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HERE TO HELP► Royal Literary Fund: Administers a range of grants to commercially published writers in need. Part funded by estates and bequests of writers such as Somerset Maugham and A A Milne, the RLF helps about 200 writers a year, through one-off grants or small annual bursaries (renewable every five years). www.rlf.org. uk/home/contact-us/► NUJ Extra: A charity for NUJ members who have fallen on hard times, funded by donations from working journalists. Provides one-off grants to help pay bills or regular monthly payments to dependants of deceased NUJ members. www.nuj.org.uk/ work/nuj-extra/► Society of Authors: Administers funds and bequests. The Authors’ Contingency Fund makes grants each year to professional UK authors in financial difficulty, or to help their dependants. www.societyofauthors.org/ Grants/Grants-for-writers-in- needwomen’s voices begin to disappear from literary life as they agea huge role in supplementing the paltry income of struggling authors in later life. ‘Sometimes,’ says Gunn, ‘if a writer falls into debt, we can step in to clear that. Then they’re up and running again.’But the Fund only helps writers who are commercially published in print format, which means the vast majority of applicants and beneficiaries are over 40 – and many a great deal older – and e-authors and the self-publishedare excluded. Decisions are based on the literary merit of an author’s work as well as their financial straits, in recognition of the fact that a writer might literally now be suffering for their art.Does this include household name authors? Gunn replies, with consummate tact, ‘Bad things can happen to anyone, including well-known writers’.Freelance futuresThe picture in journalism is no rosier, especially among those working freelance – two-thirdsof those who earned under £15,000 a year were freelancers. According to a Press Gazette Survey published last February, freelance writers’ income has never been more precarious. Only 20 per cent of freelancers surveyed earned between £40,000 and £50,000 – an income which might allow someone to set aside something for the future. One freelancer, earning £20,000 a year, described how ‘fees are at rock bottom and it’s not uncommon to be treated with utter disdain by commissioning editors – or completely ignored. It’s gone from being a varied and interesting way to make a living to being utterly miserable’.Beatrix Campbell, a radical journalist with over 40 years’ experience, has watched the industry change out of all recognition. ‘In the 1980s and 1990s it was possible to get a newspaper or publisher to underwrite the cost of you doing some real digging. That kind of important research- based journalism just isn’t sponsored by large newspapers any more. In its place has come the much cheaper art of opinion journalism.’Arts journalist Sue Steward remembers ‘back in the 90s you might be paid over £1,000 for a long feature. Nowadays it’s much less’. Another seasoned freelancer told me, ‘I am being paidexactly the same fora comment piece as I was 20 years ago. Once you factor in inflation that represents quite a significant cut in pay’.Women’s pagesBut surely this kind of change affects male writers too? Aren’t we all in the same boat, regardless of gender? Well, no. What’s clear from survey aftersurvey is that women’s voices begin to disappear from literary life as they age.One broadsheet comment page editor confessed to me, dispiritingly, ‘There’s no question that while an older male columnist is likely to be respected for his wisdom and experience, older women writers are considered just a little bit dull and passé’. In book publishing, too, we know that women’s titles tend to be reviewed less and win fewer awards, which has a knock-on effect on women authors’ professional visibility, prestige and income.Private livesTurn from public to private life (of course the two are connected) and the gender penalty in laterlife is stark. According to a report on women and retirement by Scottish Widows, only half of UK women have adequate retirement incomes and almost one in five women in their 50s save nothing for their old age.It’s well known that women’s income starts to plunge after motherhood: this is the stuff of many a feminist campaign. But until recently there’s been less attention paid to the appalling financial situation of many older women. The 2014 TUC report Age Immaterial found that the average salary for women over 50 was just over £15,000 and that the majority of older women working part-time earn less than £10,000 a year.The Final Report from the Labour Policy Forum’s Commission on Older Women, published in 2015, found that many older women give up paid work to take on caring responsibilities: for a partner with a sudden illness, for elderly parents, or for grandchildren so their own children can work. Inevitably, this makes them worse off. Fifty per cent more women than men over 55 give up work to become carers, and more than twice as many older women than older men have reduced their working hours for this reason. The popularity of the SoA’s Writers as Carers forum, an online space to exchange experiences and seek support, reveals how many later-life writers have their creative energy and time consumed by looking after frail or needy loved ones.For many female baby boomers, who started their professional lives in the relatively carefree 1960s and 1970s, this level of caring responsibility can come as a huge shock. At an age when they might reasonably expect freedom from a caring role, they are flung back into the shackles of classic female servitude. As Beatrix Campbell puts it,‘We are a generation suddenly confronted by absolutely irreconcilable contradictions between our need to work, our curiosity and our love of writing – and family responsibilities that arenot chosen’. She adds, with a despairing sigh, ‘Ina world in which social care is almost entirely privatised, this work of care – for elders, for a new generation of lovely little ones – becomes the work of the older woman.’6 Mar/Apr/May 2017 mslexiaPHOTO: LOLOSTOCK / SHUTTERSTOCK


































































































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