The granny whose tale of OAPs (or Oldies' Adulterous Passons) has become an unlikely best-seller
08:18 GMT, 20 November 2012
Lasting love: Author Hilary Boyd with her husband Don
A man and woman in the autumn of their lives exchange longing glances across a children’s playground.
They engage in innocent chat, suppressing their feelings for weeks until, finally, they agree to meet in private.
Here, free from constraints, their mutual desire leads them to the bedroom, where . . . CUT!
Under normal circumstances, that would be the way of it. Because really, whether on-screen or between the pages of a paperback, none of us really wants to think about a couple of wrinklies pawing at each other like teenagers do we It’s all just too icky for words.
That seems to be the general consensus anyway — or so you might be led to believe, given the dearth of later-life romances depicted in print or on film.
Until now. For Hilary Boyd, a 63-year-old London grandmother, is now doing rather nicely proving the opposite.
Her novel, Thursdays In The Park, is a romantic tale which tracks the unfolding love affair between a couple in — shock! — their 60s.
And, after a creakingly slow start in paperback, its launch as an online ebook at the end of the summer has provided an astonishing transformation in its fortunes.
/11/20/article-2235530-15F99784000005DC-577_634x386.jpg” width=”634″ height=”386″ alt=”Romance: Mrs Boyd aims to challenge stereotypes about sex and attraction among the over-50s” class=”blkBorder” />
Romance: Mrs Boyd aims to challenge stereotypes about sex and attraction among the over-60s
‘I wanted both of them to have a physicality. Ray’s very fit, he’s got muscles, he looks good. I wanted the book to say: “Look, just because we’re 60-plus it doesn’t mean that part of our lives is over.”’
Little wonder, what with all this talk of Ray’s muscles, that the book has been labelled ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey For The Over-50s’. But that is to do it a disservice.
For a start, it’s beautifully written — comparisons to Joanna Trollope are not unreasonable — and it’s also more subtle: there are no red dungeons here, and the sex is more hinted at than explicit.
‘I think one reviewer called it “steamy” but it’s very far from that — in fact, I’d say if that’s the word that springs to mind you’ve got the wrong book,’ Hilary insists. ‘It’s subtle, so we do go into the bedroom, but we don’t linger there.
‘I was more interested in exploring how mad love, that passion that sends you crazy, is always a potential, even though culturally we tend to turn away from the thought of it.’
The bones of the story are these: Jeanie has been married to the well-meaning but rather dull and controlling George for decades.
Their union is sexless and has been for years, something Jeanie is rather resigned to — until, one afternoon, she meets Ray in the park while both are looking after their grandchildren. Adultery beckons. ‘The point about Jeanie is that she’s not unhappy, but she is unfulfilled, which are two different things,’ says Hilary.
Hot book: Thursdays in the Park has shot up the bestsellers list
‘She doesn’t have a bad life and she’s aware of that. And I think many women of her age share the same thing.
‘Suddenly in your 60s you look at your husband and you think: “This is too boring for words.” But it takes a brave woman to say: “I’m out of here” — it’s all they’ve known.
'They’re stuck. They make do.’
This sounds suspiciously like the voice of personal experience, especially when you learn that Hilary has been married for nearly 40 years to Don, 64, a film-maker with whom she has a step-daughter Amanda, 41, and daughters Clare, 38, and 35-year-old Kate. She hastily insists not.
‘The story itself hasn’t been inspired by anybody — and the story of Jeanie in her long marriage, not having sex for ten years, that’s not my experience at all,’ she says.
‘Don and I have a very different marriage from Jeanie’s, a slightly bonkers marriage in some ways, and it’s not at all boring or dull.
‘I’m very lucky that Don and I have a tremendous amount to say to each other.
'But you absorb stories from everywhere, from what you see, what you hear, and frankly it’s not uncommon for marriages to become incredibly stale, without any particular trigger.
‘These couples, who had a lust or an attraction initially that lasted long enough to have children, then one day they just look across the table from each other and think: “I don’t have anything to say to you.”
‘It’s easy to understand. People are struggling to make a living, to bring up a family, and it is easy to make your marriage the last thing you pay attention to, so it slides into companionship.’
That is not to say that she wants her book to be seen as some sort of ‘how-to’ for the frustrated wife, or a manual for adultery.
‘Jeanie does resist and resist, and she tries not to go there. She’s a strong person and an honest one,’ she says. ‘The point is that these feelings, things she thought it wouldn’t be possible to feel again, rather take over.
‘However old you are when you fall in love, it’s the same sort of craziness, you could be teenagers. I don’t think the passion you feel when you fall in love changes, nor do the dilemmas, even if your skin isn’t as supple as it once was.’
Still, does Don not feel the tiniest bit threatened by the brooding fictional presence of Ray, hovering in the background of their marriage
Hilary roars with laughter. ‘He’s been great, totally fine about it all. I mean, I don’t think he would have been fine if I’d had an affair with a man in the park, but he’s very proud of me. In fact, the reviews have become a family obsession.’
Little wonder. Like Mary Wesley, who first found recognition as a novelist in her 70s, Hilary has become a success as an author relatively late in life.
Amour fou: Hilary says 'crazy passion' still exists for older people and can come out of the blue. Stock image.
She was one of four children raised in a middle-class North London household. Her father, an executive with Schweppes, died when she was nine.
As an adult, Hilary enjoyed a varied career as, among other things, a nurse, a marriage guidance counsellor and freelance journalist before changing course and turning to non-fiction after taking an English degree in her mid-30s.
She enjoyed moderate success and wrote fiction on the side for her own enjoyment. Thursdays In Ihe Park was the first to be published. In paperback, it initially sold less than 1,000 copies. When it was launched as an ebook earlier this year still no one paid much attention.
Then, almost out of nowhere, Hilary received an email telling her it was No 18 in the Amazon UK bestseller charts.
‘It had crept up the charts, then it crept up a bit more, and a bit more, then it went to No 1 and stayed there. I just couldn’t take it in,’ she says. Exactly who is buying it she struggles to say, although what has surprised her is that it appears to be a varied audience.
‘I suppose I assumed this was a book for my generation, but it seems to crossover to women of all ages,’ says Hilary.
‘I’ve had letters and emails from women in their 20s through to their 60s. It has definitely struck a chord. I think it’s something to do with the sheer romance of it.’
Regal: Hilary would love to see love interest Ray played by Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance
The kernel of the idea popped into Hilary’s head on a visit to the park near her North London home four years ago with her eldest granddaughter, then aged two.
It is the sort of outing any mum and grandma will recognise — charming but entirely routine.
On this occasion, though, Hilary was struck by something new. ‘Mostly it’s just women there, but this time there was a man there, sitting on a bench, looking after his grandchildren,’ she says.
‘And I suppose as a novelist you’re always looking for characters and ideas, and right then the thought just fluttered into my head, the idea of an older romance, happening in these ordinary circumstances.’
It wasn’t fully formed, of course, but the more she thought about it the more it made sense.
‘I was at that point where I was thinking: “I’m 60, how did that happen” Your vision of a 60-year-old pensioner is so far removed from the person you see yourself as, it’s disconcerting.
‘From all that there stemmed this notion: “Why shouldn’t people my age fall in love”’
Should a film version of her book get made, she’d like a ‘real’ actress to play the part of Jeanie.
‘Someone like Helen Mirren, although maybe she’s too sexy. She needs to be recognisably normal.
‘I do hope Charles Dances comes off though, as I think he would be perfect for Ray. There are really few fit English actors in their 50s, by which I mean in good shape.’
There we go with Ray’s muscles again: what must her daughters and, equally pertinently, her contemporaries think of this intriguing character who has proved such a powerful presence in Hilary’s life
‘Oh, they’re all delighted,’ she laughs. ‘They think it’s wonderful.’ None of them, she insists, have used the book as an opening to confide any naughty little secrets, although she confesses that it has made for ‘interesting chat’ over drinks and dinner.
‘But perhaps that’s why people like it,’ she says. ‘The message of the book is that it doesn’t have to be over, that it’s never over.’