The UK's silver surfers are as tech-savvy as their younger, digitally-aware counterparts, according to new research, with a third now using the Internet and mobile messaging to find love.

Oxford writers William Horwood and Helen Rappaport met online through Dating Direct. Within two months of their first meeting over tea and scones at the Old Parsonage in Oxford, they knew things were serious - they wanted to write a novel together. From such fertile beginnings the thriller Dark Hearts of Chicago was born.

Set in Chicago during the 1893 World Fair, the action takes place over 11 days. Young, ambitious reporter Emily Strauss tricks her way into newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer's office and persuades him to send her on an assignment - to find out what happened to a young Latvian woman, Anna Zemeckis, who has been carted off to the local insane asylum where she is in great danger of being lobotomised.

William has written 16 novels, including the Duncton Wood series, several sequels to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows and a fictionalised memoir, The Boy with No Shoe.

Meanwhile, Helen is a 19th-century historian and expert on the black Crimean nurse Mary Seacole.

Helen (pictured) is in her late 50s, William a little older. He said: "It is the maturity that comes from two older people and life experience that made it possible for us to write the book."

Helen added: "There is a huge amount in both of us that has come through into the book without us probably being able to realise it."

At the time, William lived above Helen in a flat on Woodstock Road, although he has since bought a house nearby. He wrote the first draft and after completing a few thousand words would e-mail it for comment to Helen.

"At the beginning, I was a bit timid about cutting and rewriting William's sacred prose, " Helen said.

He cut in: "She thought I was a genius and then realised I wasn't."

They both feel that working together, as well as being enormous fun, has strengthened their own writing. "It has taught me to look differently at how I write history and to have a greater sense of narrative," Helen said. Meanwhile, William thinks his research skills have improved.

There were clashes. "I would get on to William about violence and he would go on about my repeated use of the word and' at the beginning of sentences," Helen said.

William added: "It is a deeply dispiriting thing to sit weeping over your typewriter and half an hour later to have a hard-nosed modern woman slash the very things that have made you weep."

With 25 per cent of men and women aged over 80 owning a mobile phone, a new generation of over 50s e-flirts' are sweeping the nation, preferring to show their saucy sides to potential partners by e-mail, text and social networking sites.

According to the research, commissioned by Openreach, BT's local network division, and contrary to popular belief, older people are more likely than the under-25s to get flirty on the Internet-based social networking site Facebook.

But, it is not just flirting that the older population choose to do without face-to-face contact: Three per cent would convert the age-old Dear John' dumping letter into a text or e-mail When faced with a difficult situation, one-in-five would avoid telling even their most trusted confidants in person 85 per cent would take the coward's approach, using text or other indirect ways to confess an affair 1.3 million would never admit to making a mistake to someone's face.

Karen Witts, Openreach's managing director of operations said: "What the results of this study really go to show is that age is no barrier when it comes to using modern communications to stay connected - people of all ages are becoming more e-savvy, in all areas of life and love."

Online dating - a success story

After my marriage broke up, I joined a course for the divorced and separated run by Relate. It was a lifeline, because I met a fantastic group of women who are now my friends.

We called ourselves Sad (Separated And Divorced) and met every so often for a drink and to share horror stories about our exes.

It wasn't long before we got round to discussing whether we wanted to meet someone new, and then we started helping each other to compose entries for lonely hearts columns and Internet dating sites.

It was good to compare notes, because the process could be pretty soul-destroying at first, especially as most of us were nursing the wounds of rejection after long relationships.

But we had a bit of a laugh, again sharing horror stories about our unsuitable dates - and we were careful to leave details of where we were going, and to check up on each other.

I met about 20 different men, and corresponded or exchanged phone calls with at least as many again.

Most were very pleasant, but not possible life partners. Then I met M.

I had specified that I was interested in someone who lived within 25 miles of Oxford. He lived 80 miles away, but said he was willing to drive to Oxford.

It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but there was a spark, and I knew that at worst he could become a friend. Reader, I married him.

Of my group of friends, almost all of those who have used dating sites have met a partner.

Funnily enough, those who haven't plunged into the late-in-life dating scene are still single.