A Beginner’s Guide to Ageing Disgracefully

A Beginner’s Guide to Ageing Disgracefully

Joanna Nell, author of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, reveals why she chose to write about an older protagonist, debunks some of the stereotypes of ageing and introduces ‘Women in Their Prime’.

When I first met my heroine Peggy Smart ­– or at least the ceramic sculpture that inspired the character – she was ready for a swim. Oblivious to the tendrils of grey hair escaping from her cap and the cheese-wiring elastic of her bathing costume, there was an unmistakable twinkle in her eye.

I had a vision of my grandmother standing at the bay window in her panty girdle, laughing and showing off her wonderful legs to the neighbours. My mother’s mother was a blue-rinsed bundle of fun who still wore high heels in her wheelchair. I dedicated The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village to her and my always nattily-dressed grandfather, both wonderful role models for ageing.

Many years later when I became a GP, I was drawn to the stoic wit and wisdom of the elderly, and loved listening as they told their incredible life stories. During my regular visits to retirement villages and aged care facilities, I discovered many positive seniors full of vim and vigour, who were busy defying the conventions of ageing.

For some reason, women are judged more harshly than men if they don’t act their age. In ‘ageing gracefully’ older women are expected to be sober, respectable and very sensible. They must refrain from swearing or flirting, and keep their clothes on at all times, so as not to upset the young folk. Fiction invariably assigns older women the role of village busybody, evil stepmother or cookie-baking grandma.

I believe these stereotypes devalue women, who have to contend with both ageism and sexism. Susan Sontag described this “double standard of ageing” in which women are penalised more than men for simply getting old. She also pointed out that by trying to defy ageing rather than embracing it, women are inadvertently reinforcing this double standard. The multi-billion dollar anti-ageing industry – the so-called ‘fight’ against ageing – is testament to the pressure women feel to resist nature. Quite unfairly, society expects women to stay looking youthful for as long as possible and then conveniently disappear. Many women will recognise the invisibility that comes as a free gift-with-purchase at menopause, or feel peer pressured into wear beige once they retire.

Luckily times are changing and an increasing number of women like style icon Iris Apfel, now in her nineties, refuse to accept the dress code. Indeed, women often find the post-childrearing years quite liberating, as their biological clocks fast-forward to Happy Hour. Although ageing undoubtedly comes with its fair share of challenges, women often discover a more authentic version of themselves later in life. I wonder if that’s why it’s called ‘growing’ older. Far from being what the French might discreetly call ‘women of a certain age’, I prefer the term ‘women in their prime’.

There are countless older women who embrace this exciting new phase by studying, travelling, jumping out of aeroplanes or taking scandalously young lovers. For the record, I’m terrified of heights and married my toy-boy several years ago, so my own new chapter involved writing a novel, something I was too timid and self-conscious to do when I was younger.

In Peggy Smart I wanted to create a relatable character who would dispel the out-dated myths and stereotypes of ageing. Bette Davis once said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies”, and for that reason I made the conscious decision not to shy away from the frustrations of an ageing body (and bladder). I wanted to give readers of all ages the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a realistic older woman, seborrhoeic warts and all.

With a little help from her friends (and Harvey’s Bristol Cream) Peggy calls out ageism and ultimately reassures us that age is no barrier to having fun, trying new things or even falling in love. She discovers that there is nothing shameful about ageing; that old age is a privilege, even something to be proud of. What’s more, studies from around the world have shown that having a positive outlook on ageing can halve a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. And when it comes to attitudes about old age, optimists tend to live longer than pessimists. Ironically, worrying about ageing can actually make us age faster.

Ladies, single or otherwise, it’s time for us to put on our big-girl pants (the kind that come in packs of three) and embrace ageing in all its glory. Gracefully or disgracefully, in tummy-control briefs or a G-string, it’s a woman’s choice as to how she ages. As I hope Peggy, Angie and the other residents of Jacaranda Retirement Village demonstrate, getting older is rather like the weather: it can be forecasted but not controlled. When it comes to old age, it’s best to be prepared and carry an umbrella, but go ahead with the picnic regardless.

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retiremnet Village is availabe to order now.

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell

‘Hugely entertaining . . . funny and heart-warming’ Woman & Home

‘A gentle, warm-hearted book that had me rooting for all the characters and laughing out loud at points’ Libby Page, author of The Lido

It’s never too late to grow old disgracefully…

The life of 79-year-old pensioner Peggy Smart is as beige as the décor in her retirement village. Her week revolves around aqua aerobics and appointments with her doctor. The highlight of Peggy’s day is watching her neighbour Brian head out for his morning swim.

Peggy dreams of inviting the handsome widower – treasurer of the Residents’ Committee and one of the few eligible men in the village – to an intimate dinner. But why would an educated man like Brian, a chartered accountant no less, look twice at Peggy? As a woman of a certain age, she fears she has become invisible, even to men in their eighties.

But a chance encounter with an old school friend she hasn’t seen in five decades – the glamorous fashionista Angie Valentine – sets Peggy on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.

Can she channel her ‘inner Helen Mirren’ and find love and friendship in her twilight years?

Buy on Amazon here.

Who’s the trickiest person to buy for on your Christmas list? Graham Norton, Joanna Bolouri, Jo Thomas and Joanna Nell fill us in!

Who’s the trickiest person to buy for on your Christmas list? Graham Norton, Joanna Bolouri, Jo Thomas and Joanna Nell fill us in!

From difficult dads, to best friends who already have everything – we all have someone on our Christmas present list who is impossible to buy for.

Luckily, some of our fabulous authors are here to share the trickiest names on their lists… and offer up some much-needed Christmas gifting inspiration!


Graham Norton, author of A Keeper

Some people are truly gifted when it comes to shopping for presents. I am not. My solution is to throw money at the problem so that while the gift may be unsuitable and disliked, it will at least be expensive so I can’t be accused of being ungenerous. My mother is always a challenge because whatever good ideas I might have had were all used up years ago.

Jo Thomas, author of A Winter Beneath the Stars

Hmmm, I think maybe my Mum. She always says she doesn’t want anything! And I always want to get her something she’d really enjoy. Usually I buy her books which I know she’ll enjoy, especially armchair travel ones.

Joanna Nell, author of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village

My husband is always tricky to buy for, especially since he stopped wearing ties to work and shaved off his beard (who knew fancy beard products were a thing?). It’s the one time of the year when I wish he wasn’t such a “low maintenance man”. When I ask for ideas (we’re fairly pragmatic in our family), he reminds me that he already has more books on famous explorers than he has time to read, owns a shirt for every day of the week and the less said about that kite-surfing lesson I bought him one Christmas the better. This year I’ve decided to give my husband a voucher for dinner for two at our favourite restaurant. That way, hopefully I get to enjoy it too.

Joanna Bolouri, author of Relight My Fire

My dad, definitely.  He doesn’t like anything ‘specific’ so inevitably he gets something sensible from Marks and Spencer.

And for a gift that’s sure to be a winner, here are some brilliant new reads courtesy of our lovely authors!

 A Keeper Graham Norton Relight my fire  

Jo Thomas, Joanna Nell, Karen Cole and Olivia Beirne share their go-to Christmas dishes!

Jo Thomas, Joanna Nell, Karen Cole and Olivia Beirne share their go-to Christmas dishes!

Here at Bookends HQ, Christmas has come early as we ask a selection of our lovely authors to fill us in on their favourite festive dishes!

From pigs in blankets to advent calendar chocolates…
Keep reading if you want to feel seriously hungry!


Jo Thomas, author of A Winter Beneath the Stars

I always make a big Christmas chilli con carne for Christmas Eve. That way it doesn’t matter what time people arrive, dinner is simple and ready to go when we are!

Joanna Nell, author of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village

The sweltering Australian Christmas takes some getting used to. I’m often homesick for England at this time of the year, and especially nostalgic for my gran’s homemade Christmas puddings (complete with traditional tooth-crumbling sixpence). My rudimentary skills in the kitchen could never match my grandmother’s so I don’t even try. Each year I buy a beautiful brandy and Macadamia nut pudding from a charity that raises money for a school in Uganda. I can pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes, which leaves plenty of time to swim and sip chilled champagne, my new Christmas day traditions.

Karen Cole, author of Deliver Me

I love Christmas food and my mouth is watering just thinking about it! I make a delicious cashew nut loaf and my mother-in-law makes great veggie sausage rolls. My mum’s Christmas pudding with my aunt’s brandy butter… I could go on!

Olivia Beirne, author of The List That Changed My Life

Oh my lord pigs in blankets. I’m obsessed with them. It was a testing Christmas the first year I wasn’t living with my parents and realised that nobody could stop me from buying twelve packets and eating them all whilst watching Miranda. I also love advent calendars (obviously) and think we should have them for every day of the year. I once wanted to be grown up and sophisticated (always a terrible idea) and insisted on buying a picture calendar (urgh). I aggressively cursed my smug past self for the following 24 days.