Writers Over 40...

How did it take me so long?!

Know thyself… by writing your first novel

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ChrisLewando

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Feb 13, 2018
West Cork, Ireland
Soap Box would be a good heading tag, wouldn't it? I'm climbing up...

Why are people are amazed that someone over 40 can write a first novel? People over 40 might actually have something interesting to say, and people under 30 these days often haven't, like, developed skills in communication, like, judging by the ones I meet at the degree factory, like, if y'know what I mean.

I recall the furore when Bertha Wood started writing her Memoir at 90, found a publisher when she was about 97 and it was published when she was around 100. Now, good for her, but why the three year delay if the work was so hot? I also recall that her advanced age generated a bidding war, and the lucky winner paid the highest advance to date for the work, of which they had only been allowed a glance at the first chapter, (clever agent!) only to find it was so badly written they had to employ someone to make it publishable. I suspect they had to spend a lot more on advertising to get the thing on the shelves in order to minimise the hit and salvage their pride.

A lot of people come to their 'art' late because of the necessity of earning a living, not through lack of talent - though it's quaintly referred to as one's little hobby at that stage, a bit like basket weaving as occupational therapy. Having a mortgage, family, and kids doesn't just tire you, it destroys your creativity. OK, no-one makes you have kids, it's nature's black joke, the biological imperative, but you only find out the hard way that you don't come out the other side of either kids or full time employment with your health or sanity intact. Many people explore skills after retirement that they didn't have the opportunity to indulge in prior to that - take a look at the amazing artist, Beryl Cook, who didn't start painting till she was a grandmother.

Writing novels is more a compulsion than a career choice, and for those of us not lucky enough to be financially supported by others, it's damned hard work fitting it in.

OK, rant over.
 
Yup, I'm with you there. I can only write by getting up very early and squeezing out a few paragraphs before everyone else gets up; and then the day-job takes over until I pick up the kids from school. Hence the glacial pace of my output.
 
Yup, I'm with you there. I can only write by getting up very early and squeezing out a few paragraphs before everyone else gets up; and then the day-job takes over until I pick up the kids from school. Hence the glacial pace of my output.
Ditto!
Soap Box would be a good heading tag, wouldn't it? I'm climbing up...

Why are people are amazed that someone over 40 can write a first novel? People over 40 might actually have something interesting to say, and people under 30 these days often haven't, like, developed skills in communication, like, judging by the ones I meet at the degree factory, like, if y'know what I mean.

I recall the furore when Bertha Wood started writing her Memoir at 90, found a publisher when she was about 97 and it was published when she was around 100. Now, good for her, but why the three year delay if the work was so hot? I also recall that her advanced age generated a bidding war, and the lucky winner paid the highest advance to date for the work, of which they had only been allowed a glance at the first chapter, (clever agent!) only to find it was so badly written they had to employ someone to make it publishable. I suspect they had to spend a lot more on advertising to get the thing on the shelves in order to minimise the hit and salvage their pride.

A lot of people come to their 'art' late because of the necessity of earning a living, not through lack of talent - though it's quaintly referred to as one's little hobby at that stage, a bit like basket weaving as occupational therapy. Having a mortgage, family, and kids doesn't just tire you, it destroys your creativity. OK, no-one makes you have kids, it's nature's black joke, the biological imperative, but you only find out the hard way that you don't come out the other side of either kids or full time employment with your health or sanity intact. Many people explore skills after retirement that they didn't have the opportunity to indulge in prior to that - take a look at the amazing artist, Beryl Cook, who didn't start painting till she was a grandmother.

Writing novels is more a compulsion than a career choice, and for those of us not lucky enough to be financially supported by others, it's damned hard work fitting it in.

OK, rant over.
Totally agree with you! I'm now 57 and only started seriously writing about 3 years ago.
 
It is only now, when I have semi-retired, that I have the time to devote to what can be a very time consuming hobby.
I don't think age is a barrier and a lifetime's worth of experiences helps to create interesting fiction.
 
We may get wrinkly, but on the up side, age adds wisdom and experience, ready to be used in our writing. So far I'm doing well on the wrinkle front and the experience part isn't going badly either, but I'm still waiting for wisdom. Despite being in my late 40s, I don't seem to have learnt a thing. As for kids: How anyone who has kids manages to write, I don't know. But they deserve an award. I can't even begin to imagine when they would find time, let alone the inner space. Creativity needs so much uncrowded brain power. Difficult with jobs and kids methinks. I'm kid free so in theory should have more time, but with two jobs ...

I feel that writing is one of the few creative professions where being over 40 isn't against us. I hope it stays that way. We just have to fight harder to find time to do it.
 
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I've previously commented on ageism in publishing, and to this day I'm unsure how much age affects one's marketability as an author. In these politically correct times, no literary agent or publisher would ever admit that they'd discriminate against a debut writer who was older than them. Yet, it's impossible to not notice how skewed the staff of literary agencies and their rosters of clients are towards the young and good-looking. Some of the mugshots of author clients look similar to modelling agencies. Being photogenic helps. How long before wannabe authors are seeking facelifts, Botox injections and hair transplants? :rolleyes:
 
Although my mother wrote all her life, she didn't have any major success until she was in her 40s. She doggedly continued to write while bringing up three kids, because she wanted to make sure that she would have a life after we'd all left home. She carried on writing and being published until her 80s, when she was destroyed by a form of dementia called progressive aphasia (loss of words). Although in her youth she was very pretty, she would have been horrified at the idea of having to be marketed and sold on her looks as well as her books. She and my father lived in their heads and often seemed surprised to find that they did actually have bodies too. I'm grateful she did carry on writing, not least because we are still benefiting from the odd royalty cheque (thanks mum).

I seem to remember someone on Litopia had an unpleasant dealing with an agent because of her looks/age or something. I could be wrong, though. Shocking if its true.
 
Unless it’s particularly obvious from the way you write or your address is a care home I can’t see how any prospective agent or publisher is going to know how old you are! Not unless you tell them :)
 
I was first published 7 years ago, at age 53. :) Stuff and nonsense that age has anything to do with it

With you there Carol , I am even older . golly .. 60+ and for the first time I have an agent interested, although by the amount of changes I have been have making I think I have written a new novel ;). It may come to nowt, but |I can honestly say I have never written with more energy ...
 
I've previously commented on ageism in publishing, and to this day I'm unsure how much age affects one's marketability as an author. In these politically correct times, no literary agent or publisher would ever admit that they'd discriminate against a debut writer who was older than them. Yet, it's impossible to not notice how skewed the staff of literary agencies and their rosters of clients are towards the young and good-looking. Some of the mugshots of author clients look similar to modelling agencies. Being photogenic helps. How long before wannabe authors are seeking facelifts, Botox injections and hair transplants? :rolleyes:

Ageism and photogenic bias! Now the odds really are stacked against me.:eek:
 
Yep, wasn't until my first career (which I did for over 25 years) tanked that I got serious about writing. I'll be publishing my 4th novel on my 48th birthday (I was 46 when I published the first). I haven't saved much of my writing from the past, but I can confidently say most of my writing before the age of 30 was mediocre, and then I stopped having any sort of creative life at all because I had children, and they (along with full time work) sucked away all energy, creativity and confidence until I had the opportunity to bag the day job and make writing my job. Number of years behind you can only improve your writing, as far as I'm concerned.
 
Are they surprised? I've never noticed. Silly people. I'm 50. I've been writing all of my life. I suppose if I published a book now it would be a first novel for someone over 50 ....

I am surprised when people who don't read and have never written pick up a pen later in life. But the examples I am thinking of aren't really representative of all the possibilities of how they can play out. So .... what do I know.

It is unsettling to find people who call themselves writers who don't know anything about literature of ANY kind.
 
quote-i-will-never-be-an-old-man-to-me-old-age-is-always-15-years-older-than-i-am-francis-bacon-9634.jpg
 
An article of interest, called The Agony & the Ecstasy of Taking Author Photographs:

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Taking Author Photos

I'm not sure that I look like my books, but one author who certainly does is 42 year-old Benjamin Myers. He's an enthusiastic self-promoter of his grim novels, happy to pose in rugged landscapes looking hirsute and manly! As further proof of his butch, take-no-prisoners approach to writing he founded a literary collective called The Brutalists.

image.jpg


Ben Myers

I reckon that the marketing of books is more about the image of the author, rather than their age.
 
I do think men can get away with age easier than women when it comes to a hard sell. And it is fact that publishers like good author photos. Men can look hirsute and manly but women are still expected to look pretty and wear heels and makeup even when it makes them look like death masks on stilts. Look at all the botoxed women out of Hollywood and in politics who come under the 'still pretty at 50/60/70' label, as though pretty truly is the redeeming feature.
 
I'm turning 75 next month and didn't start writing until I retired. (I have a great deal of admiration for those who get up early, stay up late or somehow squeeze the time in to write while juggling job, family, etc.) Each age brings its own perspective to creative work and we're all valuable. I don't hide my age - witness my avatar - and my personal goal is to be the Grandma Moses of mystery writers. As for author photos - photoshop is there for everyone.
 
Nice article, if a little woolly. But writing longhand, and with a PA to come in and do the typing for her? Different era, different world. When I read things like that, I read between the lines and imagine she had a fairly comfortable life, never had to do an 8-5 job she hated... Am I wrong?
 
Nice article, if a little woolly. But writing longhand, and with a PA to come in and do the typing for her? Different era, different world. When I read things like that, I read between the lines and imagine she had a fairly comfortable life, never had to do an 8-5 job she hated... Am I wrong?
My mum used to write long hand, filling note book after note book. Every afternoon, when I came back from school she'd read me what she'd written that day, while we both indulged in tea and Gingernut biscuits (lots of dunking!). Then, if I approved and appeared riveted, she'd type up what she'd written. First on a manual typewriter and then later, on an clunky electric one. She would then spend months reviewing and revising her work and physically copying and pasting parts around. She was often covered in little splatters of Typex correction fluid. I still can't dunk a single Gingernut without thinking of those days.
 
Is PD James your Mum? But lucky you, to be brought up in a household in which writing was promoted. I was encouraged to read, but writing was something clever people did. My Dad bought a typewriter for mum to do letters on and absolutely forbade me to touch it 'because it wasn't a toy'. I wrote my first book longhand then had to type it up myself. Took blooming ages. My writing is atrocious, the whole thing was a frustrating exercise... I LOVE computers. They make editing my favourite pastime.
 
Ah no, sorry. That was unclear! No PD James wasn't my mum. If she were, I wouldn't be struggling every month to make ends meet :) My mum was Moyra Caldecott (not famous except with various 'new agers' in the 70s and 80s). You can google her. She wrote about 30 books, and YA before it was even a category. WHSmiths once refused to stock her books, because (shock, horror) they talked about reincarnation! Her Tall Stones trilogy has been in continual print since she wrote it in about 1975 (which in publishing terms makes it a 'classic') and some of her books are still required reading for various tour groups coming to the UK. She started off writing poetry, then fiction, then finally wrote books analysing myths and legends. But she developed progressive aphasia which is the form of dementia that attacks the part of the brain dealing with language and communication. It was a horrible end to such an intellect.
 
Oh, very sad. I knew a musician with that problem, and in the end she couldn't even understand what music was, let alone play.

Well, now. I must have read the tall stones trilogy when I was a teenager, and loved them. I must refresh my memory. I've always had a soft spot for books with a mythological theme. See my book YA book, Mendip Moon on Amazon... same sort of thing. Standing stones, oak trees, the Wild Hunt, and a druid priestess from the past... Shades of Alan Garner, I guess. Not in vogue, now, which is probably why I couldn't sell it. I'm presently planning an Irish epic myself, set back in the iron age, of which I have written just a small trial bit to see if I could get the 'voice'.
 
Ah no, sorry. That was unclear! No PD James wasn't my mum. If she were, I wouldn't be struggling every month to make ends meet :) My mum was Moyra Caldecott (not famous except with various 'new agers' in the 70s and 80s). You can google her. She wrote about 30 books, and YA before it was even a category. WHSmiths once refused to stock her books, because (shock, horror) they talked about reincarnation! Her Tall Stones trilogy has been in continual print since she wrote it in about 1975 (which in publishing terms makes it a 'classic') and some of her books are still required reading for various tour groups coming to the UK. She started off writing poetry, then fiction, then finally wrote books analysing myths and legends. But she developed progressive aphasia which is the form of dementia that attacks the part of the brain dealing with language and communication. It was a horrible end to such an intellect.

Very interesting ... but how sad for your Mom. It doesn't seem fair.
 
Ah no, sorry. That was unclear! No PD James wasn't my mum. If she were, I wouldn't be struggling every month to make ends meet :) My mum was Moyra Caldecott (not famous except with various 'new agers' in the 70s and 80s). You can google her. She wrote about 30 books, and YA before it was even a category. WHSmiths once refused to stock her books, because (shock, horror) they talked about reincarnation! Her Tall Stones trilogy has been in continual print since she wrote it in about 1975 (which in publishing terms makes it a 'classic') and some of her books are still required reading for various tour groups coming to the UK. She started off writing poetry, then fiction, then finally wrote books analysing myths and legends. But she developed progressive aphasia which is the form of dementia that attacks the part of the brain dealing with language and communication. It was a horrible end to such an intellect.
How sad for you and her - how unfair life can be. But how nice you have the good memories.
 
Soap Box would be a good heading tag, wouldn't it? I'm climbing up...

Why are people are amazed that someone over 40 can write a first novel? People over 40 might actually have something interesting to say, and people under 30 these days often haven't, like, developed skills in communication, like, judging by the ones I meet at the degree factory, like, if y'know what I mean.

I recall the furore when Bertha Wood started writing her Memoir at 90, found a publisher when she was about 97 and it was published when she was around 100. Now, good for her, but why the three year delay if the work was so hot? I also recall that her advanced age generated a bidding war, and the lucky winner paid the highest advance to date for the work, of which they had only been allowed a glance at the first chapter, (clever agent!) only to find it was so badly written they had to employ someone to make it publishable. I suspect they had to spend a lot more on advertising to get the thing on the shelves in order to minimise the hit and salvage their pride.

A lot of people come to their 'art' late because of the necessity of earning a living, not through lack of talent - though it's quaintly referred to as one's little hobby at that stage, a bit like basket weaving as occupational therapy. Having a mortgage, family, and kids doesn't just tire you, it destroys your creativity. OK, no-one makes you have kids, it's nature's black joke, the biological imperative, but you only find out the hard way that you don't come out the other side of either kids or full time employment with your health or sanity intact. Many people explore skills after retirement that they didn't have the opportunity to indulge in prior to that - take a look at the amazing artist, Beryl Cook, who didn't start painting till she was a grandmother.

Writing novels is more a compulsion than a career choice, and for those of us not lucky enough to be financially supported by others, it's damned hard work fitting it in.

OK, rant over.


Chris, sure know what you mean! I like what you wrote here: A lot of people come to their 'art' late because of the necessity of earning a living, not through lack of talent .

I'd argue that the necessity of earning a living, especially here in the US where a "regular" job is one of the only ways to get health insurance, means that as a NATION we are losing out on good writers being able to actually write for a living. I am amazed when my friends from the UK can come over here to do research for their books and not worry about NOT HAVING medical insurance.

I know I am showing my age here, but for me, it sure was true. Teaching high school in a public school was a killer job in terms of hours and stress. Now that I am part time teaching at the college level? It's like a vacation, and I have the time and resources to actually be able to write.

Interesting discussion.

I am not a young gorgeous writer, but I am an older writer who has worked very hard and has a lot of life left in me.

Thanks for posting this.
 
We'd all end up looking like Barbara Cartland, who was described as
'A clear case of embalming before death'

I met her twice.. Beautiful manners, as you 'd expect. Up in Helmsdale where she used to open the summer fete. I thought there was something rather touchingly gallant about her presentation. That effort in pink, the flowered hat, in defiance of fashion and old age.
 
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How did it take me so long?!

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