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Daily journals about getting old plant seed for Long Melford artist's debut novel about 'powerful underground society of older women'




After realising her daily ritual of journalling during lockdown was turning into rants about getting older, artist Sherry Tolputt wondered if there was the crux of a “funny and ironic story to give all middle-aged women hope”.

The result is her first book, a satirical crime novel titled The Feral Women’s Institute, which tells the story of a powerful underground society of older women.

Having made a career in illustration and graphic design for more than 30 years, the Long Melford resident said the original idea for the book came to her several years ago, but she never pursued it further.

Westgate Street, Long Melford, SuffolK. Artist Sherry Tolputt has published her first ever novel, The Feral Women’s Institute, which she wrote during lockdown. Picture by Mark Westley. (46657566)
Westgate Street, Long Melford, SuffolK. Artist Sherry Tolputt has published her first ever novel, The Feral Women’s Institute, which she wrote during lockdown. Picture by Mark Westley. (46657566)

It was not until the coronavirus lockdown last March, when Sherry joined the Writer’s Hour initiative, set up by the London Writer’s Salon to encourage people to write every morning, that all of the stars were aligned.

“Last year was my most creative year ever,” she told the Free Press. “There was not really anything else to do, and I produced a new piece of artwork every day.

“In the past, I wrote things just to amuse myself, but it would always end up parked on a hard drive somewhere.

Westgate Street, Long Melford, SuffolK. Artist Sherry Tolputt has published her first ever novel, The Feral Women’s Institute, which she wrote during lockdown. Picture by Mark Westley. (46657564)
Westgate Street, Long Melford, SuffolK. Artist Sherry Tolputt has published her first ever novel, The Feral Women’s Institute, which she wrote during lockdown. Picture by Mark Westley. (46657564)

“It was not until lockdown that it became such a habit of writing my thoughts down every day. It’s a way to empty your head in the morning.

“The idea had been bouncing around my head for a while. I thought I’d quite like it if it were real – the world being run by older women.

“As the days went by and I was doing my journalling during lockdown, I realised I was ranting quite a bit about getting older.

Westgate Street, Long Melford, SuffolK. Artist Sherry Tolputt has published her first ever novel, The Feral Women’s Institute, which she wrote during lockdown. Picture by Mark Westley. (46657565)
Westgate Street, Long Melford, SuffolK. Artist Sherry Tolputt has published her first ever novel, The Feral Women’s Institute, which she wrote during lockdown. Picture by Mark Westley. (46657565)

“The idea began to come together and I thought, what if I flipped this on its head and turned it into a superpower?”

Sherry, who lives in Westgate Street, explained that The Feral Women’s Institute explores themes of the value and power of female connection, and the characters’ ability to hide in plain view and speak without being heard.

Among the ideas in the novel, which includes illustrations, are the characters’ special gadgets, such as a device called the ‘flashmewhatsit’, which they use to harvest the energy from their hot flashes, in order to charge their phones and power their electric cars.

“I specifically wrote it for my friends, who are all middle-aged and above,” she added. “We were all in need of a laugh. It was my way of flipping on its head the feeling you get when you turn 40 and start to feel a bit invisible.”

“Writing a novel was all new to me, but I got a lot of help from other people in the Writer’s Hour, about how to structure a novel.

“It was a process a bit like sculpture. I had this great rambling epic and you start thinking, what have I got here?

“In my sketchbook, it looked a bit like the diary of a crazy woman, but, eventually, you get to the heart of what you really want to say.

“I wanted to celebrate being old. There are groups of middle-aged and older women doing amazing things quietly all over the world, and I wanted to celebrate that.”

The Feral Women’s Institute is now on sale via Amazon in paperback and e-book form. Limited edition hardback copies can be purchased from Sherry’s website at www.thevitaleddy.com.