Never Too Late: Bestselling Women Authors Over 50

by | Apr 21, 2024

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Last updated on May 10th, 2024

Featured image: Get lost in these exceptional stories by women authors over 50  | Photo by Wavebreakmedia on Envato

How women over 50 are changing the narrative

by Tina Hartas, Founder, TripFiction

When it comes to changing the narrative on women, there’s no better starting point than novels written by women over 50. These 10 exceptional women authors over 50 prove that experience and mature reflection is welcomed, showing us it’s never too late to publish. They are producing some tremendous fiction, across different genres and with unique writing styles. As mature authors, these women bring a wealth of life experience to their work, show courageous women at their best and have a keen insight into human dynamics built over years of observation.

From perennial favourite Isabel Allende and her wonderful novel Violeta, set in South America, these books take us to Venice, China, Japan, India and the United Kingdom. Here’s a list of exceptional books that feature fierce female protagonists at the centre of their own stories, by women authors over 50.

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Top 10 books by women authors over 50

1. Maggie O’Farrell: The Marriage Portrait  

Set in Florence

Maggie O’Farrel, 51, is a novelist from Northern Ireland, Her most recent book, The Marriage Portrait was shortlisted for the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Read more about her here.

Summary: The woman in the portrait is perfect. So why does she feel so terrified, so alone? Florence, the 1560s. Lucrezia, third daughter of Cosimo de’ Medici, is free to wander the palazzo at will, wondering at its treasures and observing its clandestine workings. But when her older sister dies on the eve of marriage to Alfonso d’Este, ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage and her father to accept on her behalf.

Having barely left girlhood, Lucrezia must now make her way in a troubled court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appears to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?

As Lucrezia sits in uncomfortable finery for the painting that is to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court’s eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferrarese dynasty.

Author Maggie O’Farrell
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell Book Cover

2. Bernardine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other 

Set across the United Kingdom

Bernardine Anne Mobolaji Evaristo, 64, is a British author and academic. Her novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019 alongside Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, making her the first Black woman to win the Booker. A longstanding advocate for the inclusion of writers and artists of colour, she is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and President of the Royal Society of Literature, the second woman and the first black person to hold the role since it was founded in 1820. Learn more about her here.

Summary: This is Britain as you’ve never read it. This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years.

They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope

Bernardine Evaristo author
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo Book Cover

3. Donna Leon: Death at La Fenice 

Set in Venice

Donna Leon, 81, is the American author of a series of crime novels set in Venice, Italy, featuring the fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti. There are, so far, 29 titles in the Commissario Brunetti series, including her latest, Death at La Fenice. Learn more about Leon here.

Summary: The twisted maze of Venice’s canals has always been shrouded in mystery. Even the celebrated opera house, La Fenice, has seen its share of death. But nothing so horrific and violent as that of world-famous conductor, Maestro Helmut Wellauer – poisoned during a performance of La Traviata.

Even Commissario of Police, Guido Brunetti, used to the labyrinthine corruptions of the city, is shocked at the number of enemies Wellauer has made on his way to the top – but just how many have motive enough for murder?

The beauty of Venice is crumbling – and evil can seep through its decaying stones.

Women authors over 50 Donna Leon
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon Book Cover

4. Elizabeth Strout: My Name is Lucy Barton 

Set in NYC/Illinois

Elizabeth Strout, 68, is an American novelist and author known for her works in literary fiction. Her experiences in her youth in Maine served as inspiration for her novels–the fictional “Shirley Falls, Maine” is the setting of four of her nine novels. Learn more about Strout here.

Summary: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016, and a #1 New York Times Bestseller, My Name is Lucy Barton is an exquisite story of mothers and daughters from the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge.

Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen one another in years. As they talk Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children.

But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.

Author Elizabeth Strout
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout Book Cover
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5. Zhang Ling: A Single Swallow 

Set in China

Ling Zhang, 67, is a former senior audiologist and fiction writer in Toronto, Canada. She was born in Wenzhou, China and came to Canada in 1986. She has published nine novels and several collections of novellas and short stories in Chinese. She has won numerous important literary prizes in China. Her novella Aftershock was adapted into China’s first IMAX movie, with unprecedented box office success, winning the best movie award in the Asian Pacific Film Festival. Learn more about her work here.

Summary: The English edition of Ling’s most recent novel is the bestselling A Single Swallow, translated by Shelly Bryant. In the day of the historic 1945 Jewel Voice Broadcast—in which Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces, bringing an end to World War II—three men, flush with jubilation, made a pact. After their deaths, each year on the anniversary of the broadcast, their souls would return to the Chinese village of their younger days. It’s where they had fought—and survived—a war that shook the world and changed their own lives in unimaginable ways. Now, seventy years later, the pledge is being fulfilled by American missionary Pastor Billy, brash gunner’s mate Ian Ferguson, and local soldier Liu Zhaohu.

All that’s missing is Ah Yan—also known as Swallow—the girl each man loved, each in his own profound way.

As they unravel their personal stories of the war, and of the woman who touched them so deeply during that unforgiving time, the story of Ah Yan’s life begins to take shape, woven into view by their memories. A woman who had suffered unspeakable atrocities, and yet found the grace and dignity to survive, she’d been the one to bring them together. And it is her spark of humanity, still burning brightly, that gives these ghosts of the past the courage to look back on everything they endured and remember the woman they lost.

Zhang Ling
A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

6. Val McDermid: Past Lying 

Set in Edinburgh, Scotland

Valarie McDermid, 68, is a Scottish crime writer, best known for a series of novels featuring clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Hill, in a grim sub-genre known as Tartan Noir. She has sold over 19 million books to date across the globe and has been translated into more than 40 languages. Learn more about her work here.

Summary: Edinburgh, haunted by the ghosts of its many writers, is also the cold case beat of DCI Karen Pirie. So she shouldn’t be surprised when an author’s manuscript appears to be a blueprint for an actual crime.

Karen can’t ignore the plot’s chilling similarities to the unsolved case of an Edinburgh University student who vanished from her own doorstep. The manuscript seems to be the key to unlocking what happened to Lara Hardie, but there’s a problem: the author died before he finished it.

As Karen digs deeper, she uncovers a spiralling game of betrayal and revenge, where lies are indistinguishable from the truth and with more than one unexpected twist . . .

The Queen of Crime Val McDermid is at the top of her game in her most gripping and fiendishly clever case yet.

Val McDermid
Past Lying by Val McDermid Book Cover

7. Thrity Umrigar: The Museum of Failures 

Set in Bombay/Mumbai

Thrity Umrigar is an Indian-American journalist, critic, and novelist. Born in Bombay, India she came to the U.S. when she was 21. Umrigar is the best-selling author of the novels Bombay Time, The Space Between Us, If Today Be Sweet, The Weight of Heaven, The World We Found, The Story Hour, Everybody’s Son and The Secrets Between Us. Her new novel, Honor, is an Indie Next List Pick for January 2022. Learn more about her work here:

Summary: Published in 2023, The Museum of Failures is an immersive story about family secrets and the power of forgiveness, set in India and the United States.

Remy Wadia left India for the United States long ago, carrying his resentment of his mother with him. He has now returned to Bombay to adopt a baby from a young pregnant girl—and to see his elderly mother for the first time in several years. Discovering that his mother is in the hospital, has stopped talking, and seems to have given up on life, he is struck with guilt for not realizing just how sick she has become.

His unexpected appearance and assiduous attention revive her and enables her to return to her home. But when Remy stumbles on an old photograph, shocking long-held family secrets surface. As the secrets unravel and Remy’s mother begins communicating again, he finds himself re-evaluating his entire childhood, his relationship to his parents, and his harsh judgment of the decisions and events long hidden from him, just as he is on the cusp of becoming a parent himself. But most of all, he must learn to forgive others for their failures and human frailties.

The Museum of Failures is a deeply moving story of secrets and family, and a reminder that forgiveness comes from realizing that the people we love are usually trying to do their best in the most difficult situations.

Thrity Umrigar
The Museum of Failures by Thrity Umrigar Book Cover

8. Kate Grenville: Restless Dolly Maunder 

Set in New South Wales

Kate Grenville, 74, is an Australian author of 15 books, including fiction, non-fiction, biography, and books about the writing process. In 2001, she won the Orange Prize for The Idea of Perfection, and in 2006 she won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for The Secret River, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Summary: Restless Dolly Maunder is longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2024, a Daily Mail novel of the year 2023, and longlisted for Best Fiction in the Indie Book Awards Australia 2024.

Dolly Maunder is born at the end of the nineteenth century, when society’s long-locked doors are just starting to creak ajar for determined women. Growing up in a poor farming family in rural New South Wales, Dolly spends her life doggedly pushing at those doors. A husband and two children do not deter her from searching for love and independence.

Restless Dolly Maunder is a subversive, triumphant tale of a pioneering woman working her way through a world of limits and obstacles, who is able – despite the cost – to make a life she could call her own.

Author Kate Grenville
Restless Dolly Maunder by Kate Grenville Book Cover
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9. Isabel Allende: Violeta

Set in South America

Isabel Allende, 81, is Chilean-American and has been called “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author. Her works sometimes contain aspects of the genre magical realism. In 2004, Allende was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2010, she received Chile’s National Literature Prize. President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Read more about Allende here.

Summary: Published in English in 2022, Violeta tells the story of a daughter born in the1920s to a family of five boisterous sons. From the start, her life is marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth.

Through her father’s prescience, the family will come through that crisis unscathed, only to face a new one as the Great Depression transforms the genteel city life she has known. Her family loses all and is forced to retreat to a wild and beautiful but remote part of the country. There, she will come of age, and her first suitor will come calling.

In a letter to someone she loves above all others, Violeta recounts devastating heartbreak and passionate affairs, times of both poverty and wealth, terrible loss and immense joy, and a life shaped by some of the most important events of history: the fight for women’s rights, the rise and fall of tyrants and, ultimately, not one but two pandemics. Through the eyes of a woman whose unforgettable passion, determination, and sense of humour will carry her through a lifetime of upheaval, Isabel Allende once more brings us an epic that is both fiercely inspiring and deeply emotional.

Author Isabel Allende surrounded by books
Violeta by Isabel Allende Book Cover

10. Ruth Ozeki: A Tale for the Time Being

Set in Canada/Tokyo

Ruth Ozeki, 68, is an American-Canadian author, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. Her books and films, including the novels My Year of Meats (1998), All Over Creation (2003), A Tale for the Time Being (2013), and The Book of Form and Emptiness (2021). To learn more, click here.

Summary: A Tale for the Time Being is set in the wake of the 2011 tsunami. Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home in British Columbia. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes, heartbreak and dreams of a young girl desperate for someone to understand her. Each turn of the page pulls Ruth deeper into the mystery of Nao’s life, and forever changes her in a way neither could foresee.

Weaving across continents and decades, A Tale for the Time Being is an extraordinary novel about our shared humanity and the search for home.

Author Ruth Ozeki
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
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More Books to Inspire You

Tina Hartas studied History of Art and German at University and went on to do an MA in Conservation of Fine Art. She has always loved reading and travel and has delighted in reading novels set in any given location. On a trip to Vienna 15 years ago it proved virtually impossible to trawl the internet and find a book set in the city. Thus the concept of TripFiction was born.


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