Novelist Hilary Boyd is a grandmother. But don’t let her catch you uttering the term “gran lit.” That’s the genre name that U.K. Observer columnist Robert McCrumb coined on reading Boyd’s first published novel, Thursdays in the Park, in which middle-aged wife Jeanie begins an extra-marital flirtation at— surprise! — the local park’s playground.
As far as I can tell, “gran lit” designates literature by older women. It thus manages to commit a double whammy — ageism and sexism — in two dismissive syllables.
“I know all about that [label],” says Boyd, speaking from her London home, “and it’s bollocks! Why are people so eager to put books in boxes? It makes it seem as if one is writing to order, which isn’t true.”
On the other hand, Boyd is proud of her age — 60 — and the circuitous but ultimately triumphant road she took to publication. “I’d been writing all along, but receiving loads of rejections,” she told me. “I often wonder what people who publish when they’re young find to write about, whereas I’ve had a life, and jobs, and relationships; I’ve had experiences to plumb, rather than sitting in an ivory tower.”
A surprise best-seller in the U.K., where it sold more than 500,000 e-copies, Thursdays in the Park is set to be released in the U.S. on October 1. Its pages overflow with more than “mere” grandparents, including toddlers and 20-somethings.
“The whole family’s involved,” says Boyd. “That’s really what interests me — the gamut of emotions and actions that a family runs. I think a lot of people in midlife start to wonder about their relationships: ‘Could I be happier on my own? Should I be doing something else? Who is this person I’m married to, really?’
“But everyone’s connected, and you’re never as alone as you think you are. Of course, you’re never as independent as you think you are, either. I’m fascinated by how we survive marriage.”
I tell Boyd it sounds like she’s writing “conjugal lit.”
“That’s it!” she laughs. “That means we can kill ‘gran lit’!”
For those who read Thursdays in the Park — and I’m here to tell you that you must — there’s more to come: Boyd has published two further novels in England already, and is working on her fourth. Its title? A Most Desirable Marriage.