A woman of her age

Ever since she was young, writer Carole Hayman has kicked against convention. At 52, she has no plans to grow old gracefully. By Angela Neustatter

It's not fashionable to harp on about mature women. "God knows it's not," says Carole Hayman, striking a provocative pose like a caricature of a Brighton beach postcard. "I'm fed up with the way women of a certain age are perceived. Women over 39 - and that's being generous - are expected to just disappear. They might as well be dead. They become invisible and silenced. Except that we're not and we won't be."

It is worth knowing at this point that Carole is 52, highly visible and, for the past three decades fiercely audible on the subject of women and what happens to them, whether as gorgeous young things (diminished) or as mature beings (dismissed). Indeed her trajectory through life has been a one-woman battle against the conventions and obstacles that mould some of us into conformity: "I've always been a rebel. I was born a political person, brought up at the knee of my grandfather who was very socialist, a miner from the Welsh valleys." Increasingly as she has come to understand the world, she has bubbled with anger at its injustices. "It started at school when, even though I was at a fast-track girls' grammar, the assumption was, if I wanted to go into the arts, I had to be an actress. That was what pretty girls did. Writing was what men did. I thought `Fuck the lot of you, I'll show you'. I only have to see a taboo to put my head down and charge."

The result is a trilogy, The Warfleet Chronicles. The first, Missing, was published last year; the second, Greed, Crime and Sudden Death (Gollancz, pounds 5.99) came out last week and the third is on its way. All centre around the emotional journey of Caro Radcliffe, a 50- year-old woman who has relationships first with another woman and then with a considerably younger man.

It seems self-evident that Carole's own experience of a 10-year relationship with a woman - which felt like "a revelation" - and her present relationship with Joshua Pulman, a photographer 18 years her junior, have informed the stories.

So has her experience as someone who "came late to feminism": "Gravitation towards women in general, and one woman in particular, was certainly due to my having been taken over absolutely by politics. It was also because I loved her - but of course I was aware that this was a taboo. And with Josh it's mostly to do with the fact that, years ago, I was pissed off with my generation of men because whatever I did was wrong. If I was a wild child I was a dreadful slag, if I wasn't then I was boring, and if I was political I was loud and in-your-face. I haven't been with a man my age since. I suppose I am kicking at a taboo again, and certainly I am aware of disapproval. I know someone who was pelted with baked beans in the supermarket because she had gone off with a young man."

Even so, she says, the books are not autobiographical but rather a way of "taking on one of the greatest taboos, which is the idea that an older woman can be sexual. It's simply not seen as acceptable for an older woman to appear raunchy or sexually inventive as Caro is in my novels. Although, happily, I do see some older women coming out as sexual beings."

Which brings her back to Josh: "I suppose it's a bit more acceptable than it was, say, 20 years ago to be with a younger man. The immediate assumption was that you were paying for sex. Happily that is far from the truth with us."

Carole married Max Stafford Clark, artistic director of the Royal Court, in the early Seventies. "I was very happy. I'd got the Young Lion and entered a world where drama at the cutting edge was being produced." She wrote for the Joint Stock Company along with Bill Gaskell and David Hare, as well as acting, directing and scriptwriting at the Royal Court and performing in the plays of Caryl Churchill and Sue Townsend. But it was during her time on the board of Joint Stock - the only woman - that she reached what she describes as a "trigger point for my politics as a woman".

One day, listening to the endless discussions about which male playwright's play should be put on, she asked: "Couldn't we do a play by a woman?" She guffaws, remembering the moment: "One of the men said `Oh, but there aren't any plays by women ... they haven't written anything because they haven't anything to write about.' Apart from making me very, very angry, it led me into directing and writing. I wanted to find works by women and give actresses a chance."

Her marriage to Max ended, as she had assumed from the beginning it would: "We both knew that, but it was right for the time." Feminism became "hugely, riotously fashionable, so although the men running theatres had no political correctness, they knew they would look naff if they didn't acknowledge this in the work."

She meanwhile went on to write Rides, a TV series about women mini-cab drivers, and she has completed a political drama for TV which is currently in development. It involved many weeks hanging out at Westminster in the Members' Bar, and although she talked to anyone and everyone, women are the central theme.

Carole stands up, straightens a slinky top and trit-trots off down the road on Minnie Mouse platform shoes. A woman of a certain age demonstrably not giving in to prejudices, thank you very much.

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