Like Eliza, the heroine of Woman of a Certain Rage, I’ve found myself angrier in midlife. It’s mostly low level, a scream-into-a-cushion, slam-the-dishwasher-shut, pull-faces-at-the-ageing-woman-in-the-bathroom-mirror anger. Occasionally it boils over, which is how I started writing this book.
When I passed fifty, it came as a shock to find myself vanishing both personally and professionally. My children still needed lioness mother love, my parents relied upon daughterly devotion, and my husband benefitted from wifely organisational skills and brow-soothing. Yet they all stopped noticing me as a person. It sometimes felt like I was only there to enable them. My friends, subsumed by their own disappearing identities, shared this horror. We confessed to lying awake in the early hours worrying that we’d lost something of ourselves. Finding the funny side together helped enormously.
It’s easy to blame hormones for all this angst, and whilst mine certainly started going haywire from my mid-forties, I don’t believe menopause alone does this to women. I don’t deny puberty’s evil older sister can be hellish, but it’s the shift of social attitude accompanying female ageing which makes it doubly hard to process. Past fifty, women are devalued by the common psyche, herded together and dismissed as less interesting.
In commercial fiction, there’s a yawning gap between the reductively named chick lit and the saga, a gap in which middle-aged women sweat the tough stuff without their stories being told, the multi-tasking, grief-enduring, unconditional-loving rollercoaster years from forty and sixty. We’re rarely featured as main protagonists, instead appearing as an adjunct – the mother, the wife, the nosy neighbour – or an outdated comedy turn fanning her face on the side-lines. I confess, I was guilty of using just such tropes in my early novels, wilfully dropping in a ‘menopausal flush’ as a gag, and I got away with it. I was young, fearless and sold a stack of books.
My career starting to fade was perhaps midlife’s most painful blow. I’d written bestsellers since the nineties as Fiona Walker, but these racy romps fell from favour latterly, my novels unfashionably big and my social media following unhelpfully small. In an industry where likes and shares are hot marketing currency, being an analogue-born introvert is bad news. I’m also the family breadwinner, so when sales dwindled and my income shrank, those sleepless nights grew fevered. I beat myself up mercilessly for not being good enough.
It was when trying to keep the wolf from the door by writing something shorter, younger and more TikTok-friendly that I got truly angry. I stomped indignantly around the house, kicking sofas and wailing ‘why can’t I write a novel that sees the funny side of the sandwich generation, long marriages and menopause? Starring a middle-aged heroine who refuses to disappear?’
So I did. I wrote Woman of a Certain Rage for every woman out there who feels overlooked in midlife. In it, 50-year-old Eliza, fed up that her family take her for granted and that her acting career’s reduced to voice-overs, decides to break free. Through the course of the book, discovering the woman she could become proves a lot more fun than mourning the one she once was.
I hope the same is true of novelists. While Eliza may not turn my career round, I have her to thank for making me want to fight for it.
Woman of a Certain Rage by Georgie Hall was published in paperback by Head of Zeus on 12 May 2022