Are you too old to be a successful author?

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There are days when I feel utterly ancient.

Now, some of the scarily young folk reading will absolutely agree with this image of me. I am, after all, 45. I’m not particularly fit – I spend way too much time tapping at the keys of my old friend Dominic Silverstreak* to be in good enough shape to run for the bus, let alone a marathon, a half-marathon or even a 10K.

Mind, being blobby and bookish from a young age I was never going to be a Nadia Comaneci or an Olga Korbut. Let’s face it, I was never gonna make it to the heady heights of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards.**

I’ve got flat feet and a mild case of sciatica which means I have to do a fair old range of physiotherapy exercises just to keep trucking. My hair’s greying and my sagging face makes it look like I’m gradually melting in front of a three bar fire.

All of this is okay.

I’m vain enough to feel a faint wistfulness at the loss of taut, glowing skin, at the black shadows that will just NEVER vanish no matter how much sleep I get or how much concealer I smear on them. But I’m not vain enough to worry about being an invisible middle-aged lady too much.

Give me a few million quid and I wouldn’t have plastic surgery – no, seriously, I wouldn’t. Like tattoos, having your face cut up and stretched is addictive and I don’t want to look like certain people in the public eye – you know, that caught-in-a-wind-tunnel-eternally-surprised-mannequin look.

I’m happy for my life to be written across my face, even if that face is starting to resemble my Nan’s.

What is disappointing is how late I’ve come to something I love, something which is now so deeply entrenched in my life I don’t think I’ll ever be able to dig myself out of it. No, it’s not the ferret juggling, naked spelunking or my collection of plastic coffee stirrers.

It’s writing.

Sometimes I become down-hearted. I’ll read an interview of a young writer – a published, successful young writer – who claims to have known from the second they emerged as a mucus-smeared whelp from their mother’s womb that they were going to be an author.

You must’ve read these yourself.

‘I’ve always known I wanted to write,’ they burble, going on to explain how their first novel was published before they were potty trained and that sales have now passed the five million mark. Caitlin Moran is one such person. Don’t get me wrong, I love her – she’s clever, sharp, witty. She also published her first book and became a rock journalist at the age of sixteen – this girl was an early bloomer.

It’s not that I resent her for that – much.

But I spent years convincing myself that no-one who worked in an off-licence or as an apprentice hairdresser or as a florist wrote books. Writers have parents who are writers or at least lecturers. Writers are from families who eat at the dinner table, not huddled round the TV. Writers eat proper vegetables with their Shepherd’s Pie, not baked beans. All rubbish, of course, but it’s easy to convince yourself that some jobs are special, out of the ordinary and done by ‘other people’.

For all the amazing, confident young people who start pre-school with a publishing contract tucked in their training pants, there are the rare others, from whom I take heart and courage. These are the ones I think of when another birthday comes round and I still don’t have a published novel to my name. These are the ones that make me think I’m not too late.

Celebrate with me, the writers who came to writing success later in life.

Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first Little House on the Prairie book until the age of 64.

William S. Burroughs published his first book at the age of 39, motivated to write ‒ he claimed ‒ after shooting his wife dead.

Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes wasn’t published until he’d turned 66.

Charles Bukowski quit his job at a post office to write full time at the age of 49. He’d previously only had a couple of short stories published.

The queen of all late developers, Mary Wesley, published her first novel at the age of 70 and went on to become one of this nation’s most popular authors, selling three million books.

Finally, and by no means leastly, Catherine Cookson published her first book at the age of 44. Taking up writing as therapy to help her recover from a devastating illness, she wrote historical novels set in the North East of England and was hugely popular – for years she was the most borrowed author in British libraries.

Her writing – often dramatic, always female-ccentric and read mainly by women – has been critically much-maligned, but she had a grit and social conscience to her characters and settings that raised her stories way above the slushy Mills and Boon/ Barbara Cartland fare. Maybe it was her popularity and productivity which went against her – she wrote nearly 100 books before she died aged 91, selling 123million copies.

She would have been 109 last Saturday.

Ms Cookson, I salute you. And along with all the other successful late-bloomers, thanks for giving this old girl something to aspire to.


*My love – my laptop.

**For those of you not old enough or British enough to know who I mean, Eddie represented us at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics – at the ski jump. Not an event we’re known for – and after Eddie’s performance, still not an event we’re known for!

For a short reappraisal of Cookson’s work see this article, claiming she’s the missing link between Dickens and Irvine Welsh!

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27 thoughts on “Are you too old to be a successful author?

  1. You have to have lived before you have anything worth writing about. The oldies are always more interesting, however pretty (sorry, I mean devastatingly witty and knowing) the youngsters may seem. There’s a lyric to an old folksong which I often think of “Gold is spent/ And looks will blast/And she’ll come a poor girl/ Like me at last.” It’s about words, you see, not looks and publishers and other salespeople don’t like words; think they can’t sell them. So hang in there, however long it takes!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lynn,
    You have reviewed so many famous authors in one post- I like Laura I Wilder too but her stories are so sad- sad mixed with happy. I am familiar with none of the others, so thanks for sharing .
    I hope to see you in print soon. I am 46 but hope at some time to have at least one publication with me as a first author. Keeping fingers crossed. At least we have dreams- think of those who have stopped dreaming.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Susie, how are you? Glad to see I’m in good company 🙂 A positive thing about society today is that our life expectancy is so much higher than in the past. People once had to fit so much into such a short time, knowing they might not live past thirty five! If we live to Mary Wesley’s age we’ve got another 45 years to make our writing careers 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was really nice to read and also very helpful 🙂
    I am 23 and freshly graduated architect. but in past 5 years I realized I don’t want to be that I want to write. I have a long long road ahead of me and I have just taken the first step I think… I am not even sure if I’ll ever be able to do that… but reading this made me feel good 🙂
    Best of Luck to you!! I love your writing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi and thanks Nooryak. 23? You’ve got a ton of time to establish yourself. I think you’ve done a great thing, actually, because you’ve got a good qualification which you can use while you write in your spare time. Brilliant. And your writing is great – good luck with all of it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I got my book deal on my 45th birthday a couple months ago,. My husband was 50 when his acclaimed book “Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West” was published. Sure, I would’ve preferred to have an earlier start but I’m at peace with being a latecomer for the most part.

    Since I’ve wanted this opportunity since I was seven, it’s awfully sweet to have a 38 year-old dream come to fruition.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a wonderfully inspiring, amazing story. Many congratulations to both of you. So lovely. Well done and may you have many more publishing successes. I can add you to my list now 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks so much, Lynn, for your kind reply! Perhaps age 45 is really the new….whatever we want it to be! 😉 p.s. forgive the stilted nature of my comment – I pecked it out on my Kindle while working out on my elliptical machine – it’s a bad habit, but I couldn’t resist responding!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well done for the impressive multi-tasking. A published author and a super-fit lady too! As you say, 45 should be the new 25 – it’s official 🙂

        Like

      3. I don’t recommend doing what I did on the elliptical – it’s an accident waiting to happen! (I used to be a certified personal trainer so shame on me for promoting a dangerous habit!) But sometimes, ah, well, your blog inspired me to write immediately – I couldn’t wait, so it was a compliment to *you* & your writing!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sreejit for the kind comments. There are a lot of us ‘older’ authors around, and why not? We’re only improving as writers as we age and gain more experience. Let’s take courage from those who went before and absolutely go for it. Best of luck 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You’re never to old to write and never too old to be a successful author. Suzanne Collins started writing at 29 but didn’t become successful until the age of 46. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until she was 44 and it took her 20 years before she became a successful author. Ernest Hemingway started writing at 16 but didn’t reach success until he was 53. There’s some perseverance for you. Age is irrelevant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know that about Suzanne Collins – fantastic. I love those stories – I should make a huge list of authors who weren’t successful until their forties and pin it to the wall where I write for those days when I’m feeling ancient – so everyday, then

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      1. I’m right there with you. I’m in my 40s as well. Have been writing since I was 15 but didn’t have my first book published until May of this year. No success stories yet, but at least I bit the bullet and put my work out there. Patience and courage. Being an introvert, it took a lot for me to expose myself to the world like that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well done you! Fantastic you took that step. I’ve not been brave enough yet. Looked at your ‘Scrubs’ page – what a great idea for a novel. Best of luck with it. I know, it’s amazing how many writers are natural introverts – we’d all rather stay home and tap at the keys than go out and promote our writing. If only!

        Liked by 1 person

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