Tag Archives: New Age of Ageing

The Book of Old Ladies by Ruth O Saxton

This book fits right in with this blog’s series on older women in fiction. I am pleased to have had my attention brought to it. And I am pleased that Ruth Saxton has drawn attention to thirty-one works of fiction that challenge the stereotypes so common in literature, and in the beliefs of society at large about the lives of older women. Many of the novels and short stories have been featured on the blog: either in the list of suggestions or reviewed in the 50 posts published so far in the series on older women in fiction.

This is the 51st in the series of older women in fiction which I promote to make older women in fiction more visible. You can find the complete list of 100+ suggested books with links to the reviews here.

So what is The Book of Old Ladies about?

The subtitle reveals some of Ruth Saxton’s purpose in writing this book: celebration. In this case the celebration of ‘strong characters and vital plots’ of older women, works of fiction that make older women their focus. 

She describes how her reading life in the US began with some good young female protagonists (Jo March, Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre), but when she got to college there were no women writers on the literature syllabus. Even when women were allowed onto reading lists in academia, older women, she observed were ‘simply beside the point’. While women writers and women as protagonists have achieved a better status in recent decades yet there is still, she claims, a paucity of fiction about older women. This was important because

As I aged, my focus turned from the girl and the mother to the grandmother, or the woman my age, and I began to look for plots that might help me map a possible future beyond the familiar fairy tale where the old woman is stereotyped either as the wicked witch of the fairy godmother. … I kept running into the same old stories in which the older women are simply beside the point. (2-3) 

Early searches brought elderly female detectives to her attention, such as Miss Marple and Mrs Pollifax. She observed how they were able to detect because they were invisible. We might add that as outsiders they are able to see what the characters and perhaps the readers cannot. The Miss Marples of this world are no guide to aging and old age.

I wanted to read the novels in which fictional older women prepare for the journey of aging, inhabit the territory and become increasingly their truest selves. (4)

For Ruth Saxton this means finding examples of older women who do not behave as if their life is behind them, who challenge the notion that marriage and motherhood are the pinnacle of a woman’s life, that old age is all downhill. We need more women in fiction who are more than the wicked witch or fairy godmother; both stereotypes refer to how the older woman stands in relation to others. We need more old women who are characters in their own right.

Organising the examples

Her analysis divides the chosen texts into five categories:

  1. Romancing the past (the continuing story of marriage and romance for women, which will drive out creativity and artistic success);
  2. Sex after sixty;
  3. Alternate realities ( the older women consider their current situations without much attention to their pasts);
  4. Never too late; and 
  5. Defying expectation.

The discussion of thirty texts under these headings is an interesting approach, and with only a few pages to discuss each one inevitably makes the originals appear thin. But organisation into themes brings more depth.

She includes a novel that I also admire greatly: Margaret Drabble’s recent novel The Dark Flood Rises, and concludes with a personal note about how the book was influenced by a car accident. You can find my review of The Dark Flood Rises here.

Some reflection on vocabulary and the cover

Finding a suitable phrase to describe women over 60 can be problematic. When we were writing The New Age of Ageing we had long discussions about the language used about older people in English culture and how we should refer to older members of our communities. Every phrase brings with it a great deal of baggage. To call women ‘old’ is difficult, and over the years I (and fellow writers) have used the softer ‘older’. Even the word ‘women’ is experienced by some as less polite than ‘ladies’. And the combination of those two sets of words can be difficult. Try them (out loud)!

Old woman
Old lady
Older woman
Older lady

And the subtitle uses that coy expression ‘of a certain age’. We are afraid of age. Our society does not treat old people well. We find all kinds of ways of avoiding what is seen as a stigma or even a fault – being old

The cover is also intended, I suspect, to allay fears of too fierce an approach. It is pink, with silhouettes and the main title in elaborate, curly lettering  – a kind of Jane Austen appeal?

I am not sure enough of the nuances of American culture to know whether these observations apply across the Atlantic. 

Despite these reservations I am grateful to Ruth Saxton for drawing my attention to many texts previously unknown to me, and for offering some new perspectives on familiar books. Even on the occasions where I have taken a different slant on a text, I am still thrilled to find a writer who shares my ideas that books about older women are undervalued. 

I would make the same point about women in society in general – older women are undervalued. 

The Book of Old Ladies: celebrating women of a certain age in fiction by Ruth O Saxton, published in 2020 by She Writes Press. 295pp

Recent posts in the Older Women in Fiction Series

At the Jerusalem by Paul Bailey

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout.

Frangipani House by Beryl Gilroy

My full list of about 100 novels featuring older women can be found here.

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Filed under Books, Older women in fiction, Publishing our book, Reading

Publication Day. The New Age of Ageing

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

Caroline writes

Publication Day is here! So exciting to see something that we laboured over together, gave to the publisher, saw in various stages of completion and finally have copies in our possession! You can too have a pile of books because Publication Day is here ….

The New Age of Ageing is out. Like my fellow writers, I feel proud of what we have achieved. I am especially pleased that this book has edge, says something that no other book is saying, has used the voices of so many people, has made research accessible to readers.

And what we have to say is in the sub-title: how society needs to change. Too much age-blaming, age-hating and age-fearing going on. I like that we have turned this round so that we provide some different ways of seeing our society, because there will be more older people than previously. There is an alternative to ageism and segregation. We call it age-integration and we suggest ways in which it can be achieved and benefit everyone.

Please read and enjoy and let us know what you think.

280 pile

I asked my co-authors to tell us how how they each feel about the book and what they hope for it

Eileen wrote

Oh the joy of holding a brand new published book in one’s hand. I am thrilled, overjoyed. It is out there and available for the world to read.

And at the same time I am bereft – the book has gone – it doesn’t feel part of me anymore. I do not wake up every morning with that pressing research to consider. It has left a gap in my life.

This has been the pattern over my writing career. I recognise the mixed feelings and I am itching to start the next book. It is there – a little embryo. So I see writing as a never-ending process rather than a finished product. But hold on a minute. Let’s savour the moment.

It is a time to rejoice. I remember the first time a book of mine was published and going out to dinner to celebrate with a co-author. We took the book along and sat it on a chair between us. I don’t quite get the same giddy feeling 40 years on but it is still special moment and a reason to smile. Writing a book is a long slow difficult process taking years to complete. And as previous blog posts suggest getting published can be a really hard, tortuous time. Well, we made it.

The reason we made it is that we worked so well as a team – the three of us writing collaboratively and sharing our heart-felt concerns. The issues really matter to us.

Getting the testimonials suggest that this book is going to be well received:

This book demolishes the myths that dominate the discussion of ageing … a compelling and original account that gets to the heart of what needs to change in order to create a better, more age-inclusive society.

This observation is just what we hope for the book. We want things to change – we want people to think differently about the issues of ageing and to stamp out ageist practices and policies. We want readers to have their senses aroused, personally and politically. We want this book to challenge the stereotypical image of older people as frail and on the scrap heap. And wouldn’t it be fantastic to think that this book represents one small step in bringing about this change.

Marianne, Eileen and Caroline meeting at Kings Place in 2014

Marianne, Eileen and Caroline meeting at Kings Place in 2014

Marianne wrote

Now our book The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change is actually published and available I feel very pleased and proud of what the three of us have done. It is important to sit back and enjoy this time before starting to think: ‘what about the next project?’

Looking back, it is hard to remember that we actually had to work rather hard to achieve this. What I remember are the wonderful and productive meetings we had from time to time to discuss the development and progress of the book, and in between the meetings, the exchange of dozens of e-mails which kept up the creative and supportive dialogue between us.

I am glad that we went to meet some of the people involved at the publishers Policy Press in Bristol, where looking at the marketing of the book was a further part of the creative process, making us think of who our audience might be and who, in the media might be most interested in what we have to say.

The fact that the book is now in physical form is the end of something for us, but it is the beginning of the book’s real life as it will appear in bookshops, libraries and eventually on people’s bedside tables and amongst their holiday reading and hopefully encourage critical thinking about the popular general view of ageing.

Along with the other two authors, I hope that the book will be read by individuals who are heartened and encouraged by what we have written, as they or others in their family move into older age. We also hope that it will be read and will potentially influence policy makers and opinion formers who will find that their view of older people has been modified. My personal message (see earlier blog) is about not seeing older people as ‘other’. It is not ‘them and us’, it is all ‘us’.

274 New Age

Copies of The New Age of Ageing are available through the Policy Press website, at a 20% discount. It costs £14.99 £11.99. You can also download one chapter for free!

Related Posts

Every month since February we have written posts about the stages from bright ideas to publishing our book. You can find them here:

Trouble with Titles and Covers (August 2016)

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)

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Filed under Books, Publishing our book, Writing