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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Sylvie Boulay describes the inspiration to write the the unflinching truth about old age in her fully illustrated new book, Beyond Beige.

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the best creativity magazine in the UK, the best book magazine in the UK, the best arts magazine in the UK, the best entertainment magazine in the UK, the best celebrity magazine in the UK, book marketing UK, book promotion UK, music marketing UK, music promotion UK, film marketing UK, film promotion UK, arts and entertainment magazine, online magazine uk, creativity magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed Sylvie Boulay about her life and career, what inspired her to write her illustrated memoir about her experiences of old age, Beyond Beige, and her creative process.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I am a French woman and was born in Paris in 1951. I came to Britain as soon as I finished secondary school because it was much more fun living in London. I have one daughter and one granddaughter and I am immensely proud of them.

I have had lots of different careers: I have worked in council housing; I trained and worked as a therapist; and my last project has been writing and illustration. I retired 12 years ago from my job in an NHS clinic for people with addiction problems.

Sylvie Boulay on The Table Read Magazin
Sylvie Boulay

I like being on the move – walking, jogging, line dancing and I love drawing cartoons.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I retired early to help look after my baby granddaughter. Being with her was the best thing I ever did but my head was still full of all I had learned in my last job. I was passionate about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and I had the idea of writing a manual to help people stick to their diets using CBT tools. It took years but ‘Take Charge of Your Diet – a self-help workbook using CBT’ was finally published in 2021.

When did you take a step to start writing?

I have always done bits of writing in previous jobs, producing newsletters, manuals or articles in journals so I knew I enjoyed it. When I am writing, I have to do it in my head first. Ideas whizz around and mature while I lie in bed first thing in the morning or when I am walking outside. I make notes but I only start writing properly when the words have firmed up in my brain and I have a clear thread to follow.

I am always a bit disappointed when I start because my words (and my drawings) are always much better in my head than on paper or a screen. But I know that the final product will be hugely different from what I start with, so I plough on.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I am shocked to tell you it took about 10 years from first idea to publishing. That did include about 3 years where I gave up after having little success with agents or publishers. One independent publisher Free Association Press (FAB) did say they liked my manuscript but could not publish it at the time. The tantalising phrase they used was ‘that doesn’t mean we won’t do it later’.

When Covid hit and the dangers of obesity became very clear, I decided to try FAB again and this time they agreed to publish it.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

With my second book Beyond Beige, it only took about 18 months. From my 70th birthday onwards, ideas for a book about women’s old age kept bursting into my brain, usually in the form of cartoon strips. I started drawing them to amuse myself and my friends.

After about 3 months, I had a huge folder of cartoons. In January 23, I pasted everything together into a very rough draft and took it to Alice Solomons the publishing director of FAB. I knew she would give me valuable advice but I had no hope she would want to publish it because it was different from the usual FAB books. She said she had always wanted to publish an illustrated book and she liked my draft. We agreed a deadline of June 23 for the first draft and publication in February 24. It is just as well it happened quickly or I might have lost my nerve!

Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write Beyond Beige?

When I turned 70 a couple of years ago, I felt as if I had suddenly tipped into the world of old women. I could still function in the world of young people but I felt like a guest who didn’t really belong. My body started to change and people treated me differently. I suddenly became invisible and I had lots of weird and funny experiences. Ideas came to me in pictures and I started to draw them. When I had a folder full of drawings, I decided to make an illustrated book about my adventures in this new life.

What were your biggest challenges with writing Beyond Beige?

The hardest challenge was making the transition from pen, paper and rubber to digital drawing on my new iPad. It took me months to get the hang of it and by the time I had improved, I had to go back to the beginning and redraw my earlier cartoons. And this time I had to try and make the layout work so that text and drawings matched. Fortunately, the typesetter ironed out my mistakes.

What was your research process for Beyond Beige?

Beyond Beige by Sylvie Boulay on The Table Read Magazine
Beyond Beige by Sylvie Boulay

I read every book I could find on women’s old age to make sure no one had already written what was in my head. I could find nothing similar. Then I talked to all my friends to see what issues were the most pressing for them. I was surprised that they didn’t share very much until I showed them my first drafts.

How did you plan the structure of Beyond Beige?

It happened naturally. I filed away all my drawings in a concertina folder under different headings – brain fog, depression, anxiety, toilet issues and very soon I had my structure. I wrote about the topics that were taking the most space in my head and in my folder.

Much later I realised that I needed to include more personal stories about my childhood to make sense of my experiences.  As a therapist, I also had to include coping strategies. I finished with death and last words because that seemed the most obvious ending.

Did you get support with editing and how much editing did Beyond Beige need?

I had a huge amount of support. Firstly, with my drawings. A friend recommended a young cartoonist, Sabina Godalyova, who agreed to give me one to one cartooning tuition for over a year. Checking my drawings with her was invaluable.

I also showed each draft of my book to friends whom I trusted to be honest. I did a lot of revisions to make sure what I wrote made sense and fitted with other women’s experience.

Finally, Alice Solomons from FAB edited several versions and suggested changes. All in all, there was even more editing than was the case with my first book.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

I can’t choose just one, so here are my three pieces of advice: the first is ‘Trust yourself: if you are passionate about an idea, your passion will be contagious’.

Secondly, ‘Find some way of being crystal clear about what you are writing about. It might take a while to get that clarity but once you have it, you can persuade everyone’.

Thirdly, and this is the boring bit, ‘Check and double check your work’. I managed to find one uncorrected typo in my printed book and I have stopped looking in case there are more!

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I put everything I had and more into Beyond Beige and it will take me a couple of years to recover. I hope I live long enough to get my energy back and have another go. I am not worried about having inspiration because I have found that the ideas just pour in when I am looking for them!

And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes, I am very proud of myself and particularly of my improved ability to use technology! There is nothing like the joy of receiving the advanced copies in the post and holding a small pile of your own book in your hands.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Beyond Beige



Take Charge Of Your Diet

Apple Books:



Ortus Press, Free Association Books


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