Sunday, May 03, 2009

How Old is a Hero Anyway? by Kate Walker

This week is the one that sees my birthday come around again. And no you can’t ask how old I am! In my head I’m the age of the heroines I write about - and the heroes. And that’s the way it’s going to stay.

But thinking about age, made me start to wonder about those heroes and heroines. I mean, how old is a heroine? Or a hero for that matter? When I first started reading romances, the heroines tended to be young – and often a lot younger than there heroes. Girls of 19, 20 were partnered with men maybe ten or even fifteen years older than them and no one thought twice about it. Because of that, heroes were always well over thirty – sometimes heading for or even having reached forty and so more than likely to consider the heroine a silly little girl – and maybe even call her that too!

For myself, my first heroine was seventeen when she first met the hero - something I’m not too sure would be totally acceptable these days. Another heroine was eighteen to the hero’s thirty. These days, I’m far more likely to be writing about heroines of twenty-five or twenty-six and heroes just a couple of years or so older. That seems right in a Presents romance, though Modern Heat for example can have a younger. less well-established hero.

On the brand-new Mills & Boon Community web site. Someone raised the question of how old - or perhaps I mean how young - a hero can actually be. Would twenty–six be too young? And how about twenty-five? What about a hero who is older - forty – fifty . . . Or one who is younger than the heroine? Many readers I know believe that a man takes a while longer than a woman to grow, mature – achieve something in life. And yet for others the thirty something hero is too old.

It’s perfectly possible to write a heroine or a hero at any age. None of us (thank heaven!) is immune to the wonderful, uplifting, life-changing experience of falling in love at any stage of our lives. And equally age is no barrier to the intense and wonderful feelings that a loving relationship can bring no matter what stage of life we’re at, or how many times we’ve been through this before. Only this weekend I was reading about a man who lost his wife tragically when she was murdered five years ago and is now rediscovering the joy of a new love as time has helped him heal. He’s no spring chicken – mid-forties – but love is no respecter of age. My friend’s mother has just married for the second time and she’s approaching her seventieth birthday and I’ve seen the photos of her wedding day – I doubt if any younger bride could look more starry-eyed and head over heels in love.

But every now and then romance publishers say they are looking for younger readers, that they want to appeal to a younger market. Would younger heroes and heroines do that or is there something else that would appeal to the readers who are the age of my first heroine – in their teens and very early twenties? Is it the years in a character’s life or the life in those years? What about you? Do you care how old the hero and heroine are in a romance you read – or are you happy to accept any age, and any age difference as long as the author convinces you? And because I’m nosy – what about you as a reader? How old were you when you first came to reading romances? Are the publishers right to think they need to attract the younger reader – or are you already there?

Because I’m celebrating this week, and when I celebrate I like to share, I’ll get Sid the Cat to pick two names from the comments that are posted and there will be a signed copy of one of my backlist for the winners.

And if you want to read more about heroes – I’m running a special discussion on the Alpha hero over on my blog.

Kate's latest novel Cordero's Forced Bride was released in Harlequin Presents in February and Mills & Boon Modern in March it is still available on Amazon and the M&B website

Coming up is Kept For Her Baby which is to be published in August (UK) and October – in Presents Extra in America. But before that there is the reprint of At The Sheikh’s Command coming in the Sold to The Sheikh collection in June in the UK.

You can find out more about Kate and her books on her website or for the most up to date news, visit her blog.


housemouse88 said...

Hello Kate,

I'm not one to think about the age of the hero and heroine. Even if the age is stated in the book, I have a tendency to over look it. I'm more interested in the development of the characters and the plot. If the author is doing a good job for me, I don't spend much time on the age factor.

I started reading romances when I was about 15 and it has been too long for me to remember about the ages back then. Have a great day.

Jill said...

I think it is all in the author's execution. I have read some stories where there is a big gap between the heroine's and hero's ages and it has made me cringe, mostly when the heroine is portrayed as so naive she is almost otherworldly. I have read other romance novels where it has worked because the characters are equals in spite of their age differences.
I started reading romance novels when I was 14 and the characters where in their late 20s early 30s, which seemed like "a cool age." I'm that age now and I do enjoy it! On the other hand, my mother is almost 60 and she has stopped reading romance novels and switched to other genres because she finds it hard to relate to 20/30 somethings, even in historicals.

Estella said...

I started reading romance when I was about 12--Barbara Cartland.

I don't think about the age of the h/h if the story is well written and believable.

Helen said...

I don't really think much about the hero or heroines age as long as the author has me hooked into the story I am happy and they are well suited to each other in my mind I am happy.

I didn't start reading romance till I was about 20 when my mother gave me my first one to read and I was hooked and have been reading them for a long long time now and wouldn't change a thing romances are such wonderful reads they take me on great adventures and always to a HEA you gotta love them. I think that the YA genre is very good for starting off the romance journey for younger girls and have always encouraged my children to read from a young age it worked with my daughters but not my son I am always reading to my grandchildren and hope that they will love reading as well

Have Fun

Ash said...

I agree with housemouse. I don't put much stock into ages. You love who you love. Maybe I'd be a little shocked if the guy was 70 and the girl was 20 something. That'd be iffy.

I started reading romance novels when I was 16 or 17. I didn't read many at first, because I was afraid my mother would realize it and start making me read books only she approved of. But then I started reading whatever I wanted when I turned 18 and 19 yrs old because there wasn't really anything she could do about it.

RachieG said...

May is my birthday month too! Isn't May just wonderful? Everything is pretty, baby animals are abounding, rain is kind of slowing down, AND we GET cake! :) Happy birthday fellow May birthday girl! :)

I don't mind the ages in my books...Sometimes if there's like 20 year age difference, I don't like seems a little strange to me. Anyway, if it's a good story, their age doesn't really factor in at all for me.

CrystalGB said...

Hi Kate. For me, as long as the story is good, the age of the hero and heroine don't matter.

Virginia said...

I don't think much about the age of the hero's and heroiens myself! I hate to think about age period, because I just had a birthday myself this past week and I feel very old right now. I not going to mention how many year I have been reading but I started as a teen ager.

Kytaira said...

For the most part I don't think about the ages. If they are really young (and it isn't a flashback), I will think about how little experience with life they have.

The one that bugs me is when the couple were together when they were younger, then split up. Now decades later they are back together. I can't help but think about how they wasted so much time. Especially when it's a secret baby senario and the man missed his son/daughter's entire childhood.

I was younger than 14 when I read my first romances. Not sure of the exact age, I just know it was before I moved at age 14. I'd guess I started at 12 with Bodice Rippers.

Age differences don't phase me at all either. My sister is a decade older than her boyfriend. My brother is over a decade younger than his wife. She's got a grandchild older than their son. I guess what we see and approve of in real life isn't going to turn us off in print.

Kate Walker said...

Hi Housemouse

I agree - even if the age is given in a book, if the story grabs me I forget it when I'm reading - unless the author over-emphasises it

Kate Walker said...

Hi Jill

I think you're right - if the heroine is so very naive, why would an older man want to be with her - and what would happen when she finlly grew up?

I'm surprised by your Mum though - most 60 year olds I know are still 20 something inside their heads!

Kate Walker said...

Hi Estella

12, hmm? You were an early starter - but Dame Barbara's books are a gentle introduction to the genre

Kate Walker said...

Hello Helen -

Reading is such a great thing isn't it? I think it's fantastic when mothers pass on the skill to their children - and then the grandchildren too. I always read to my son - don't have any grandchildren yet but one day . . .

Kate Walker said...

Ash - you're like me. My mother didn't think I should be reading romances, even though she had a friend who wrote them! I've really made up for that now ;o)

Kate Walker said...

Rachie - Happy May Birthday to you to! I hope you have a wonderful day. May is a lovely month to have a birthday in - usually. Right now it's pouring with rain - cold rain!

Have a great birthday and thak you for your birthday wishes

Kate Walker said...

Hi Crystal - it is the story that matters, isn't it - and if it's well written then, as everyone says, the age of the characters shouldn't matter

Kate Walker said...

Virginia - Happy Belated Birthday to you! No matter what your age! Every year is one to celebrate being alive. And the longer you've been reading, the more great books you've enjoyed.

Kate Walker said...

Kytaira - I share that problem with you - when a couple have split up for years and years, specially if they have childen but then that does happen. Just like the age difference in your family. I have that too - my eldest sister is nearly ten years older than me and her husband is younger than me. It just goes to show that you fall in love with the person who is right for you.

Kate Walker said...

Ok - prizes -

Well, I'm celebrating and I want to share with you - and , heck, I can spare a few extra copies of backlist books - one for each household - so Housemouse, Jill, Estella, Helen, Ash, Rachie, Crystal, Virginia and Kytaira - if you all email me your snail mail addresses to kate AT, I'll organise the prizes for you

Ash said...

Thanks Kate!