In good company

On one very special corner of my shelf, my novel stands beside books by some of the talented writers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing personally.

Alice Jolly and Colette Paul taught the wonderful Arvon course that started me on the journey to taking my writing seriously.

Nora Anne Brown, a lovely fellow student on the Bath Spa M.A. in Creative Writing, won the Lightship First Chapter Prize with this novel.

Kate Henriques, Joanne Sefton and Emma Smith Barton, three of the most talented students on the M.A., shared with me in several tutor groups, and became valued friends and critics of my work.

Michelle Lawson was my indefatigable colleague at North Devon College and has remained a good friend.

Together these books make up a wonderful sampler of contemporary women’s writing. 

Colette’s Whoever you Choose to Love is a collection of poignant but subversive short stories that mingle high and low culture. 

In Dead Babies and Seaside Towns Alice gives a beautifully written but heart-rending account of her journey through miscarriage, IVF and attempts at adoption to a more unorthodox route to a second child. 

Nora’s novel The Flower Plantation is about the friendship of two children in war-torn Rwanda, and springs from her own deep love of Africa. 

Kate blends fact and fiction in The Fat Girl in the Kitchen, an imaginative recreation of the life of her inspiring but infuriating Australian grandmother.

Michelle, in A House at the End of the Track, draws on her linguistic expertise and immense energy to delve beneath the romantic veneer of English incomers in a remote corner of France. 

Joanne’s skilfully written and meticulously researched psychological thriller If They Knew keeps you guessing until its unsettling conclusion.

Emma’s YA novel The Million Pieces of Neena Gill, about the psychotic breakdown of a teenage girl, is utterly convincing and unexpectedly uplifting, and far too good for older readers to miss.

Most of these novels have benefitted from traditional publishers, but a couple were self-published, and one was crowd-funded. Together they showcase the wealth of talent that modern publishing opportunities have brought to light. Seven super books from seven inspiring writers!

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Are we really that dotty?

‘A new survey has discovered that older women readers are fed up of being portrayed in fiction as dotty, daffy and either uninterested in, or desperate for, sex. The mega social media site Gransnet polled 1,046 women and found 47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women — yet women over 45 buy more fiction than any other section of society. But the characters they encounter are often baffled by IT and confined to domestic situations.’ (Mslexia newsletter)

All credit, then, to Gransnet and HQ, who’ve launched a competition for a novel with a protagonist over 40, written by a woman over 40.

Why didn’t I enter Fragments of a Dream? Rosie, my protagonist, is well over 40, and so am I. But the competition is only open to UK residents, and I live abroad. It’s obstacles like this that led me, reluctantly, into self-publishing.

So if you’d like to read the novel, whether or not you’re a woman over 40, check it out on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fragments-Dream-Ruth-Larrea/dp/1791539084 (Kindle and paperback). Set in Greece and England in the 1960s and the present day, it’s about Rosie’s search for her old flame, Angelos, the mistakes of youth, misunderstandings of language and culture, and her attempt to put them right.

‘Characters with real depth,’ one reviewer commented.
‘A fabulous read,’ said another. ‘I loved it from start to finish.’

I hope you will, too.

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How I fell in love with Greece*

It began with a map. A map of a country shaped like a sea creature with tentacles that spread south and east while its body clung to Europe as if the sea threatened to swallow it.

In our geography class we sketched in mountain ranges, wild peaks where eagles soared. We drew pitchers of wine, olive groves, baskets of grapes, a stringed instrument, an ancient vase, a young man dancing.

We coloured the sea turquoise and scattered it with islands, which our teacher told us were the summits of mountains half-drowned when a flood swept through the Gates of Hercules and filled the Mediterranean Basin.

It was a tragic country, beautiful in its brutality, ravaged but vibrant with life, and as my crayons skimmed over it, I yearned to know it for myself.

In blue ink, with my favourite pen, I wrote its name.

ELLAS.

*This love of Greece inspired me to write ‘Fragments of a Dream’ 

The unfashionable face of old age

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s several years since I first read this novel. I loved it then for its subtlety, perception and gentle humour. Those same qualities come across to me now, but as I’m so much older myself, the story of a group of lonely and ill-assorted old people facing decrepitude and death makes more uncomfortable reading. It’s tragic that Elizabeth Taylor was so undervalued in her own time, and is now almost forgotten in a world that is ever more influenced by youth, genres and trends.



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Chicks, Biddies and Breaking Boundaries

I’ve never been much good at fitting into boxes. Just look at my biography and you’ll see what I mean. Academic qualifications, zany life-style choices. ‘What sort of woman is this?’ you might wonder.

My writing meets with much the same response. A fellow student on the MA once said, ‘I can equally imagine Ruth’s work as a fledgling best seller, or put forward for the Booker Prize.’ Now I don’t claim she meant that I’m a genius waiting to be discovered, simply that my writing style doesn’t fit easily into one genre.

‘It’s part women’s fiction, part literary fiction,’ one of my tutors complained. ‘You have to make up your mind which it’s to be.’ Agents and consultants agree. ‘The problem is,’ they say, ‘it’s hard to market a book that blends genres.’

I’m sure they’re right. They know far more about the bookselling business than I do. But I still find it difficult to believe that there aren’t readers out there who have the intellect to enjoy novels with depth, as well as the experience to identify with what might seem ‘romantic and silly’, to quote one Amazon reviewer.

And yet . . . read on to see where the nub lies.

‘I had to persist with this book, but my persistence was richly rewarded. I initially found it romantic and silly, and I was irritated that men seemed to be so poorly understood and represented. However ………. I gradually realised I had been cleverly drawn in. I became sympathetic to this group of very imperfect characters, recognising in them my own silly and vulnerable humanity. I enjoyed the way events surprised me and kept me wondering where we were going. And why. I didn’t want to finish the book and felt bereft when I did. I hope Ruth Larrea will continue with this story. I think this belongs to an important and evolving genre about the life, loves and opportunities for people of ‘the third age’. It left me feeling younger and more hopeful. Thank you Ruth.’

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that this particular reader is a man. As far as I know, the only man — so far — to read it. Don’t men make mistakes in love, too?

So what about his idea that this might belong to a new genre – dealing with ‘the life, loves and opportunities for’ us oldies? After all, plenty of us enjoy reading. As one survey claims, 70% of Kindle owners are over 40. (https://www.cnet.com/news).

Some time ago I coined a possible term for this new genre. One that reviews the silly and romantic mistakes of youth with the wisdom of old age . . . .

Biddy Lit.

Disclaimer: in no way are my lovely friends in the photos related to the silly, imperfect characters in my novel! I simply include them to illustrate the value of long-lasting friendships which Rosie eventually discovers.