I wanted to write a book that celebrates brave, bold women who fight for each other and for what they believe in. In it I wanted to laud the wit and wisdom of older women, their friendships, their voices and the power of their laughter. I also wanted to explore the invisibility that women start to experience as we enter middle-age; it often feels as though people start looking through us, pushing past us and giving us the table by the toilets instead of the one in the window.  Much of this feeling of invisibility is directly linked to the perimenopause and menopause, as if visibility is somehow connected with fertility. When we first get our period there is a whole language about becoming a woman – so what does that make us when our periods stop? As society stops looking at us, we can also risk losing sight of ourselves.  In The Invisible Women’s Club, I wanted to explore the flipside of invisibility enabled by close female friendship. Not only do our friends see us for all that we are and all that we can be, they also help us see ourselves.  

Author Helen Paris (image credit Leslie Hill)

Author Helen Paris (image credit Leslie Hill)

Odd Couples

In the novel we meet 72-year-old Janet Pimm, who loves her allotment plot, but longs for companionship and middle-aged Bev Bytheway, a Scottish midwife who is struggling with the perimenopause and fighting for women’s health care. Janet and Bev are a classic ‘odd couple’. In terms of physicality, personality and life-experience they differ in every way; one is gay, one straight, one married, one single, one a mother, one child free by choice, one retired and one a busy midwife, one is lonely, one is dying to be left alone, one is a desperate optimist the other is just desperate. This set-up makes for misunderstandings and comedy and at the same time enables two very different people to find connection and commonality.

The two women join forces to save Janet’s allotment which is being taken over by dodgy property developers with the help of a corrupt local councillor. They set off on a Thelma & Louise style road trip, but rather than crossing the American desert they drive from the Sussex coast to the Lake District on a quest fraught with obstacles.  Eventually stranded in the wilds of the Cumbrian fells, with a storm coming in and nothing but a gift box of fudge to keep them going, each woman has to save herself and the other.


Both women struggle with feelings of invisibility. At the start of the book Janet craves friendship but as a woman in her seventies, she feels unseen. Eventually she realises that Bev saw her right from the beginning, even when Janet had lost sight of herself.

As well as feeling unseen I think women of a certain age feel unheard / unheeded. During perimenopause and beyond a lot of us feel anger or frustration that can be hard to articulate. In writing the character of Bev I wanted to create a relatable character who struggles with these issues. Ultimately it is Bev’s relationship with Janet that enables her to vocalise the rage she is feeling. ‘Sometimes I just want to throw my head back and roar … I read a magazine article that described a hot flush as an aura. Aura my arse! It’s real, its physical it’s bloody chaotic!’ At one point Bev tugs down the waistband of her trousers revealing the translucent patch stuck on each hip bone, her hormones worn like holsters!

The revolutionary power of female laughter

Humour is such an integral part of female friendships.  There is nothing that cements a friendship more than those laugh-till-you-cry moments. By the time Janet and Bev get theirs they have well and truly earned it, having, amongst other things, survived a night in the wild, shared secrets of grief and betrayal and broken the law by covering the walls of Hastings Council with menopause-themed graffiti. I love the raucousness of female friendships and think there is something revolutionary about women’s laughter. Bridget Christie’s recent TV series The Change does so much work through deploying comedy to break taboos around the menopause, Grace and Frankie does the same for older women and sex/sexuality.


I wanted to explore what the challenges might be and what we can discover in a later-in-life friendship as well as the possibilities of intergenerational friendships. Many of us have treasured friendships with people whose ages differ by decades to either side of our own, a factor which can enrich the ways in which we help and support each other.  Intergenerational friendships allow us to shapeshift and swap preconceived or expected roles and behaviours. As a woman in my 50s I value the wisdom of my friends in their sixties and seventies. I love how they model aging, how they break the rules and make their own, what great advice they give based on their lived experiences. But I also love the moments when they are the ones who exhibit the vim and verve, who try new things, take risks, who are uninhibited and wild. Janet is old enough to be Bev’s mother, but it is Bev who takes on the more maternal role, and in doing so allows Janet to be both vulnerable and reckless. Both women enable each other’s sense of mischief, at different times each takes on the role of the ‘straight woman’ to allow the other to misbehave. ‘Acting one’s age’ can mean any variety of things!

Female Friendship

While social attitudes towards older women can make us feel invisible, our friendships can make us feel seen. Janet is practically immobilised with loneliness but her attempts to find friendship backfire and she feels unlovable. Bev sees Janet for the woman she is. In some ways Bev the midwife delivers Janet back to herself.  She tells her, ‘You are all the women you have ever been, and all those still to come.’ Our friends see us at our worst and always keep the faith, believe in the best of us and for us. Friendships are passionate and built on fidelity and trust. I think we often seek friendships that in some ways complete us – the reason why ‘odd couples’ make a lot of sense. By our friends we are truly seen. They remind us of who we were and have faith in who we can become. And they never lose sight of who we are.

The Invisible Women’s Club by Helen Paris is published by Doubleday (£16.99)

Helen's 'must read book' Released 3rd August 2023

See our preview HERE

 Helen's Bio

HELEN PARIS worked in the performing arts for two decades, touring internationally with her London-based theatre company Curious. After several years living in San Francisco and working as a theatre professor at Stanford University, she returned to the UK to focus on writing fiction.

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