Life Raft: Sam Baker on life over 40, a woman's fuck you to patriarchy

Posted by Mairi Oliver on

One of the highlights of a bumper month of new books, has been The Shift, the insightful, inspired, unapologetic new book from Sam Baker! A vital new chapter in our feminist conversations - an essential manifesto for any cis woman staring the second half of their lives in the face and wondering, WTF?
Here to set the scene, is Sam Baker celebrated author, magazine editor & co-founder of The Pool, reading from The Shift.


Want to hear more? So did we! Sam generously let Mairi pick her brain about the book for our #LighthouseLifeRaft - here's that interview for you!

In a recent review The Shift was celebrated as ‘menopause memoir’, but I felt it had a more of a ‘call to arms’ quality- how do you see the book, and who were you hoping it would reach?
TBH I don’t see The Shift as a menopause memoir at all - I had to try not to be offended by that - I see it as a memoir, a manifesto, a call to arms about a time of women’s lives that have hitherto been at best ignored and at worst completely trashed, a series of essays and stories about a time in women’s lives whose time has come. (If that all makes sense?!)


It totally does! And it does go some way to answering my next question  about why the word ‘Menopause’ doesn’t actually appear on the cover of the book and indeed is only one of a list of topics listed in the blurb.

See above! That’s why the word menopause doesn’t appear on the cover - because there is only one chapter about the actual menopause (or perimenopause, to be more accurate) and its symptoms. It’s more that menopause is a narrative strand in the book, as is mental health. This is a book about what it’s like to be a woman in her late 40s and beyond in the 21st century. That’s also why I spoke to so many other women - over 50 - to get as wide a variety of experience as possible.

How do you think your career shaped your approach to writing this book? What do you think a book can offer on the topic that a series of articles might not do? 

My career as a journalist definitely shaped my approach - I’m not great at writing about myself so my immediate response was to research research research, interview interview interview - then include the memoir elements to kick off each chapter. What I have always loved about editing magazines is that to do it properly IMHO you have to get yourself inside the head of your reader to really understand and address their concerns. That’s what I tried to do here too.

You also have a podcast for The Shift, which is fantastic by the way, how do you see it in relation to the book?

The podcast The Shift (on life over 40) with Sam Baker, compliments the book. Originally it was meant to launch in the spring but lockdown put paid to that. I’m really interested in women’s stories, what makes them tick, what they care about, how they cope - the podcast is more of a long form deep dive into the life post-40 of one woman per episode. There may be a subsequent book in that, who knows?!

You put so much of yourself into the book, from trauma to rage and sweaty knickers, was there anything you struggled to or worried about sharing?

Writing about the trauma was hard, of course, but it almost made its own mind up that it was coming out the second I sat down to write that chapter (Bravery), Ultimately it would have felt dishonest not to go there. The truth is, my experience of PTSD and finally, thirty years on, having treatment to address it, was not only integral to my “journey” (sorry) to where I am now in my life, but also the conclusion of the narrative. If it helps one person confront their own experience then it will have been worth it.

If the book could prompt one major shift in the way society treats menopausal women, what would you want that to be?

Stop ignoring us! Its a waste of talent and experience, apart from anything else. But if The Shift achieves anything I hope it will be that women themselves will stop being so terrified of ageing and start shouting about it.

I hope so too! So to all the would-be readers out there, buy the book, read the book, gift this book.

End note - from Mairi

As a cis woman in my thirties, I'll be honest and say it came as a surprise how profoundly this book spoke to me. Sam lifted the curtain on a future and experience that I was only distantly aware of, given context only by my mother's -mostly hidden- experience of menopause. 


A couple of years ago I read Mother by Sarah Knott - as someone who doesn’t want children of my own, I had (stupidly) picked it up thinking ‘this isn’t really a book for me’ but was convinced to read it because a regular insisted I would love it. It totally blew my world open. It was such an extraordinary journey as a reader, and as a woman, to discover our foremothers, their realities and struggles and legacies in a human, complex, unromanticised light that queered, recast and celebrated the many types of mothering that brought us to today.

I was buoyed by the book, but also angry this history and knowledge had been largely kept from me, even within feminism. Sam's book did that to me all over again. It's so engaging and readable and candid, and in many places as funny as it is revealing.


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