It used to be a club no one wanted to be part of. But a new book, Still Hot!, shows a generation of menopausal and perimenopausal women are changing that – and showing how the menopause is not just one story, but many.

“We’ve got to get rid of this whole idea,” Kirsty Wark told me, “that you’re this dry old stick and that menopause is some kind of passage into a dark world of age and debilitation. I do think there is still a silence. There’s that quiet speaking, behind the hand, “She’s put on a bit of weight, not doing so well, menopausal . . .” We need to get rid of that.”

In recent years more and more high-profile women have been coming out of the menopausal closet and Wark, with her excellent 2017 BBC documentary, The Menopause And Me, was a trailblazer, as has been Lorraine Kelly. But there’s still a sense that the Big M is a conversation that occurs mostly below the radar. No one tells you it will be like this. No one really prepares you for it. One of the reasons Kaye Adams and I published Still Hot! – 42 brilliantly honest menopause stories – was because we felt that there were still not enough stories out there about this phase in life. Most of the books on the menopause are memoirs of individuals or semi-medical advice books. We felt the menopause, too often, was treated, in our culture, like one-size-fits-all tale of hot-flushes, when in fact the ways in which it is experienced are hugely diverse.

We were not alone in thinking the menopause needs more attention. It felt, this autumn, that we were part of an energetic wave of new voices talking about a part of life that has so often been dismissed, ignored and shamed. New books like Meg Matthews’ The New Hot, Sam Baker’s excellent The Shift and Amanda Thebe’s inspiring Menopocalypse.

But there was also backlash too – high profile voices say that women should stop talking about the menopause. For there is still some sense of shame, as I discovered in my interviews for the book, attached to it – and that shame rubs off on everyone. Kaye herself bravely confessed that she had long been a “menopause denier”. She observed, “I only realised in hindsight . . . that I was (and probably still am) a menopause denier. The word held such negative connotations; of a woman who was “past her best”, “over-ripe”, “surplus to requirements”, “irrelevant”.”

Pippa Marriott, a teacher, interviewed for Still Hot!, recalled that amongst leadership at her school there was a shaming and embarrassment around the menopause which she was once part of. "There was a real element of not wanting to be associated with the menopause and the whole baggage of stuff attached." In the end her struggles with brain fog, insomnia and anxiety contributed to her early retirement.

One of the reasons that we gathered together the 42 voices was because we recognised that the menopause is not just one story, but many. If we want to make lives better for those going through its many complex variations, we need to share more stories. We need to take the revolution that has already been started by others and spread it wide. We need to make it a conversation that really feels like it is for all – whatever your symptoms, whatever your life experience, your ethnicity, your age, your fertility history, your sexuality, your gender identity.

Because the one-dimensional image we have in our culture is not enough. As psychotherapist Tania Glyde told us, many LGBTQ+ people find the public narrative around the menopause too “heteronormative” and “clichéd”. This, Bunny Cook, a trans and nonbinary actor, observed, can leave those who feel excluded from that narrative, excluded from help.

Many of the voices in Still Hot! are high-profile figures already on a mission to end the silence – Lorraine Kelly, Louise Minchin, Dr Louise Newson, Trinny Woodall, Sayeeda Warsi, Angie Greaves. Others are people with stories that clearly need telling, need broadcasting from the rooftops. I was left moved, tearful, angry, uplifted, in awe – by so many of the interviews.

These are people who shifted my sense of what the menopause is – and reminded me of the way it arrives in so many forms, with such variety of symptoms, knotted up with so many different versions of life experience.

From the start, I knew a book about the menopause would be not just about the menopause. It would speak of childbirth, not having children, gender identity, femininity, ageing and the thread that weaves back through our lives right to our first period, of shame and repression. It’s about coming out the other end of that fertility journey, whatever we have done with what our unruly bodies have provided us with, and wondering whether you could have lived your life some other way – whether you have even properly engaged with it. In a society without shame around periods and sex might you have had a whole different journey?

One of the themes that kept cropping up was desire and desirability – whether one is “still hot” – and the title for this book was actually inspired by a joke seen circulating on the internet, the single line, “I’m still hot – it just comes in flushes.” There were many different thoughts on the question of hotness. While some revelled in their continuing sexiness, others seemed glad to throw off the shackles of desirability, to break out of the cage of sexual objectification. As childlessness campaigner Jody Day put it, “What about not being hot at sixty? What about being comfortable and dumpy? I’m planning to embrace my inner Miss Marple as I get older.”

In doing these interviews I came to appreciate that how we feel about the menopause varies almost as much as the symptoms. I was one of those who hadn’t seen it coming and, when it arrived for me at 45, not long after the death of my brother, wasn’t ready for it. I felt that something suddenly had been stolen from me. There was none of that relief at the end of periods – only a desire to have them back. It wasn’t so much that I wanted any more of my fertility – I felt blessed to have two lovely sons but, like the loss of my brother, this was a death too early, too soon, too unexpected, too uncontemplated.

But that shock pales by comparison with those who were thrown it much earlier. I was tear-struck talking with those who took that blow in their thirties. For singer Michelle Heaton, fire service official Sahira Ahmad Belcher and RAF officer Andrea Macfarlane, the journey was made still lonelier by the fact that they were embarking on it outside their peer group, and at an age when the assumption is that they might still be fertile, when they might have hoped of another child.

And even if menopause arrives, as if on schedule, between 45 and 55 years old it can still deliver a blow of grief, particularly if it brings a brutal finality to unwanted childlessness.

One of the things that struck me was how the menopause doesn’t exist on its own. Our experience of it, and even our hormonal balance as we go through it, is affected by what goes on in our lives. As actor and voiceover artist Nimmy March put it, the menopause gets “woven through” our life events.

The stories that hit me most are the ones that touched on some of the biggest taboos. We may all be up for talking about rage and brain fog, but are we really up for a frank discussion about sex post-menopause? It was almost a relief to hear sex expert Tracey Cox’s admission that even she, highly sexed as she once was, has felt her libido drop through the floor.

Jane Lewis, a former horse rider, told us how the pain of vaginal atrophy left her so low she felt suicidal. "The burning," she said, "was like sitting on a bonfire and if you bent over you felt like you were going to split open." Vaginal atrophy is believed to affect at least 70 percent, or perhaps more, of menopausal women.

But the story is not all gloom. As some women said to me, menopause can be a superpower. It can be the thing that tips us over from ticking along into being life-seekers. We saw that again and again in these stories. Faced with anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of control, Louise Minchin takes up triathlon, Erica Clarkson starts running her Meno Ultras, Trinny Woodall reinvents herself as a make-up entrepreneur.

For almost everyone in Still Hot!, it seemed the menopause really was a transition from one self to another – a journey. The author Sharon Blackie observed, “Menopause is about going inside. It’s really about taking the time to go inside and figure out what on earth this is all for."

The menopause can all too easily divide us, as so many experiences in women’s lives can. Are you a taking HRT or toughing it out to become a wise old crone? Sharing stories can help break down divisions – it can help us see what we have in common in the often difficult passage of the menopause.

Most of the big feminist revolutions of recent times have involved such sharing. We have seen the impact of MeToo, the power of Know My Name, as well as the fight against period poverty and the lifting of period shame through story-sharing.

The menopause needs its own movement. It already has one, burgeoning and growing, almost a twin to the movement around period shame and period poverty.

Our hope is that our book of stories will make others join the conversation – even those not actually in menopause. For this hormonal upheaval is not something just experienced by women on their own, but by all those around them. It is something that all of us who float in this human sea of clashing hormones are touched by in some way. Let’s not let it pass silently. Let’s roar the M-word from the rooftops. Let’s overshare.

Lorraine Kelly, television presenter

“It was on a holiday in Cordoba, Spain, that it hit me that there was something wrong. I just felt flat. I think probably I’d ignored some signs – and maybe I was feeling a little bit more tired. But, you know, you’re permanently tired if you work on breakfast telly. You get used to it. It becomes your natural state really. But this was almost like I went over a cliff. I think it had been building up – and I felt like I lost myself.

It is awful when you lose yourself, you lose that sense of who you are. It’s really scary and I can understand why a lot of women and a lot of GPs misdiagnose, saying that it’s depression or anxiety. Yes, it is actually. But it’s because you’re going through this change – it’s depression caused by the menopause and what you need to do is treat the menopause and not the depression.”

Melissa Wall, powerlifter

“There were horrific night sweats where I was literally soaked. I would wake up drenched with a little river running down my chest. I actually wrecked our mattress because there was this sweat patch where my body was.

In the middle of all this, at about 47, I started powerlifting. My husband was a serving officer in the army and he was away a lot. The kids had grown up and left home. I was working full-time and I was into exercise. It was like a perfect storm. I had that “me-time”, which my mum and my granny, that generation didn’t have, and it was something I’d always thought I would do – take that time, use it.”

Baroness Warsi, politician

“Probably the most difficult thing for me is what I call head fog, the inability to think quickly and clearly. That ability was something I’d always taken for granted and I saw it as the basis for much of my success. I felt as an advocate, long before politics, that was who I am.

And because I felt I was losing that ability to articulate quickly and clearly and coherently and use language well, to use wit, all of that, I felt I was starting to lose a part of me that was integral to my personality.

I remember my daughter turning around to me one day and saying, “We need to find the Baroness Warsi again.”

What she was effectively saying was that we needed to find that publicly strong, independent, kick-ass, out-there woman again.

I did find that Baroness Warsi again. The fog did clear.”

Julie Graham, actress and creator of the comedy drama Dun' Breedin

“I thought it was post-traumatic stress. The weird thing was, at that point, I was doing a job I really loved and I was with people I really loved and I’d met a new partner. So, ostensibly on the outside, everything seemed to be going great and I should have been over the moon and happy about things and moving on and all that sort of stuff. But I would just wake up with this feeling of dread. I never properly got the hot flushes. Well, I did to a certain extent in that I was much hotter than I usually am. But I would just get this uncontrollable rage. Oh my God, it would be disproportionate to the thing that had made me angry. The first time I had it I’d dropped something on my foot and it hurt and instead of going, “Ah, that f***ing hurt,” I just went into this rage. It tipped me over.”

Val McDermid, author

“The menopause almost passed without me noticing. There was this sudden realisation that I hadn’t had a period for three months and I remember thinking, 'Oh, is that it?'

I don’t remember having anything particularly disruptive except I did have some strange head sweats. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I would break into a sweat – just my head. My hair would be dripping wet and it would last a few minutes and then stop... That was the only real physical symptom that I felt that I had.

I’ve always been very sanguine about the idea of ageing. I think it’s the one war you can’t win. It happens. So I didn’t feel a sense of mourning my young self. Also I didn’t have the biological clock thing that so many women speak of. I didn’t have that biological imperative at all, so I didn’t feel that I’d lost anything.”

Angie Greaves, radio presenter

"I call the menopause Puberty Part Two. It’s very, very simple: Puberty Part One, you start your periods, Puberty Part Two, you stop. I came up with that phrase because I felt that menopause sounded like something so sad, dark and final."

Words extracted from Still Hot! by Kaye Adams and Vicky Allan, published by Black and White