Never mind 'Fifty Shades', granny lit is the latest hot sensation
Published 30/11/2012 | 06:00
Hilary Boyd's naughty novel has turned her into the champion for sexy 60-somethings
It happens to other people, doesn't it? You read about it in the papers. First-time novelist, book selling like hot cakes, interviews, photos, reviews. But in the last fortnight, it has been happening to me, too. And it's breathtaking, almost impossible to believe.
I've been writing fiction for about 20 years, fitted in alongside my various day jobs. But rejection followed grisly rejection with every book. I kept going because I love the process of writing. It's like a drug to me. The goal was always to get published.
I had reached a watershed in my life. Just turned 60 – so a senior citizen by definition – I was also a grandmother for the first time. Being that old just didn't seem possible. And I think this was the focus that drove the story of Jeanie and Ray in Thursdays in the Park.
At the time, I was looking after my granddaughter a couple of afternoons each week, and we always went to the park. There I was one day, pushing Tilda on the swing, when I spied a man across the playground with a small boy, perhaps his grandson. And I thought, "Hmmm, attractive older man in playground? . . . That's a good idea – a proper romance between two grandparents who don't look too decrepit," and so the seed was planted.
I wanted to write about what it was like to be a young-at-heart pensioner and a grandmother in the 21st Century. Not a white-bun, baggy-cardie, specs-toting granny but a modern one, someone who still works, goes to the gym and dyes her eyebrows, blondes up her hair. Someone who's been married an extremely long time, who still likes and needs sex and who feels like someone 15 years younger.
Because – breaking news – we baby boomers are not going gently into old age, we're fighting every inch of the way. Check out films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – old people behaving badly, or at least behaving like people still prepared to enjoy themselves.
I dreaded yet another disappointment, so I didn't show the finished novel to anyone for months. Then a miracle happened. My long-suffering agent sent it to Quercus and they went for it.
I shall never forget the day I heard I'd got a two-book deal. I was walking on air, in a cloud of disbelief. Although I'd had this remote fantasy that it might happen one day, I had come to accept that it was growing more and more improbable.
For the first year after publication, Thursdays did only small business in Britain, although it did well in Germany and France and has also been translated into Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish. But Quercus believed in it, and brought it out in a mass-market version this Autumn.
And one day I had an email from them. "Your book is number 18 in the Amazon Kindle Bestsellers chart." Then it crept up to 14, then 11, then suddenly it was number one!
The e-book version had taken off. It's been there ever since – more than a month now. And no, of course I'm not obsessed with checking the list. Ridiculous idea. I only look about 1,000 times a day, which seems reasonable to me. Because I need to make sure it's really true.
Why do people like the book? The themes of late-flowering romance, the vicissitudes of a long marriage – Jeanie has been married to George for more than 30 years, but they no longer share a bed – and life after the Big Six-O are intriguing.
But it's the passion and romance that I think readers relate to. "There's hope for me yet," a single, 60-plus friend said, as if the book gave her permission to have another go.
It's not just older women either, many women love the idea that we've all got room in our life for one great romance, whatever our age.
Romance, however, often goes hand in hand with sex – a bit of a tricky subject when applied to the older woman, especially when you mention the word "grandmother" or "pensioner". Sort of an "eurgh" moment.
I'm not sure if this is based in reality or in women's paranoia, but a lot of women of my age have low expectations about sex.
Rightly or wrongly, they feel they have lost their mojo, become unsexy, invisible in the normal sexual exchanges that are part of everyday life.
Is it a post-menopausal inevitability? Or do we feel it is somehow unseemly for an older woman to flirt, to want intimacy and a good bonk? It's taken entirely for granted that men of the same age do.
So here I was, writing about two 60-year-olds who fall in love and terrified about putting the reader off with too many "eurgh" moments.
How explicit should I be about sex, I wondered. In the end, I erred so much on the side of caution that my editor said she wasn't quite sure if Jeanie and Ray had actually done the dirty deed. I had to go back and paint in a bit of detail. But it's still subtle.
Reports that Thursdays in the Park is "steamy" are wide of the mark and will only cause rank disappointment in the reader avid for 50 shades of granny porn.
I think what the book is really about, though, is finding an acceptable way to be older. It's all about freedom. I now feel I'm free to make choices based on my own desires, not necessarily on what I ought to do. My friend calls it "the f**k it factor".
This sounds selfish, and perhaps it is. But although I don't shirk my important responsibilities, I also no longer do things I suspect I won't enjoy, which in the past I might have done from a sense of duty or politeness.
"Word of mouth" is the only explanation that Quercus can give for the success of Thursdays in the Park – so thanks to all those discerning mouths that have recommended it to family or friends.
I'd better get back to Amazon now, and see how it's doing. I'm telling you, granny porn has nothing on Amazon Bestseller List porn.