Kate Fenton: Never too late to find love in later life

Rowena Walsh talks to a novelist who was inspired to write a romantic comedy after falling in love again in her mid-50s
Kate Fenton: Never too late to find love in later life
Author Kate Fenton: Falling in love in her mid-50s was like the plot of a novel.

Novelist Kate Fenton never thought that she’d fall in love in again. Widowed at the age of 55, she had been with her husband, the actor Ian Carmichael, for 25 years.

There was, she says, a spectacular age gap between the two. She was 30 when she first met Ian who was almost 35 years older.

The year she turned 30 was a milestone one for Kate; it was also when she took the plunge and left the BBC, where she had been working as a producer, to see if she could write.

She says that the two events were not coincidental. “At first, neither of us were seeing this as a life thing. I thought that I’d go and stay with Ian for a bit and see if I can write in the Yorkshire countryside.” 

The gamble paid off. Kate wrote six novels in quick succession and settled into life in the north of England. Although she had always wanted children, it was not to be. When she got together with Ian, he had five grandchildren. She now has eight greatgrandchildren and describes herself as a “career granny”.

Like so many others, Kate hasn’t seen her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren since early March, when in an attempt to stop the spread of the Covid-19, lockdown was introduced. 

She says that thankfully all is well in her family, and she takes solace in her relative isolation, saying her immediate neighbours are cows in the field, fish in the river and pheasant in the wood.

This is the most enormous blessing. I’ve been so aware throughout it all how lucky we are that we can walk out into a garden and off up the field without fear.

Kate was shell-shocked when Ian died. She says that he used to joke about the Grim Reaper coming and collecting him.

“He’d always say ‘oh, you’ll marry again, darling’, and I remember saying ‘I don’t think so’ and ‘can we stop talking about death and just get on with living’.

She wasn’t daunted by being on her own, something she feels has helped her throughout lockdown. 

“If you are a writer, you have a built-in capacity for being fairly content in your own company, and I could cope with that.” 

But she did miss having someone to do nothing with.

Meeting Ed, who is now her husband, was, she says, transformational. Their meeting reads like the plot of a novel, and initially this is what caused Kate to doubt herself because it resembled the plot of one of her own novels.

In The Colours of Snow, the heroine was an artist who couldn’t paint and is stuck in a north Yorkshire valley – which Kate says is recognisable as the one where she lives - in the middle of dreadful snow. Everything is shut down and she meets this likeable bloke next door called Ned, or Edward.

“Here I was in this ferocious winter of 2011, when the lane at the top of the drive in north Yorkshire was frozen solid for three months,” says Kate, “and I meet an Edward (Ed)".

I actually thought, is this some kind of mad fantasy? Have I lost it? Have I got off into some sort of menopausal fugue? It seemed so improbable.”

When Kate met Ed, she was suffering from a case of writer’s block. It took her 18 years to get over it. “I’ve never believed in waiting for inspiration, I’m a believer in hard work, I kept trying. I was desperately ashamed of myself because what I couldn’t help thinking was that if I had four kids and a mortgage, I wouldn’t be throwing these out, I’d be somehow making them work.

“I lost confidence in myself. If you’re a storyteller, you have to trust your instinct.” 

She says that she was asking herself what was she here for, if not to write?

Then Kate, who describes herself as a “big believer in happily ever after”, found herself thinking that she hadn’t read a romantic comedy about people her age. “I’m not the only person I know who has found a new relationship at this age.” 

 The result was The Time of Her Life, the plot of which follows “quite deliberately, tongue-in-cheek the plot of Jane Austen’s Emma in her matchmaking”.

Kate initially thought that falling in love in her mid-50s was the same as falling in love at any age. 

It’s the same insanity, the same can’t eat, can’t sleep properly, living on a permanent high cloud. It’s the best sort of insanity and I was better able to recognise it now. 

But she realised what was different was clarity. “When you’re young and you meet someone, life is complicated because you don’t know what you want to do with it. Whereas I had absolute clarity. I just knew I wanted to be with Ed.” 

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