May 17, 2014

Hilary Boyd - Gran Lit and the Digital Phenomenon

Welcome to Alex Warlow, who is kindly blogging for the LitFest. Alex has written an insightful account of Hilary's fascinating talk at The Hub.

Hilary Boyd embraces her age; cutting an elegant 6ft-something figure, she says the space she inhabits is a new one. An older woman who neither panders to the botox craze or gives in to ancient whiskers. The older woman in the 21st century is, she says, still very much alive - contrary to popular belief. She’s a participant in society, the arts and her own sexuality - despite owning a dreaded bus pass.

Hilary opened her talk at this year’s Guernsey Literary Festival by saying, ‘This is a great opportunity to talk about myself,’ the first of many refreshingly honest statements, welcomed by the crowd on a hot day in The Hub.

Boyd is hailed as the inventor of ‘Gran Lit’, which means perhaps it’s her we have to thank for ‘Last Tango in Halifax’ - recently aired on the BBC - about late-in-life passion, as well as the ageing Gloria from Coronation Street’s foray into illicit European affairs. It seems that the 60+ crowd have shuffled out of their slippers and into the mainstream.

Her big break came late on in life, after attending university in her thirties and beginning to write seriously in her forties, she was in her sixties by the time she was published. It was her tale of two older people who meet in a park and find love which struck a chord with the general public. Helped along by the new found popularity of the e-book, ‘Thursdays in the Park’ stayed on top of Amazon's bestseller list for seven weeks.

Hilary was told her book would never have been published five years ago, perhaps only if she made her heroine just a little younger. The crowd were keen to take part in a question-and-answer session with Hilary who replied graciously; she said although as a 20 year old she was never interested in the older generation herself, that doesn’t mean it’s a section of society that should be ignored. There is such thing as the ‘grey pound’, people willing to spend money in their old age, and they need role models too, fictional or otherwise.

Characters over 60, she explained, are often sidelined as annoying old biddies. In her book she decided to create a strong woman, knitted together using characteristics of real-life heroines she knew, who would provide an alternative to the teeth-sucking irritant of old.

Boyd’s aforementioned honesty had to be halted at one point; was the storyline about an extramarital affair autobiographical? 'That’s for me to know, and you not to know.’ Whether this was a tease answer hoping to draw more readers in, or a double bluff of sorts, the sassiness was spectacular.

Some clear die-hard fans were more than pleased with Hilary’s engaging vernacular and insight into character development and the struggle to find an audience. For those who may not have read the book, Hilary’s anecdotes of reading Dickens in the bath to avoid nagging children and vying for the attention of runaway Hungarians solidified her in my mind certainly as not just a role model for her own generation, but for mine too.