Interview with Jay Courtney by Bradt Guides about the upcoming publication of Juicy Crones, as featured on the Bradt Guides website.
‘The average woman will live 30 years after menopause. You can have lots of fun in that time. This is our third act, the time that many women learn to ROAR!’
So says Jay Courtney, Telegraph travel-writing competition winner, former Women’s Hour guest and author of an inspirational book we’re publishing in January.
Juicy Crones is a joyous celebration of post-menopausal women. Blending adventure with feminism, women’s health with well-being, and autobiography with self-help, this unique title is a book for the UK’s 12 million ‘crones’ and anyone who shares their life. To celebrate its upcoming publication, we sat down with Jay to discuss her journey so far.
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What inspired you to write this book?
To be honest, I had no plans to write a book at first - Juicy Crones was largely born out of frustration. I’ve always had a very busy life and so I’d never thought twice that I might find retirement difficult; boredom was something of a foreign concept to me. I thought I would enjoy all the hobbies that I hadn’t had time for when I was in full-time work and raising a family, but they didn’t fulfil me. A friend told me she ‘found things to fill the time’. That was so helpful – I knew then that I needed to find a different approach.
As I was beginning to wrap my head around my new situation, I started talking to other women who, as it turned out, were feeling much the same way I was. It’s a daunting thing to leave a life where you’ve become very knowledgeable in your field, only to start over as a ‘nobody.’
I wanted to write a book that not only encapsulated the worries and emotions experienced by women entering the next stage of their life, but also celebrated what was to come. I guess in the end, I did what so many authors do – I wrote the book that I wanted to read, even if I never planned on doing so.
Juicy Crones contains tales from twelve different women – how did you go about gathering their stories?
The process began organically. After voicing my frustrations to friends and other personal connections, it became increasingly apparent that we were all feeling the same way. As someone who is acutely aware of the frequency with which women’s voices have been suppressed throughout history, it felt very important to share these stories with the world.
Initially, I’d hoped to gather information while on the road. With solo travelling being such a wonderful way to meet new people, I had no doubt I’d come across some inspirational women with tales to tell. Unfortunately, lockdown threw a spanner in the works. Instead, the women I knew began to introduce me to their friends and they went on to do the same – after I appeared on Woman’s Hour and had written an article for the Bradt Travel Club magazine, I had women from all over the world reaching out with their stories.
It was important to me to that the women I spoke with felt secure – with so many of them sharing incredibly difficult moments in their life, I wanted them to know I would do everything in my power to portray their histories exactly as they wanted them to be. Zooms were set up, interviews conducted and drafts edited until everyone was happy.
Menopause, and life after it, can be difficult topics to talk about it. Have you experienced any challenges along the way?
Beyond overcoming our ingrained tendency to avoid talking about topics like this because of embarrassment or shame, it was the practical obstacles that were the most challenging to overcome.
Talking to women from across the world via Zoom called for some very late nights and early mornings. Meeting women in the UK (when restrictions allowed) saw me setting up picnic chairs in a field, camping in snow and grappling with transcription software misinterpreting footsteps for words! I tried to talk to women where they felt most comfortable – whilst walking, sitting in my van or looking out to sea. All of us had the difficult dilemma to resolve of wanting our voice to be heard while also protecting our families.
Although it was time consuming to revisit my conversations – going back to them time and time again to make sense of these women’s stories – in the end, this only made the process more rewarding. I wasn’t so much interested in the ‘jazz hands’, extreme ironing on Everest story. I wanted to understand the barriers, and permissions to overcome them, that made these women juicy.
Looking back over the last couple of years of writing, what has been your favourite part of the process?
Without a doubt, my favourite part has been meeting so many brilliant women. Finding the joy in their lives, developing friendships that I know will last a lifetime, and building connections based on such a deep sense of trust has been truly remarkable. I have an endless amount of respect for the women included in this book and it has been an absolute privilege to be able to tell their stories.
Talk to us about the book’s title and cover. Where did it come from and what does it mean?
The phrase ‘juicy crones’ comes from Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen; I came across it when reading her book Crones Don’t Whine. So many people think of older women as dried out and dried up – the delightful juxtaposition of ‘juicy’ and ‘crones’ made me laugh out loud and challenged the narrative. When I reached out to tell her about my own book, she gave me her blessing to use her words.
To be honest, they’ve inspired mixed reviews (no one seems quite sure how to react to a book with the word ‘juicy’ in its title), but I figure a strong reaction is better than no reaction not all! The sub-title ‘Free for the Strangest Adventures’ is a quote from Virginia Wolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’, where a mother sits at the end of the day and after ‘all the being and the doing’, she could be herself.
The cover is inspired by the hippies of the 1960s and 70s. For most of the women in this book (myself included), this was our era. I knew that I wanted a pop artist to capture this style, and so when I came across Laura Greenan, who appeared to be the only female designer in this field, it felt rather like fate.
If there’s one thing people should take away from this book, what is it?
Fundamentally, it boils down to giving ourselves permission to be who we are – and it’s a lot harder in the doing than it is in the saying. I would like people to come away from this book with hope. While many of the women included in Juicy Crones have faced some serious challenges throughout their lives, they really have come out on the other side stronger and happier than ever. Post-menopause can be empowering, enriching and very funny!
I guess I want people to know that it’s ok to take things slowly. While this positive mindset doesn’t develop overnight, if we allow ourselves to take our time and do things our own way, anything is possible.
Do you have any advice for women currently going through menopause? What do you wish you’d known at the time?
Fortunately, I think things have changed dramatically over the last couple of years in terms of menopause, but there is still a way to go. For so many women of my generation, it was always a topic that no one liked to talk about, and so we suffered in silence.
In terms of advice, I’d tell women who are starting to experience symptoms to go out and ask for help if they need it. There’s so many misunderstandings surrounding the menopause; in reality, its a much longer and more complicated process than most people realise. Nobody knows your body better than you do, and you have every right to advocate for yourself as you see fit.
Most of all though, I want to stress that it isn’t all bad. To be honest, I have never felt more powerful or had more fun than I have in recent years. No matter what people tell you, life doesn’t end when the menopause starts – for lots of us, it feels like a whole new transformative adventure.
What’s next for you? Do you have any exciting plans now that you’ve finished writing?
I am aware that I have spent far too long sitting at a desk recently. I am picking up on my pre-covid travel plans, but tempered even more now by environmental concerns. I spent three weeks in solo exploration of the Orkney Isles last summer and embarked on a group walking holiday to Norway – I’m hoping to visit some traditional matriarchal or matrilineal societies and modern day female cooperatives next.
With all these travel plans in mind, I’m trying really hard not to write another book! Having said that, I do find myself once more with notebooks and scraps of paper in every pocket and ideas dropping into my journal. I’ve got a few titles floating in my head, but so long as I haven’t designed the book jacket I’ll be OK!