Thursdays in the Park
Jeanie has been married to George for decades. But ten years ago, George suddenly left the marital bed and wouldn’t explain why. Their marriage is now teetering on the brink. Enter Ray, an aikido expert. He and Jeanie meet accidentally in the park, both of them with their grandchildren in tow. And, over the next weeks, slowly begin to fall in love. But Jeanie is 60. Is it too late to find happiness with Ray? Or would staying in her difficult marriage be the safest thing?
Hilary Boyd was in the park one day, like Jeanie, with her granddaughter. She saw an older man, with his grandson, across the playground. And she thought, hmm, good place to set a love story. But she had just turned 60 and she didn’t want to write about much younger people. She wanted to write about what was happening to her right now, as an older woman.
She didn’t run off with the man in the park – although when her husband read the book for the first time, he did give her some strange looks – but she wrote a love story about older people. Which, in 2010, was not a common thing. Love was exclusively for the young, in fiction.
Quercus publishers picked up the book, offering Hilary a two-book deal. Thursdays didn’t do much business for the first year – 2011 – only selling around 3,000 copies. Then, almost a year later, the e-book began climbing the Amazon e-book bestseller’s chart, and eventually stood at Number 1 – for 6 weeks. Robert McCrum, a journalist with the Observer newspaper at the time, picked up the story and wrote about the phenomenon he called ‘Gran-Lit’. Suddenly everyone wanted to know. And a genre was born: Grannies behaving badly. Thursdays became an international bestseller, translation rights sold in 23 countries, to date.
‘I think it was about time older women got a voice,’ says Hilary Boyd. ‘It’s traditional for women to become invisible – certainly sexually – after a certain age. But these days women of sixty and older are not like previous generations. Many of us are fitter, healthier – younger in appearance – and we have more economic independence, are better plugged in to modern life than our mums were.’
Hilary admires Jane Wood at Quercus for being brave enough to publish an older love story. ‘It would have been so easy for her to say, let’s make Jeanie and Ray ten years younger,’ Hilary says. ‘But she stuck to her guns, knowing something would be lost if they were.’ Since then, older heroes and heroines have become much more prevalent in contemporary fiction.