Article by Susie Nott-Bower
It’s not often that I stay up all night to read a book I had just started – but that’s exactly what happened when I read The Making of Her , Susie Nott-Bower’s first novel. I’m going to say which of the two key characters I saw myself in – those who know me can probably guess! I have asked Susie to tell us a little about the thinking behind her book. Enjoy…Ceri 🙂
“Fifty is the new thirty,” I said. I’d read these wise words in a magazine full of images of underage, underweight models.
“Fifty,” Clara replied, “is the new geriatric, at least in my game. I’m well past my sell-by date. Not only on the shelf, but shoved to the very back of it.”
This conversation between two characters in my novel, The Making of Her, shows the dilemma that I – and many other over-fifty women – face in today’s culture. Do we play along with the ‘we aren’t really old at all’ line, or do we accept that we are, and that we may also be invisible, at least to the opposite sex? As a younger woman, I had my fair share of attention and visibility, so it came as a shock to find that most men of my age were simply no longer interested. Which led to all kinds of soul-searching questions, such as: maybe I was only ever physically attractive? Does my personality suck? Should I start wearing purple?
Clara and Jo are two very different sides of me. Clara, an ambitious TV producer, is a feminist who has somehow lost her femininity in a masculine world. Jo, sensitive and intuitive, has accepted that she is invisible and unvalued both in society and in her awful relationship with her husband, Iain. Somewhere along the way she has mislaid her spirit. When Clara is told she has to direct a cosmetic makeover show – The Making of Her – which goes against all her principles, her life begins to change radically.
A culture that values youth over experience
The journey these two women embark on during The Making of Her forces each of them to face and overcome the pressure of the culture they live in – a culture which values youth over experience and appearance over character: a culture which tells women of a certain age that we are invisible whilst exhorting us to inject poisons into our bodies or subject them to the surgeon’s knife in order to ‘restore youth’ and ‘create beauty’. (How many cosmetic surgeons are women? But I digress).
The Making of Her was published when I was 59. It was my first completed novel. As an older writer, I came up against a host of assertions and myths around writing and publication, many of them age-linked. As the rejections piled up, I was exhorted to ‘just enjoy writing as a hobby’. Older writers, after all, rarely got published. Publishers wanted young and shiny models, fresh from Creative Writing MAs, with long careers ahead of them and photogenic faces. Writing for older women was something to be dabbled with in between watching daytime TV and caring for their grandchildren. Oh, and reading Aga-sagas or, if pushed, Chicklit.
I sent out The Making of Her to many agents. Some asked for the full manuscript, but the rejections kept coming. After a particularly painful rejection from an agent who had held onto my novel for many months after saying he ‘loved’ the opening chapters, I was on the point of giving up. Perhaps my detractors were right, after all. Perhaps it was too late and I was too old. I bemoaned the rejection to my friend Derek, who emailed back saying: ‘Things can turn on a sixpence.’ He had sent me a link to Linen Press – a small Edinburgh-based women’s publisher run by Lynn Michell – herself a fabulous over-fifty. Within two weeks she had read The Making of Her and asked for some changes, and within a month had offered me a contract. Meanwhile, a card from Derek arrived, containing a shiny sixpence.
Does being over fifty prove to be the making of Jo and Clara? Both have to step out of their comfort zones and rediscover aspects of themselves they’ve rejected or lost along the way. Both have to let go of people and situations that no longer nourish them. And both have to drastically make over their own lives. As Jo says:
‘It was the worst thing I ever did. And the best. It made me see that change was possible. It made me realise I didn’t have to live as I had been. It shook up every last atom of me and threw me down in a new pattern.’
So here I am, in my sixties now, surrounded by courageous, energetic and attractive over-fifty women who are reinventing and recreating their lives, as Jo and Clara did, and from this I take heart. One friend married (for the first time) in her fifties and emigrated to Germany; another has taken off on an epic journey of personal development to far-flung countries, where she eventually plans to set up a yoga centre. A third has just gained her Doctorate at the age of seventy-one. If you haven’t done so already, take a look at this wonderful documentary about amazing over-fifties (and over-sixties, -seventies and -eighties) who have cultivated character and individuality, skills and passions and are carving out their unique place in the world:
Life after 50 is in our hands. And perhaps, just perhaps, what we create will be the making of us all.
The Making Of Her is published by Linen Press