by Sandra Antonelli and Juliet Madison
While proponents of the genre often talk about the breadth and depth of the stories within, one thing remains true: the heroine is young. Now, young is a relative term (I remember when 30 was old), but there definitely seems to be an age line of 38 that no heroine can cross and still expect a happy-ever-after.
But Sandra Antonelli and Juliet Madison pushed the boundaries. Both have written (and published with Escape) stories with heroines that cross the age divide. Granted, Juliet’s Kelly starts and ends at 25, but the bulk of her story happens on her 50th birthday. Sandra’s heroine, Lesley, is forty-something, and A Basic Renovation also features a secondary romance of her 92-year-old grandfather.
I asked these two authors about breaking the age barrier. They asked each other:
Older Heroines in Romantic Fiction – joint interview
By Sandra Antonelli and Juliet Madison (ages withheld)
Juliet interviews Sandra (author of A Basic Renovation):
1. Do you think women go through the same hang-ups and emotional upheavals in love in their forties as they do in their twenties? What are the similarities/differences?
Yes, I think they do. Many of the same insecurities women face in their twenties are still with them in their forties, fifties and beyond. The hang-ups are still there, some are the same, some have shifted. You know those social directives women hear all the time? Don’t get fat, don’t look old—but don’t dress like you’re 20 if you’re 50, don’t be a bitch. Sometimes, because a 40+ woman has had more life experience she’s managed to conquer one or two of those things, but she’s also more likely to have had a greater spectrum of upheavals, particularly in terms of loss—she may have lost a child, lost a husband, been divorced, lost a parent, lost a job, ‘lost her looks,’ lost her confidence, lost her desirability. Or she’s afraid of all that happening. Womanhood is rife with awesome hang-ups and love and romance can often play a part, which brings me right to your next question.
2. With many mature women, things like divorce/separation, children, health issues, and career issues can affect the development of new relationships. Do you think this makes for more interesting scenarios in fiction or do you think romance is best when those sorts of things don’t ‘get in the way’?
It’s harder to find a new relationship after 40, but I think—no I believe—it’s not the baggage that gets in the way. It’s the attitude that a romantic relationship is limited by a random number associated with age means romance and love are not accessible for anyone over age x. For me, the issues, the baggage, make the scenarios more interesting in a romance novel. It’s the path that’s taken to the happily ever after (or for now), the inevitability that this couple winds up together is why I read romance.
3. If there was one myth or misconception you wish you could change about society’s perception of ageing women, what would it be?
That romance, love, and sex cease to be important or of interest to them.
4. Is it just me or does the ‘renovation’ theme in your book, A Basic Renovation, have a double meaning? As in renovating a property, AND renovating one’s love life? Do you think this is a common theme that more mature heroines can relate to?
Everyone in the story gets renovated in one way or another. The house, Lesley, Dominic, her grandfather GP, her parents, attitudes are adjusted, paint is applied, transformations happen. I think it’s a theme anyone could relate to, regardless of age.
5. Will you continue to write about older heroines, and if so, is there an age limit you wouldn’t consider writing above? What did you enjoy and find difficult about writing a heroine who was over forty?
The secondary plot of ABR is about a 92 year-old man finding love for the second time in his life. So I don’t have any limits. The heroine’s age was not a point to me. I didn’t set out to write her older as much as I did simply write what I wanted to see. From the start, Lesley was simply forty-whatever and she fell in love with a forty-something man. I suppose that is why I never directly specify her age.
Sandra interviews Juliet (author of Fast Forward)
1. What the hell was your inspiration of the SlimFX Magic Suit in Fast Forward?
Well, let’s just say I had an ‘interesting’ experience whilst trying on a very promising-
looking piece of mail-order spandex. Getting it on was one thing, but getting it off was another. It was lucky I was at home at the time or I might have had to call for help from a
saleswoman or run out into the shop gasping for breath with my arms stuck above my head and the spandex over my face (at least no one would recognise me). Instead I mustered every ounce of strength and squeezed myself out of The Thing. I’ve since found more comfortable ‘shapewear’ for the mummy-tummy but always thought it would make a funny scene in a book, and one that I think many women could relate to. So, the SlimFX Magic Suit was born, and I put my character – desperate to look younger and slimmer – through a much worse situation than mine!
2. Do you think the media is youth obsessed?
I think it is. There’s always a new anti-ageing treatment or miracle ingredient being
advertised on commercials and current affair shows, and plenty of ‘magic suits’ on the
market promising a more youthful appearance. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look
younger and healthier, but I think society is overexposed to images of young, beautiful
people (often airbrushed) and it creates an unrealistic ideal. Models in magazines and fashion catalogues are in most cases young and skinny, and even clothing for the more mature generation are being modelled by women twenty or thirty years younger. When it comes to novels, particularly romance novels, most heroines are in their twenties or
early thirties and there are not many with women over forty (apart from Fast Forward and A Basic Renovation, of course!). I think fiction provides a great way to explore some of these ageing-related issues and give women of all ages a chance to experience a happy-ever-after.
3. Do you think time travel may be possible? Would you travel back in time to a different part of your life (I loved how you didn’t employ a time machine in your book)?
If someone can’t prove it’s not possible then who knows?! Maybe ‘time awareness’ is more plausible, but either way it makes for a fun concept in fiction! The idea of being able to go back to the past to fix mistakes or get a glimpse at the future to see what your life is like would be very tempting, although scary. If I could travel back in time it would probably only be to have more fun and make the most of every moment because they go by so quickly. It certainly wouldn’t be to put more anti-ageing cream on my face, which goes to show it’s our experiences that define our lives not the way we look. However, I would also take the opportunity (if I went back to BC times – Before Children, that is) to get more sleep. If only I’d known, oh, if only I’d known… 😉
4. Why did you choose 50 as the “The Year” Kelli’s life goes insane?
A lot of time travel or age-change books and movies have the character become a ‘desirable’ age, meaning either young again, or older but at their prime. I wanted to have a character become an age she didn’t want to be, and I thought for a twenty-five-year-old model that fifty seemed like a good choice. It’s not too young, not too old, and an age that is seen as quite a big milestone in life. Especially for a woman, age fifty (or thereabouts) is often associated with changes in identity as the reproductive years begin to fade away.
5. If you had a ‘scary age’ what would it be or perhaps what was it? What is ‘old’ to you?
I think a ‘scary age’ (hang on, what do you mean what was it? I’m only thirty-six! hehe) is always the age that you are becoming next. Then you pass that birthday and it’s not so bad and then you think of the next one and so on. It’s all relative. When you’re twenty, thirty seems old, but when you’re forty (which – ahem – I’m not yet), thirty seems as young as they come. And I’m sure someone at age eighty would consider a fifty-year-old as having their ‘whole life ahead of them’.
For me personally though, when I first noticed a few grey hairs I started to think ‘Oh no, it’s coming’, meaning the ageing process, not the end of the world, although for some that could be seen as the same thing. It certainly doesn’t help either when your son takes it upon himself to point out said grey hairs and say, ‘Well, good luck finding a husband.’
Seriously though, the more you age the more in tune with yourself and life you become, and I’ve heard many people say that their more ‘mature’ years have been a time of immense joy, satisfaction, and discovery, so why not celebrate that not only in real life, but in fiction too?
When it comes down to it, rats in the oven trumps Lesley’s desire to never set eyes on another Brennan family member. So Lesley, a pro at property redevelopment, scrambles to Dominic Brennan’s hardware store for supplies. Dominic knows poison — rat and otherwise — and he sees it in Lesley. The woman ruined his brother’s life. Now that she’s back in town, Dominic’s afraid she’ll drag up the past, the secrets, and the pain. They clash immediately, but mix in a teenage boy, a puppy, some white paint, and some loud music, and what starts as cold fury transforms into a nuclear attraction. This basic renovation becomes a major life refurbishment for them both.
Aspiring supermodel, Kelli Crawford seems destined to marry her hotshot boyfriend, but on her twenty-fifth birthday she wakes in the future as a fifty-year-old suburban housewife married to the now middle-aged high school nerd.
Trapped in the opposite life of the one she wanted, Kelli is forced to re-evaluate her life and discover what is really important to her. Will she overcome the hilarious and heartbreaking challenges presented to her and get back to the body of her younger self? Or will she be stuck in the nightmare of hot flushes, demanding children, raunchy advances from her husband and hideous support underwear forever?