Writing for 'Normal' People
by Nicola Slade
‘Why on earth have you written a book about older women?’ asked an acquaintance. I had to pause — so many answers to that one. ‘Why not?’ sprang to mind, as did the fact that I’m no spring chicken myself. I could have flanneled away about the ageing qualities of wine and whisky, but in the end I came out with the truth. ‘Because they offered to publish the book and they paid me money.’ ‘Oh, all right, I suppose,’ she responded. ‘But why not write a book about normal people?’
Normal people, hmm?
So older women aren’t normal? Silly me, of course they’re not, older women are invisible and anyone who says otherwise is certainly not normal. Try wearing a very short skirt or tight pair of trousers and the disapproving catcalls from middle-aged men will soon put you in your place. Take yourself off to see your doctor to talk about your unexplained fatigue, ‘It’s your age,’ you’ll be told.
Voice a contrary opinion in the office and you’ll be met with, at best, a patronizing stare, at worst you’ll be ignored. And try to find a novel, in mainstream commercial fiction, that features a woman in her forties, fifties and beyond and the odds are that you’ll spot her in the background as somebody’s granny; if she does appear in a leading role at first you can bet your bottom dollar she’ll soon be diagnosed with a terminal illness. But very, very rarely will you find a feisty, fun-loving fifty-year old heroine who is the heart and soul of the book.
Anyone who has ever tried to get published knows it’s a ridiculous thing to do, there are so many more rewarding activities — shoveling smoke, building a bonfire on snow, ordering a cat to behave — so much easier, so much less frustrating. But I’ve been at it for so many years it seems feeble to give up now. Children’s stories, magazine articles, women’s short stories, I’d done the lot but breaking into the book market eluded me.
In common with most women of my generation in Britain, I was brought up on Georgette Heyer so my first novel was a Regency romance. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association here in Britain and submitted it for a critique. ‘Not bad,’ came the comment. ‘But Regency heroines are usually aged 18-24 and yours is a widow of 32, with six children, she doesn’t fit the profile.’
I wrote another period novel set in WWI about a girl who goes to France as a Volunteer Nurse and falls in love with an American. I was told to send it to Silhouette who told me firmly that they didn’t deal with that period of history.
I wrote a couple of cozy murder mysteries set near my home in Winchester, the historic capital of ancient Wessex. An agent took me on and the rejections became increasingly complimentary but nobody bought anything, nor did they buy the next two books, contemporary women’s stories. At this point I felt strong action was called for so I went into a mega-sulk and wrote nothing for three years.
Coming out of the sulk I mulled over an idea that wouldn’t go away; a group of lonely people who start a social club with a little bartering on the side, ' I’ll cook you a dinner party if you dig my garden,' and so forth. It was coming along slowly when I made a slip of the tongue and said Dancing instead of Diving and seized on Scuba Dancing as a great title. Off on a completely different tack I then discovered that an Angel had muscled into the story, Heaven (probably) only knows where he came from, but he soon gave me the running story line I needed.
In the glow of hope over experience that assails all writers I sent my masterpiece off on its travels. The verdict was swift: Great fun, original set-up, warm and tender characters and sensitive writing but ... Ah yes, here it came. But you will never, ever get a publisher to take on a book that features elderly people having sex, there’s no market for geriatric erotica.
Geriatric erotica? What was the woman talking about? I riffled feverishly through the pages and found no such thing, my elderly coupling was lightly sketched in and the only (slightly) more explicit encounter involved a thirty-five year old.
I could have despaired but forty years of writing with some small successes and some very large failures impelled me to bounce back and as I was about to parcel up my outpourings again I spotted an article about a new imprint, Transita Ltd, who claimed to be looking for books about older women, reflecting their lives and loves. Yippee, although my heroine was twenty-five, the book was full of older women, in fact they had taken it over, so I concocted a covering letter, shoved the first three chapters and synopsis in the post and went back to my other activities until a call started the tingles of excitement. ‘Love the idea, can you make your heroine forty-five instead?’
Could I? .... Need you ask? A few weeks later and it came, the call I had been waiting for all my life. ‘We love it, we’re launching the Transita imprint in a few months and Scuba Dancing will be one of the launch novels.
Nicola Slade was brought up in Poole, Dorset. She wrote children’s stories when her three children were growing up, moving onto short stories for several national magazines. Winning a story competition in Family Circle galvanised her into writing seriously and since then her stories and articles have been commissioned regularly. Scuba Dancing is her first novel. She lives with her husband t near Winchester in Hampshire. For more information about Nicky and her work visit www.nicolaslade.com