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The Golden Age of Love – Judy Leigh

Valentine’s Day is all about love: the celebrating, the passions and highs and lows, wanting more, having too much, the joy and heartache and dilemmas and challenges love brings. Love has many faces and, in the romantic comedy novels I write, most of those faces are in their later years: the oldest character I’ve created so far, who falls in love, is eighty-eight. Why not? If you live, breathe and feel, you can fall in love.

One of the most thrilling aspects of being a writer, if you don’t count the excitement of actually writing the novels, is to receive communications from readers who have enjoyed the books. It’s always a privilege to have messages from women and men who tell me that they have read a certain book and it has made them happy. One reader told me that my characters ‘became friends’. That touched my heart, especially since we were all in the throes of lockdown, and the idea that my book can provide much-needed company is so rewarding. Another reader told me she was inspired to buy a camper van and retrace the travels of one of my characters. But the most frequent comments, which always give me a warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness, are that people enjoy reading about older people falling in love, having fun, defying the pipe-and-slippers stereotype, and living every day for the sheer joy of it.

It’s important to me that my novels go beyond the idea of people who are in their 80s and 70s, even 60s and 50s, being kindly, wise grannies or grouches or secondary characters, whose timely death leaves a legacy for the heroine or hero. All those things are fine in their own right, and many great stories include such tropes, but older people are so much more than that. They are wise, yes, but they can be funny and flawed too – like everyone, they are human and fallible. They can be glamorous, talented, mischievous, and they have desires of their own that they long to fulfil. They can fall in love as easily as anyone else and, as we all know, love’s wild trajectory is seldom straightforward.

Recently, a wonderful woman from the USA wrote to me that she was half way through reading Five French Hens. She said that Tess was her favourite character and, although she loved all the hens, Tess reminded her of herself and she was excited to find out what would happen at the end of her part of the story. The five hens epitomize the golden age of love: Tess is unhappily married; Della is deliriously happily married; Jen is about to get married; Rose is widowed and Pam has no intention whatsoever of finding a partner: she loves her loyal dog best. The five hens represent some of the choices open to us all.

At the beginning of The Old Girls’ Network, 77-year-old Barbara is far too fierce for any man to take on. Like Shakespeare’s Katarina the Shrew, she is formidable and has a cutting tongue, but beneath her frostiness lies a warm heart. In the mix is her sister Pauline, widowed and loveable but no pushover, and Bisto, the enigmatic joker who accidentally barges into their lives. The triangle of their friendship unfolds, they all have past events to reconcile. The action takes place in the colourful community of a Somerset village as the summer arrives, and against that backdrop, love blossoms.

Billy and Dawnie, in Heading over the Hill, are in their seventies and have been married for many years. Having met in their twenties and worked through the challenges that life, work, children and change can bring, they are rock-solid and happy together. I wanted to celebrate the love between a couple who have always been soul mates and have a strong bond. However, when they move to a new community looking for the perfect home, they meet a cast of interesting characters, all with their own problems to resolve, and Dawnie and Billy are faced with new challenges, laughter, loves, broken hearts and tears.

Molly, the central character of Chasing the Sun, is a widow who on her 70th birthday realises that she longs for something new to spice up her life. The opportunity comes when, sadly, her sister’s marriage ends and Molly drags Nell to Spain. Both women have decisions to make about love: Molly knows she can never replace her soul mate, while rejected Nell wants to prove she still has ‘it’, whatever it is. However, in their different quests for happiness and love and while searching for an antidote to loneliness, both women’s paths cross, meander and then separate. Molly goes alone to Mexico and finally realises what she wants. Nell arrives at a strikingly different conclusion. On the way, they meet a variety of new people; they learn about themselves and question their views on romantic love and partnership.

In my novels, the protagonists think about love; they find love; they lose it, they may even find it again. Along the way, there are laughs, lessons and a few tears. But my characters are always glorious, strong and funny; in their golden years, they still have adventures, break rules, meet fascinating new people, make life-altering decisions, change their direction in life. And, most importantly, they still celebrate every moment; they still rejoice in the wonderful gifts life can offer and, as long as they still have breath, they can discover love in all its magnificent forms.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


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