th novel.

Margaret Drabble published The Dark Flood Rises when she was 77. It is her 19th novel.

Penelope Lively wrote Moon Tiger when she was 54. She’s still publishing at the age of 83.

It’s not age, stoopid, it’s sex!

So it is not so much age that is a bar to getting published, especially if you have a distinguished career behind you. Gender is much more of a bar to getting books published, promoted and sold. Year on year the VIDA statistics reveal the failure of literary publications to review books by women, or to employ female reviewers. The Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction was begun to help draw attention to excellent books by women.

Thank you to my co-author Eileen for suggesting the topic of this post some time ago, while we were writing The New Age of Ageing.

Related posts

Women and Fiction, for more on this theme. (September 2015)

Is there Discrimination against Older Women Writers? Interview with Anne Goodwin, author of Sugar and Snails. (December 2015)

There are reviews of 25 books in older women in fiction series on this blog.

To subscribe and receive email notification of future posts on Bookword please enter your email address in the box.

7 Comments

Filed under Books, Older women in fiction, Reading, Reviews, Writing

After Publication

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman was published by Policy Press in early September. I have lost count of the number of books which I have co-authored or co-edited. That may read as rather big-headed, but I have been at it since 1991 – a quarter of a century!

But I have never stopped being excited about publication, the moment when one’s ideas are launched into the world, when you hope other people will benefit from one’s experience and reflection. It’s like a baby grown up and off into the world.

The delight of the printed book

There is pleasure in contemplating the newly printed book. All new books have a charm, the unbroken spine, the clean pages, the unblemished cover. When it’s a cover which announces one’s name and that title over which we laboured for months, then it has extra delight.

Then there is the pleasure of the pile of new books, see below. This is surely one of the pleasures of entering a bookshop – multiple copies, many volumes.

And, I admit, the smell of a new book is also to be savoured.

The promotional articles are done

Following publication we put ourselves about, writing promotional articles:

Eileen wrote for Mature Times, an article on the fear of ageing and how older people are ignored in commercial promotions. The stimulus for this was Jeremy Paxman’s demonstration of ageism in the FT diaries of 19th August 2016.

At the reception desk of a hotel to which I checked in this week was a pile of free copies of the Mature Times, which calls itself “the voice of our generation”. Oh God, I thought, the cheeky bastards are including me. Back off. For this must be the most unfashionable publication in Britain. Who wants to be called “mature”, like an old cheese? We all know that “mature” means on the verge of incontinence, idiocy and peevish valetudinarianism. They might as well have named it the “Surgical Stocking Sentinel” or “Winceyette Weekly”.

There was a lot more of this kind of thing in his piece. It seemed to us that a man of 66 was not doing his generation any favours, rather it was lazy journalism to accuse us of being on the verge of incontinence, idiocy and peevish valetudinarianism. (I had to look up that last word. It means in poor health or obsessed by poor health, which you probably knew.)

Marianne provided a post for the blog of ILC-UK (International Longevity Centre) on the future challenges of health and care in an ageing society.

She also posted on the Henpicked website, an article called How do you feel about Ageing?

For the Policy Press blog, I did a piece on age-blaming using the example of what people had said about older voters following the EU Referendum.

For the on-line magazine Discover Society we produced a piece about older people and housing, and the need for more affordable housing and for planning to take account of local views and construction that adopts a more age-inclusive attitude.

I found that writing these articles was much like writing the book itself, although more condensed.

Book promotion

Our publishers, Policy Press, have done sterling work to promote our book. In addition we announced the publication

  • on Facebook,
  • on twitter,
  • to every friend,
  • and to every professional connection we could think of.
  • I blogged about it.
  • Some magazine offered copies as a prize.
  • We gave flyers to our local bookshops.

And then …?

We waited.

We waited for reviews.

And for our readers to tell us how good it is, or how they agreed with this or wanted to argue about that …

I have been asked, ‘how’s the book going?’ And I have to say, ‘I have no idea’. I have no idea about sales: what would be good sales, what would be disappointing? Above all, I don’t think the world or even society has changed yet as a result of our book. I don’t know if it has even been nudged. That’s how it goes with most books. You don’t know.

That’s what I have learned, over the years, that after publication one waits. It’s an anti-climax after all that work. And you may never know whether you have piqued the interest of any reader, given them new ideas, encouraged debate. Sometimes people will tell you how important you book was to them, or how they saw it in a bookshop, or they don’t like the cover. But that’s it.

Why do we do it? Why write books? Well why do we?

Copies of The New Age of Ageing are available through the Policy Press website, where you can obtain a discount.

Related Posts

From February until publication day we posted at least once a month about the stages of book production from bright ideas to publication. You can find the posts here:

Publication Day September 2016

Trouble with Titles and Covers (August)

Marketing our Book (August)

Learning to be old by Eileen Carnell (July)

Ageing: it is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’ by Marianne Coleman (June)

Getting feedback to improve our writing (May)

First Catch Your Publisher (April)

One Book, Three Authors (March)

Writers’ Residential (February)

 

To receive email notifications of future posts please subscribe by entering your email address in the box.

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Writing

In which some memoirs are recommended

What’s the attraction of reading memoirs? Is it envy for a life one might have wanted, or relief of a life avoided? I studied history and for me its attraction has always been the lives of people, the details, the narratives, their stories. These have enlivened the most recent books I’ve been involved in writing: Retiring with Attitude and The New Age of Ageing.

What’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir? It is suggested that while an autobiography is the story of a life, memoirs are stories from that life. In other words, memoir has a narrower focus than an autobiography, and it is often more interesting because it is selections.

It occurred to me then that the memoirs you truly fall in love with have less to do with the people that write them and much, much more to do with who you are when you read them. Memoirs are blueprints. They are maps to the lives we wish we had, or cautions from the ones we’re glad we avoided. [Caroline o’donaghue in Memoirs to Change your Life. See below]

From time to time I read memoirs and in this post I recommend a few. The common characteristic is that they are all from the lives of bookish people: all writers or editors.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

How well I remember the BBC tv series of 1978, which coincided with the republishing of these memoirs. It spoke directly to my emerging feminism. The book was not exactly a feminist tract but it reminded us of the role women can play in war and peace, and in politics, and this can produce another generation to follow them.

I read Testament of Youth after finishing my history degree, and perhaps more than any other book Vera Brittain showed how history, especially the history of war is not only about men and their suffering. The Testament of Youth made me understand that the First World War defined the twentieth century, and that Britain before it was utterly different. It was one woman’s story, but she tells of the sacrifice of a generation and its aftermath. The scars are with us still as the current centenary has revealed.

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. First published in 1933, republished by Virago in 1978. 661pp

Many volumes by Diana Athill

Alive, Alive Oh! (2015) By Diana Athill was the book choice for one of my reading groups in November. It encouraged some very interesting discussion, about her description of her miscarriage, her family home, her approach to relationships, her life in old age. A volume I go frequently return to is Stet for her stories of the writers she worked with as an editor at Andre Deutsch, including Jean Rhys.

And this is from Somewhere Towards The End (2008)

One doesn’t necessarily have to end a book about being old with a whimper, but it is impossible to end it with a bang. There are no lessons to be learnt, no discoveries to be made, no solutions to offer. I find myself left with nothing but a few random thoughts. One of them is that from up here I can look back and see that although a human life is less than the blink of an eyelid in terms of the universe, within its own framework it is amazingly capacious so that it can contain many opposites. One life can contain serenity and tumult, heartbreak and happiness, coldness and warmth, grabbing and giving – and also more particular opposites such as the neurotic conviction that one is a flop and a consciousness of success amounting to smugness. (177)

Diane Athill has led a remarkable life and has the gift to reflect on her experiences, and gift is the right word here for her readers and friends.

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

This is Jackie Kay’s account of tracing and meeting her birth parents as an adult. It is also a tribute to her adoptive parents. This memoir explores what it means to be connected to families known and unknown.

It begins when she met her father in Abuja, Nigeria. He will not acknowledge her unless she agrees to join him as a born again Christian, and he behaves in a way that seems bizarre, praying for her for two hours. In his working life he is a noted tree specialist (having met Jackie’s mother in Glasgow University where he was studying), known throughout Nigeria for his work with trees and their healing properties.

Her mother is less obviously successful, moved away from her own tight family in the Highlands, and with a failed marriage and two more children, eventually disappearing into dementia in Milton Keynes. Both birth parents are reluctant to reveal Jackie’s existence to their own children.

The memoir questions what people are entitled to from each other – should Jackie collude in the secrecy, for the sake of the parents who abandoned her? The final triumphant scene is a meeting with her brother at the airport an hour before she needs to leave for her plane. She is embraced by him and his family.

Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. Published by Picador in 2010. 287pp

Basil Street Blues by Michael Holroyd

I read this memoir because of one of its themes, to which I was alerted by an article in the wonderful Slightly Foxed journal. It was about secrets and families. It is an account of a family’s unconventional relationships, although on the surface they are presented as quite smooth. This, I suspect, may not be that unusual: a Swedish mother, family with connections to Rajmai tea and Lalique glassware. These businesses gradually declined between the wars until there was nothing left for Michael Holroyd when he came to adulthood. His family lived together in ritualised hate and with some abuse.

Michael Holroyd is a distinguished biographer, so he knows a thing or two about stories from people’s lives. With interesting relatives he reflects what should or shouldn’t be revealed. Above all he makes it clear that stories from one’s life cannot be told without the stories of many other people.

Basil Street Blues by Michael Holroyd. Published by Slightly Foxed in 2015. 364pp

Related Posts

Memoirs to Change your Life by Caroline o’donaghue in The Pool. November 2015. A list of suggestions from an American point of view.

And more recommendations

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot, published in 2016 by Canongate. It is the author’s account of her flight from the Orkneys, into East London and alcoholism and returning to the Orkneys to haul herself back to sobriety.

In Gratitude by Jenny Diski (2016) published by Bloomsbury, being both the story of her troubled adolescence and living with Doris Lessing, and her account of terminal cancer.

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell first published in 1959, reissued by Furrowed Middlebrow in 2016. This is Chelsea in the Blitz.

Do you have any memoirs to recommend?

To receive email notifications of future posts please subscribe by entering your email address in the box.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books, Reading

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

I grew up with Margaret Drabble’s novels, keeping step as she pushed the boundaries with A Summer Bird Cage and The Millstone, looking at the lives of intelligent young women in the 60s. The Dark Flood Rises is her 20th novel and still she is asking questions that concern me, and people of my age. This novel is about growing older and facing death in the 21st Century.

The title is taken from DH Lawrence’s The Ship of Death.

Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul

Has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.

302-dark-flood-cover

This is the 24th in the series Older Women in Fiction on this blog. You can see the complete list of reviews and readers recommendations on the page About the Older Women in Fiction Series at the top of the blog.

‘What I do worry about is living’

Margaret Drabble wrote about death and approaching death in an article in the Guardian in October just before the publication of this novel. She referred to ‘the delusion of an afterlife’, no longer shared by many, if it ever was. But we still ‘struggle with the meaning of death’, she suggests. And she has this to add about increased longevity, faced by many of us.

Through our mortal ingenuity, we are reaching a biological phase when we are beginning to fear old age and longevity more than we fear death. We can no longer look forward to the possibility of a sudden, unexpected, merciful release, or falling asleep in bed reading a book (as my mother did), or ceasing on the midnight with no pain. Nor can we make plans to celebrate our departure as a grand culmination of our life’s endeavours, with gracious and grateful and possibly public farewell. That’s because we know that officious folk are going to strive to keep us alive for as long as they possibly can, until we can no longer enjoy anything. Just to prove that hey can. [Guardian 29th October 2016]

I disagree with much of this, believing we should celebrate increased longevity and take advantage of it in others as well as in ourselves. Indeed I have co-written about this and published a book on it this year. (The New Age of Ageing).

But increased longevity does mean paying more attention to that period we call old age. ‘What I do worry about is living,’ says Margaret Drabble. I agree with her. This is new territory, and as the author has said, (in the Paris Review in 1978) it is the function of fiction to explore it, and she has made an accessible approach with The Dark Flood Rises.

A summary

Fran and older people connected to her, and some younger ones, look at death. Fran is in her 70s but fit, caring for her bedbound ex-husband by preparing and delivering meals for him. Her son Christopher lost his partner suddenly in the Canaries. He returns there and is befriended by two gay men, Bennett Carpenter renown but sinking slowly into genteel disability, and Ivor increasingly acting as Bennett’s carer rather than his partner. They are trapped by European economics, and the failure to invest when they had capital. Fran’s daughter Poppet is concerned about the death of the earth. Two of Fran’s older female friends face and then undergo death.

Fran

It is Fran’s story with which the novel opens and to which we return at frequent intervals. She is doing ageing very well: she has a no-nonsense approach to it, keeps healthy and active, even undertaking paid work advising on meeting the housing needs of the elderly. This is a good device for some discrete observations about how these needs are widely neglected. Fran is determined not to become a burden on others, in fact to remain useful. She is, we can see, doing all the right things. This does not make her happy (see below for the opening paragraph).

Margaret Drabble is not afraid to enumerate the physical aspects of the ageing body. Or to refer to those things that are no longer problematic. There is a kind of tongue in cheek pleasure in the writing about these, for example the dream Fran has about Tampax. She has driven to a hotel the day before and in the morning she puts her reaction to the dream in order.

… she wonders whether it had sprung from the redness of the meal of the night before, or from her motorway thoughts about Macbeth, or from some new and about-to-be-apprehended aspect of time and the ageing experience.

For ageing is, says Fran to herself gamely as she presses the lift button to go down to her breakfast, a fascinating journey into the unknown. Or that’s one rather good way of looking at it. The thin flow was the blood of life, not of death, reminding her that she is still the same woman, she who once had been the bleeding girl. (20)

The writing

The novel is not divided into chapters, but into short segments. And it is written in the present tense. Here are the opening sentences of the novel, from Fran’s point of view.

She has often suspected that her last words to herself and in the world will prove to be ‘You bloody old fool’ or, perhaps, depending on the mood of the day or the time of the night, ‘you fucking idiot’. As the speeding car hits the tree, or the unserviced boiler explodes, or the smoke and flames fill the hallway, or the grip on the high guttering gives way, those will be her last words. She isn’t to know for sure that it will be so, but she suspects it. In her latter years, she’s become deeply interested in the phrase ‘Call no man happy until he is dead’. Or no woman come to that. ‘Call no woman happy until she is dead.’ (1)

The present tense narration brings a curious slow but immediate impact. It reminds us that these people live alongside us, are us. Time moves onwards, but we can linger in this time of life. The prose has a slightly superior tone, which may be intended to represent the mindset of this group of older people.

The novel does not stay with Fran, but roams among the other characters as they pass their days in the shadow of death’s approach. We see the preoccupations of Fran’s women friends, her ex-husband Claude, Bennett and Ivor trapped in the Canaries and attend a hospital bed and a funeral or two.

43 Wreath & Hide

There are many erudite references in The Dark Flood Rises. One I especially enjoyed was to Elizabeth Taylor, and her novel A Wreath of Roses. Margaret Drabble is very well read and her well-educated cast of characters have various interests which enable her to refer to many other writers and what they said about ageing and dying.

There is a great deal of humour, and pathos, in the doings of these characters. There is selflessness and selfishness, affluence and poverty, friendship and admiration. Some of these people have been very eminent in their professional lives in earlier times. Bennett Carpenter is a notable historian of Spain. Claude was a highly regarded surgeon. Some of the older people are immersing themselves in rather narrow interests. For example, Jo develops a researcher’s interest in novels about marriage to the DWS (deceased wife’s sister). Claude wants to listen to endless Maria Callas, while cuddling his carer. Many of these old people are lonely, have lost partners and are fearful of intruding upon their children’s lives.

And I want to mention that the story references population movements too, especially across the Mediterranean and especially the treacherous, desperate voyages that see the end of so many lives as people escape violence.

Rescue off the Canaries, November 15th 2006. Noborder Network via WikiCommons.

Rescue off the Canaries, November 15th 2006. Noborder Network via WikiCommons.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble, published by Canongate in 2016. 326 pp

Related posts

Margaret Drabble’s article in the Guardian, ‘I’m not afraid of death. I worry about living’ October 2016.

My review of Elizabeth Taylor’s A Wreath of Roses.

The previous post in the older woman in fiction series was A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman.

 

To receive email notifications of future posts please subscribe by entering your email address in the box.

12 Comments

Filed under Books, Elizabeth Taylor's novels, Older women in fiction

Trouble with Titles and Covers

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change comes out on 7th September. One of the hardest bits of writing our book was finding the right title. And another was agreeing the cover design. These two aspects of book production carry the first ideas of the book to possible readers. Despite their importance, for us, both title and cover came after we had finished the manuscript.

274 New Age

Finding the title

For most of its time, from first ideas, through the proposal and contract signing stages, and even as we were writing the chapters, our book was called Ageing now: the impact on individuals, families, communities and society. We had already rejected Positive Ageing and We’re Still Here, although that one made it as a chapter title. You can see where we were going with Ageing Now. But we knew it was not right, and asked the publisher to consider it a working title. What should the book be called?

This is a summary of the contents:

Our society, communities, family and individuals have much to gain and less to fear from our ageing population.

We give innovative ways of considering ageing, challenging widespread account of it as simply problematic and burdensome. We counter ageism and the political opportunism that obscures the opportunities and benefits of age. We reject the common belief that transitions into older age bring inevitable pain, loneliness, depression and dependency whilst recognising the challenges involved.

The book challenges common assumptions about ageing and offers a new vision for an age-inclusive society.

You can access a free copy of Chapter 4 called Time bombs and Agequakes: the economics of ageing: here.

The summary above hardly does justice to our arguments, and yet we had to compress it even further into a title. We wanted to find a title that told our readers that this book is about how all society is changing, and everyone will be affected by increased longevity. We did not want a title that suggested we were guiding people into a happier old age, although we hope it can contribute to that. So out went Positive Ageing, The Joys of Ageing and all associated suggestions. Other suggestions were rejected by the marketing people at Policy Press for not being strong enough.

The hunt for the title took many emails, many, many emails. I consulted my writing group. Emma said that even though we had not yet found the title, it would eventually reveal itself to us, we should be patient. And it did. An idea had come from Marianne’s husband, John. Finally we all agreed on The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change.

Turning pages of a book by Mummelgrummel, February 2013 via WikiCommons

Turning pages of a book by Mummelgrummel, February 2013 via WikiCommons

Cover

And then we had similar issues with the cover. Just for a moment consider what images you would put on a book about ageing. Older people? Older people being active? We were conscious of the clichéd image of older people on bicycles, tandems and motorcycles with sidecars. We have been writing about retiring and ageing for some years and our publications have been blessed with all these!

We learned about how difficult covers can be on a previous occasion. Some years ago Eileen and I wrote a book aimed at secondary schools. The publisher’s initial design showed primary age pupils looking very learningful. The brief to the designer must have omitted the relevant age.

The trouble with images of people on books is that they often represent stereotypes, or categories. Writing about social policy, changes to society and so on, we wanted an inclusive cover. If people are to be shown the reader has to see people of different ethnic origins, men and women in positive activities (I guess that’s where the bikes come in), in relationship with each other, and in our case, not representing the usual image of older people: passive, miserable, in decline.

230 road sign

We suggested no people. We suggested a neutral image: in our case it’s a rising or setting sun. And we were keen on getting a good strong colour, clear lettering and strong layout. Ideally we would have liked some of Eileen’s artwork, but this was beyond budget. We like the strength of the blue cover, and its ambiguous sun. I referred to the endorsement on the back cover in the previous post on marketing. We hope all this – title, design, blurby bits – will attract readers.

And finally …

… it’s all done. As I write this we are waiting for our printed copies to arrive. One has been seen somewhere in Britain. Publication day is only a few weeks ahead.

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman will be published by Policy Press on 7th September 2016.

Copies of The New Age of Ageing will be available through the Policy Press website, at a 20% discount. It will cost £14.99 £11.99.

Related posts

On the Tricky Topic of Titles (November 2015)

We are writing monthly posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing our book. Earlier posts include

Marketing our Book (August 2016)

Learning to be old by Eileen Carnell (July)

Ageing: it is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’ by Marianne Coleman (June)

Getting feedback to improve our writing (May)

First Catch Your Publisher (April)

One Book, Three Authors (March)

Writers’ Residential (February)

 

Please subscribe by entering your email address in the box. You will receive emails about future posts.

11 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Writing

Marketing our Book

Writing a book is more than writing a book. It needs marketing. The three authors of The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change visited the publisher’s offices in Bristol, Policy Press, last week. It was in part an excuse for a day out and for the three of us, Eileen Carnell, Marianne Coleman and me, to meet up for the first time in several months. We received a very warm welcome and continue to be impressed by the many creative young women who work in publishing. The meeting was productive and we are excited about preparing for Publication Day on 7th September. Our job now is to help the publisher get the book to the people who want to read it.

274 New Age

Why have a publisher?

Producing a book, we have learned in the past, is a joint project between writers and publisher. Writing the text of a book is only one step. Without a publisher we could never have reached so many readers for our previous books. And again we find a publisher who helped to improve the writing and will handle promotional activities, distribution to bookshops and report on sales.

145 old hands

We can’t do without them. The expertise of Policy Press led us through the following promotional areas at our meeting.

The book cover, including endorsements

Our meeting with Jess, the publicity and marketing person at Policy Press, began by revising our summary of the book, the blurb, as it appears on the back cover. We had a brief discussion about the word ‘prove’. The researcher in me balks at its use, but we decided it’s a good word to do some of the required work on the cover: Brought alive by the voices of people aged 50 to 90, it proves ageing is not passive decline but a process of learning, challenges and achievement.

We moved on to selecting the endorsements. We had suggested some people they might approach, and some of these people had come up with engaging quotes for the back cover and for inside the book. We are rather pleased with the selection, an eminent MP and a couple of professors and one or two other luminaries. They are all well known leaders in the field of policy, public discourse and research into ageing.

Their words make me blush: compelling case for radically different approach to later life, inspiring book, excellent and eminently readable, welcome light …We hope they will also encourage readers to open the book.

Pitching for articles and reviews

Eileen and Marianne discussing writing points for The New Age of Ageing

Eileen and Marianne discussing writing points for The New Age of Ageing

We plan to hook into some themes that are around at the time of publication, such as housing and suitable accommodation for everyone. We explored what will happen around that time and how to be invited into the discussions and add to the arguments. Our book challenges some widely-held assumptions, and raises issues that are often not heard, so we have to push to get our arguments across. This is where marketing and promotion gets interesting, because it is of course about engaging people in what we have laboured to write. This is not like selling baked beans, or offering quantity (BOGOF). We have something to say and we want to be heard. We believe in what we have written: the authors’ moral commitment is obvious, according to one testimonial.

We moved on to discussing where we would like to see the book reviewed: journals, current affairs, magazines, and so on

Social Media activities

Our twitter hashtag is developed, #newageofageing, and we plan to tweet like mad – well, those of us who have twitter accounts; and to promote the book on Facebook, Linked-In and through other connections. We talked about coverage on this blog, Bookword, and Policy Press’s blog and others we can get to. Any invitations? We would really like you to be involved.

Other activities

There are some other possibilities too: postcards, flyers, articles, bookshops, speaking events, radio shows … We each began compiling lists of possibilities.

During the meeting Jess mentioned that the book goes to the printers this week. Hard copies will be available soon. The approach of publication day is exciting. We are proud.

And in all this activity and excitement we found time for the three of us to discuss our next writing project. Watch this space!

Turning pages of a book by Mummelgrummel, February 2013 via WikiCommons

Turning pages of a book by Mummelgrummel, February 2013 via WikiCommons

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman will be published by Policy Press on 7th September 2016.

Copies of The New Age of Ageing will be available through the Policy Press website, at a 20% discount. It will cost £14.99 £11.99.

Related posts

A Little Rant about Marketing Books Like Cornflakes on this blog in November

We are writing monthly posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing our book. Earlier posts include

Learning to be old by Eileen Carnell (July 2016)

Ageing: it is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’ by Marianne Coleman (June)

Getting feedback to improve our writing (May)

First Catch Your Publisher (April)

One Book, Three Authors (March)

Writers’ Residential (February)

 

Please subscribe by entering your email address in the box. You will receive emails about future posts.

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Reviews, words, Writing

Learning to be old

There are three authors of New Age of Ageing. I am one. I asked the other two to reflect on what writing the book meant to each of them. This month, on her return from holiday, Eileen writes about three important contradictions, conundrums and challenges about ageing.

  1. Performing old
  2. Covering the signs of ageing
  3. Not heading for the scrap heap.
Eileen on air at the BBC

Eileen on air at the BBC

This is what Eileen Carnell wrote for Bookword blog:

It has been an absolute joy to work with Caroline and Marianne over the last two years writing our new book The New Age of Ageing: How society needs to change. We interviewed fascinating people and carried out numerous searches. The most stimulating part of the process was the dialogue we had together creating new ways of understanding the issues and then finally creating our vision to conclude the book. The whole process was extremely challenging, fun and inspiring.

Reflecting now, just over a month before publication date, has been useful in highlighting some contradictions, conundrums and challenges about ageing that I have found particularly striking.

Performing old?

I was excited when I came across the idea that we learn to ‘perform’ or act old. As a feminist researcher I was aware of the concept of performing gender. Relating the idea to ageing was incredibly useful. I was amused by what Ruth said: ‘I am aware of changes, hearing myself making sitting down and standing up noises like an old person’. There are clear rules in our society about what old people should and shouldn’t do and wear and behave, just as there are clear expectations for women in our society.

Jenny’s remarks nicely illustrate the idea that we learn to perform old:

Me and my partner are experimenting with being old for a few days … he’s had a hernia repair, I pulled a muscle in my hip. … S’interesting the sorts of things that one might need to get ‘a young person’ in for eventually … changing the bed linen for starters.

I like the ironic tone of this message. Jenny knows the situation is temporary – a rehearsal. But beneath the message speaks truth – an agreed cultural understanding of performing ‘old’ and how relationships with family, friends and younger people change as a result. Those who fail to conform are criticised or ridiculed. When Mike was preparing for a triathlon, aged 70, friends said ‘You must be mad at your age, you crazy man of excess. Why don’t you just put your feet up?’ The dominant image of older people is of decline – take that road sign of bent old people with sticks for example.

230 road sign

A contradiction emerges. There is a powerful message in our society that it is our duty to age well and healthily. That means being super fit and active for as long as possible, regardless of social background, economic status or level of physical ability. A blame issue develops: ‘they should have looked after themselves’.

Reading the work of Lorna Warren and Amanda Clarke helped me make sense of this conundrum. They draw attention to the idea that in attempting to counterbalance the ubiquitous images of decline it is important not to create new unachievable oppressions of physically fit, creative, active, adventurous ageing (see note 1). When writing I recognised the temptation to overdo the positive aspects which gives weight to this new tyranny.

Covering signs of age?

Part of the tyranny is to hide signs of ageing – age denial. My sister Sheila, who was the prettiest of us three siblings, sent me a picture of her new face following Botox treatments. I was shocked and saddened, but in her 60s she was entitled to make this decision, although I felt it spoilt her looks, making her face looked ironed and her smile forced. But when I saw the headline: ‘Pageant Mom Gives Botox to 8-Year-Old’ that revealed the story of a mother administering Botox to hide her daughter’s wrinkles I was horrified (note 2). We three authors spent a long time considering our own attitudes towards the cover up. We agreed that this example of seeking perfection was an extreme form of cultural oppression. But where do you draw the line? Opinion is divided. Some see the use of cosmetics and treatments as empowering. It is clear that beauty ideals dominate many women’s lives and there is a growing belief that ageing is like a disease that can be cured. Subsequently the cosmetic business exploits women’s fears. I have come to the conclusion that if we persist as a society in hiding age then we will never re-educate ourselves to see beauty in the faces and spirits of older people.

Heading for the scrap heap?

Society does something strange to us as we age. We are no longer valued participants but seen as a burden, a problem or redundant. While many older people want to contribute they find it difficult to find ways to share their skills. Ray expressed his frustration after he retired from his role as a surgeon in a teaching hospital:

It’s such a waste. I could be a mentor or use my wisdom in other ways in an advisory capacity. I have so many transferable skills and it’s as if nothing I did in my professional life has any value any more. I feel I am on the scrap heap.

This is so sad. The challenge is to create structures and forums so that older people can share their wisdom and experience rather than leave it to chance.

I met an inspiring retiree, called Mo, who moved to a village in South Africa to set up a school. She said:

For me the way forward is clear – to tap into the global wisdom of so many who have reached retirement. There is immeasurable wisdom which could have a huge impact on so many in the world today.

I like the clear statement that old people need to be recognised as ‘assets rather than burdens … active contributors, not passive recipients’ (note 3).

Many older people, like Mo, do find ways to benefit society. We came across many who are still active in local, national or international politics and are vociferous in campaigning for a better world and in fighting ageism. The penultimate chapter of the book celebrates their contributions demonstrating there is no shortage of older radicals.

 

References

(1) Warren, L. and Clarke, A. (2009) ‘“Woo-hoo, what a ride!” Older people, life stories and active ageing’, in R. Edmondson and H.J. von Kondratowitz (eds) Valuing older people: A humanist approach to ageing, Bristol: Policy Press, p 244.

(2) ABC News (2011) Pageant Mom Gives Botox to 8-Year-Old Daughter: How Young Is Too Young? May 12, 2011. By Hagan, K., Kunin, S. & Ghebremmedhin. S. via GoodMorning America. (Accessed 23.06.15).

243 New Age cover(3) Roberts, Y. (2012) One Hundred Not Out: resilience and active ageing. London: The Young Foundation.

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. To be published by Policy Press on 7th September 2016.

Related posts

We are writing monthly posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing our book. Earlier posts include

Ageing: it is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’ by Marianne Coleman (June 2016)

Getting feedback to improve our writing (May)

First Catch Your Publisher (April)

One Book, Three Authors (March)

Writers’ Residential (February)

 

Please subscribe by entering your email address in the box. You will receive emails about future posts.

5 Comments

Filed under Books, Learning, Publishing our book, Writing

Ageing: it is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’

There are three authors of New Age of Ageing. I am one. I asked the other two to reflect on what writing the book meant to each of them. Eileen has gone on holiday, so her reflections will appear in July. Marianne writes about three things:

  1. Her own learning, particularly how writing the book had clarified her thoughts about the ageing process and its implications for all of us.
  2. Writing the book also made her face up to her own attitudes, anxieties and concerns about ageing
  3. She also thought about the process of writing which was unusual as it involved collaboration between three of us and had to be fitted into everyone’s already busy schedules

This is what Marianne Coleman wrote for Bookword blog:

261 Marianne

  1. Clarifying my thoughts

What about the ageing process? Most importantly there are all the implications arising from longer life expectancy and also there are changing and more youthful attitudes amongst older people. Both of these mean the following:

We need to think differently about ourselves, recognise that the balance of age groups is changing and then do some adjusting.

We have to make sure that old people are properly provided for to live a dignified and useful life, but also see that they are the most tremendous resource and that life in older age can be fun and exciting.

We need to drop our stereotypes around ageing, most of which revolve around decline and the end of a useful life.

The change in attitudes means having more flexibility about employing people, and recognising that older people contribute massively as volunteers in the charity sector and in supporting each other and their families.

Above all we need to recognise that older people are not separate or different from the rest of the population. It is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’.

It is not “them and us”, it is all “us”.

There are too many people who preach an opposite message of division between the generations even blaming older people for the economic and social problems of today. Constructive and clear sighted attitudes to older people, not blame, will help not only those who are old now, but those who will be old in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time. We need a new mind-set about ageing.

  1. My own attitudes to ageing

What about my own attitudes anxieties and concerns about ageing? I am the product of my time, belonging to a generation growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and our generation does not so willingly accept the stereotypes and expectations that are associated with ageing. Many of us see ageing differently now that we are those older people. Researching for and writing the book has given me even more of a perspective to stand back and see the changes relating to ageing in progress, and to recognise for example that beauty is not just in youth but also in maturity and decline. Dropping any lurking stereotypes about age, I have become less judgmental in the ways that I look at people of all ages. I can’t pretend that I have no anxieties about getting older. In common with the people we interviewed I am concerned about health issues and how they might impact on me and when.

One side benefit of researching and writing the book has been the opportunity to give some thought to death. Although we were interviewing older people about their attitudes to ageing it was surprising how little the topic of death came up. It seems that people avoid thinking about it and sometimes never discuss anything about it even near the very end of life. In one of the chapters I did write about death and what was said in interviews and in particular reading Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal made me realise how important it is to be more open about this final stage of life and to talk to your family and close friends about what might be important to you at the end.

  1. Writing together

What about the process of writing? The best thing was the times that the three of us worked together to construct the outline of the book and then to fine tune it and finally to comment on drafts of chapters. This process only worked because we know and trust each other and have respect for what each of us says. Working together was creative and it was exciting to take an idea and expand it or make links that I had not seen before. The feedback on individual chapters was invaluable. It is very reassuring to be able to try out ideas and test them on your fellow authors. I wrote in a previous blog about the importance of feedback on drafts.

Not one but two books

Overall I can honestly say that writing the book was an enjoyable experience. But I am glad to take a rest, particularly as circumstances meant that at the same time that I was collaborating on this book I was also collaborating on a book on a completely different topic. That book is called Leading for Equality: Making Schools Fairer where my co-author is Jacky Lumby. I managed the process of writing two books at the same time by some careful timetabling and taking one chapter (of whichever book) at a time and seeing each chapter as a separate project. There were also times when there was a lull in the progress of one book as fellow authors had to turn their attention to other projects too. Writing two at the same time was challenging but very rewarding. The books are very different but both have fairness and social justice at their heart so the move from one book to another did not jar.

One problem now is that all the administration associated with book production (editor’s queries, questions about marketing the books, proofs etc.) is all arriving together. Still just take one thing at a time …

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. To be published by Policy Press on 7th September 2016.

243 New Age cover

Related posts:

We are writing monthly posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing our book. Earlier posts include

Getting feedback to improve our writing (May 2016)

First Catch Your Publisher (April 2016)

One Book, Three Authors (March 2016)

Writers’ Residential (February 2016)

 

Please subscribe by entering your email address in the box. You will receive emails about future posts.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Books, Learning, Publishing our book, Writing

Getting feedback to improve our writing

Not all feedback helps to improve writing. Have you ever-experienced killer feedback? It’s the kind of feedback that makes you feel ashamed, humiliated and as if you wanted to put away the writing for ever. Everyone I know has received it at some stage. I remember the reviewer’s comment on an article I’d submitted to an academic journal. This was the sentence that did it: If the author aspires to an academic position they should learn how to reference. It was doubly killing as a) I was already a university lecturer and b) there was nothing wrong with the referencing. Nevertheless I abandoned the article on the spot.

Yet feedback can be very helpful. The three authors of The New Age of Ageing sought out readers to provide different types of feedback, and to learn from and improve our writing by taking their comments into account. Here are our reflections on our learning from this process.

243 New Age cover

Marianne Coleman says

We have asked for and received feedback throughout the writing of the book: right at the start on the proposal; on individual chapters and on the full draft.

It was really important to get feedback on the proposal. The publisher asked us to suggest suitable people to read our initial proposal so that they got a view on the viability of the book. That feedback was positive and constructive, and we took it into account when finalising the proposal, which was the initial skeleton of the book.

Throughout the course of the writing we were getting feedback from each other. For me the best thing about having co-authors has been the process of shaping the individual chapters and the book through the wonderful discussions we had each time we met. We also gave feedback to each other on draft chapters and that was incredibly useful. Obviously this can only work when you trust each other and can be honest, open and respectful of each other’s work and feelings.

In a wide-ranging book like ours, we covered areas where we were not necessarily fully expert and it was vital that we checked our facts with people who were. Their invaluable feedback enabled us to have confidence in what we were saying, but we found that we had to use our judgment about how much of their advice and how many of their suggestions to incorporate. Sometimes the sophistication and detail of their arguments were too much for the general nature of the book and more suitable for a thorough exploration of their particular area of expertise. This meant that sometimes after incorporating expert suggestions, they were trimmed back for the final draft.

A particularly useful feedback came from one of our readers at the point where we had a nearly complete draft. She came back with some vital over-arching comments including that we had not really established the standpoint from which we were speaking. This feedback made us think hard and helped us sharpen our thoughts and message for the final version.

The most recent feedback came in the form of editor’s queries. Although these tended to be mainly about consistency of spelling, punctuation and missing references, sometimes the editor has picked up a badly expressed thought that can be refined and improved for meaning.

But that is not the final feedback. That will come from our readers!

DSC00853.JPG

Eileen Carnell writes

What we know for sure is that feedback can help authors become much better writers. But asking for, writing and getting feedback can be a tricky business. The process can be emotional and needs to be done with care. Here are 7 important points about feedback.

  1. You have to trust the readers of your work.

You need to have a good relationship and be prepared for the experience to be reciprocal. You are asking people to be generous with their time and be encouraging while providing authentic critique. Providing effective feedback is a highly skilled process. It’s about providing information, not about giving advice.

  1. All information about your writing can be useful.

Information can vary from seemingly small technical suggestions to comments about the overarching themes, consistency of arguments, important missing elements and the value of the project.

  1. Information provided is for the writer to work with.

As one reader said: ‘… just things which would have made my own reading of it easier – for you to take or leave as you feel fit,’ indicating that he knew that the writers are decision makers, not passive recipients of the comments.

  1. It can be helpful to ask readers for specific information.

We were particularly keen to know whether the voices of the three different authors were knitted together across the book and were keen to know if male readers would feel included.

  1. Getting feedback can be an emotional process.

Constructive criticism from others may feel like a criticism of the person rather than a critique of the writing as Caroline suggests when talking about ‘killer’ feedback. This may be even more the case when writing fiction.

  1. It can be helpful to get feedback from people who don’t know much about the themes or who are not experienced writers themselves.

Non-experts may ask questions that indicate that further explanation is needed, whether the writing is clear and if the argument is consistent.

  1. There are different ways of relaying information about others’ writing.

Everyday use of the term feedback (the dominant view) suggests the reader presents information to the writer – a one-way process. We describe this feedback as Gifts (see note). In other situations the nature of feedback has a social dimension, rather like Ping-Pong, where ideas are tossed back and forth and involve making connections. There are shared insights and new meanings established. Feedback here is a two-way process. The third example, our favoured kind, is what we define as Loops. Here there is an equal power dynamic in which new knowledge and concepts are created through dialogue.

255 Fbk for L cover

Caroline adds

On a writing course once, I was reminded that you cannot stand alongside everything you write and explain to the reader what they have not understood. In fact it is rare to receive comments directly about your writing. So when you get the chance, listen to the comments, take them into account and learn from them. You don’t have to agree or act on all of it. I try to remember this.

We would like to thanks the readers of the whole book who took on a huge, time-consuming task. We are very grateful for their generosity and expertise. We are also indebted to the many readers of individual chapters who made really helpful observations. Even though there were three of us writing this book getting feedback breaks the isolation of writing and it is really good to get a range of different perspectives.

Note: Askew, S & Lodge, C (2000). Gifts, Ping-Pong and Loops – linking feedback and learning, in Askew, S. (Ed) Feedback for Learning. London: Routledge.

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. To be published by Policy Press on 7th September.

Related posts

We are writing monthly posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing a book. Earlier posts have included

First Catch Your Publisher (April 2016)

One Book, Three Authors (March 2016)

Writers’ Residential (February 2016)

A post focussing on relationships in the feedback process is Critique Etiquette: the Ultimate Guide for Giving and Receiving Feedback by Angela Ackerman on Writers in the Storm blog in March 2015

Please subscribe by entering your email address in the box. You will receive emails about future posts.

7 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Writing

What I write about when I’m not writing fiction

My good news is that I’m getting back to revising my novel. Thank you, good friends, who have enquired about its progress over the last 12 months. My bad news is that the progress has been very slow, and was much delayed for about 9 months. In fact I put the novel back in its drawer again for a while. I just couldn’t work on it at the same time as on the book I have just finished with my two co-authors: The New Age of Ageing.

145 writing keyboard

Writing fiction and non-fiction

I have tried and failed on several occasions to keep two large writing projects on the go at the same time – one non-fiction and the other a novel or short story. It just doesn’t seem to work. I am wondering why. In part it is because they require conflicting skills.

The New Age of Ageing, and non-fiction writing generally, requires methodical and thorough research, solid arguments, a sequence of writing that reflects the ideas under discussion. Some skills needed are the same as for fiction, such as hooking interest early, clarity and presenting factual information that relates to people’s lives. What I don’t need is to go shooting off after a new narrative idea, or to leave the reader in suspense at the end of a chapter. No, every assumption and connection needs to be considered, verified, scrutinised. Flights of fancy must be followed by reasoned hypothesis.

Structural problems of the two genres are very different. For the novel I have a plot in 23 chapters. I have been challenged by the novel’s structure, deciding on advice to change to alternating chapters having originally written it in alternating pairs. The change resulted in an improved novel but hours of confusion as I had to re-label everything on my computer and on the hard copies. You need to be well organised about peripheral things when writing a novel. Well I do, being a planner rather than a pantser. Zadie Smith referred to micro managers and macro planners in an influential lecture at Columbia University in March 2008. I am happy to quote her descriptions, because I admire her work and recently wrote a post challenging a comment she made about writing and therapy.

You will recognise a Macro Planner from his Post-its, from those Moleskines he insists on buying. A Macro Planner makes notes, organises material, configures a plot and creates a structure—all before he writes the title page. This structural security gives him a great deal of freedom of movement. It’s not uncommon for Macro Planners to start writing their novels in the middle.

I am a Micro Manager. I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it, a fact that will surprise no one who has read my novels.

Structure for the book on ageing posed different challenges. Each chapter required a great deal of revision, recasting, editing, removal, filling gaps. It often seemed that I had all the right ideas but in the wrong order. I also had two co-authors to whom reference needed to be made for everything as they are also responsible for the content. Their feedback notes were invaluable, our talk was even better.

I can get very passionate about ageing and the issues and challenges that are not getting enough attention. I loved writing our manifesto for the book, getting clearer and clearer what it was we wanted to say. I loved the process of taking our combined ideas and moving them to a place I could not have gone on my own. So my involvement in writing that book was social as well as requiring some good research and communication skills.

243 New Age cover

Writing my novel is more isolating. To write the novel or the book on ageing I sit for hours in my writing room, looking out occasionally at Dartmoor and its changing weather patterns. Sitting. Tapping. Rearranging papers. An observer would not see the difference. But in the end, the novel has been a very isolated and individual activity.

So they require different skills, but that does not quite explain why I can’t do write fiction and non-fiction at the same time.

Working one project

About 9 months ago I decided to put the novel back in the drawer (yes again). After all we had a contract for our book on ageing and a deadline for completion. And I had two co-writers to answer to. And to be honest I had got to a sticky point in the revisions.

I had found that my fiction writing is not good enough at showing or even telling the reader about the emotional state of the protagonists. I tend to assume it’s obvious. In my best moments I think that is honouring the intelligence of the readers, allowing them to do some work. But when my intelligent readers said that I needed to work on this I can only agree. It has taken me some rumination, reading novels and some guidance from my on-line course to help me see what I must do. That’s what I am working on now.

Blogging

94 Blog on tablet

I can’t concentrate on fiction and non-fiction writing at the same time. However, one genre of writing has proved itself compatible with both fiction and non-fiction – blogging. The Book Word blog has been building slowly but steadily throughout this time, and I have posted every five or six days. In the posts I explore writing issues, review books, continue the series on older women in fiction and am able to look at all things connected with books and writing that take my fancy.

Perhaps I can combine blogging with both fiction and non-fiction because blogging requires some creativity, some research, some care over the communication of the content. And I am my own publisher for the blog. It’s not a commercial undertaking, so if a post bombs there is no consequence except to my pride. The deadlines are close, but I can (and do) alter them to suit my life.

It’s back to the novel

So … I am taking the chapters and looking at the emotional arcs of the characters and hoping that all the reading and writing and thinking I have done will help me see afresh how to communicate the emotional life of my characters.

And I am doing all the other things put on hold while we finished The New Age of Ageing. That’s another post in preparation! What I do when I’m not writing. Watch this space.

Related posts

This was the 6th in a series on revising my novel, following an on-line course back in 2015. Previous posts

My purposes for the on-line course #1 January 2015

Progress On-line course: my learning #2 January 2015

Progress On-line course: post course plans #3 February 2015

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot March 2015

On-Line Writing Course #5 Deadlines August 2015

And here’s a post with some excellent ideas: 10 things to do while your MS is resting from Victoria Griffin Fiction blog in July last year.

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change by Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to be published by Policy Press in September 2016.

To receive email notifications of future posts please subscribe by entering your email address in the box.

13 Comments

Filed under Books, Libraries, My novel, Publishing our book, Writing