It was on an afternoon walk on Sydney’s Northern Beaches four years ago that GP and author Joanna Nell was struck with the idea for her first novel.
“I was on the Pittwater Artists’ Trail and saw a sculpture of an older woman in a bathing suit,” recalled Nell, 52, who as a doctor has a passion for women’s health and care of the elderly.
“I remember thinking how beautiful, real and strong that woman was.”
That woman paved the way for the character of 79-year-old Peggy Smart – the protagonist in Nell’s new novel The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village.
“From that point Peggy occupied all my thoughts. I wanted to write a book where the older female character was centre stage.”
In the feel-good novel, widower Peggy spends her days doing aqua aerobics, seeing the doctor and dreaming of having dinner with handsome widower (and treasurer of the Residents’ Committee) Brian Cornell.
Then a chance encounter with an old school friend – glamorous fashionista Angie Valentine – sets pensioner Peggy on an unexpected journey of self discovery.
Nell said her experience as a doctor also inspired her to pen the novel.
“I’d witnessed first-hand the invisibility and loss of identity that many older women experience when faced with society’s expectation that they should behave in a certain way, in other words by living out their senior years quietly and conveniently,” she said.
To this end she set out to write an altogether more positive and uplifting narrative around ageing. “I’m a firm believer that women are entitled to have fun, feel fabulous and find love, whatever their age.”
Nell said she likes to think of Peggy and Angie as the ‘Thelma and Louise’ of Jacaranda Retirement Village (in reference to the 1991 movie of the same name) and would love to have them both as friends “but I’m glad I’m not related to either of them”.
“Inevitably there’s a little bit of me in both characters,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to see which one I turn into as I age!”
Nell is now working on her second novel called The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, set on a cruise ship.
For the novel she is drawing on her experiences working as a P&O ship’s doctor for a couple of years.
- The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village (Hachette Australia), $29.99
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