Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How old is too old?



I've started to panic a little about my age. The numbers just keep going up and up each year, like a cog turning. There are more and more candles on the birthday cake and soon the baker will be running out of room, which is frightening. I still have the photo of myself blowing out one solitary candle; the angelic face and the pretty, red dress and I wish I had started early!

I began writing fiction seriously about six or seven years ago and the guff I churned out was cringeworthy. The POV was all mixed up - one minute the reader was at the zoo, the next minute, back home. Dinner was eaten before it was served and my characters changed their handbag colours more times than their underpants.

I started writing this book purely to pass time when there wasn't anything decent on the telly. I occasionally visited a few writers' websites and learned that there was indeed this thing called 'POV' and that one wrote in either the first person or third person or rarely, the second person. I then filed said book under 'recycle bin' because it was autobiographical rubbish, and moved on to the next. I made a vow to really make a go of this one.

Anyway, several submissions later (I only tried a few agents) I noticed a publisher was open to subs and the books they published were, to use the old cliche, right up my street. It piqued my interest, so I sent in my goods and signed the contract shortly after.


But hovering in the back of my mind is the worry of being too old to start being an author proper. At 37 am I over the hill? We read about all these debut authors, many of whom are self-published, and they wrote their books at the age of 25 or 29 before they fell over the thirties hill. I realise I am well over the thirties hill and fast approaching the forties mountain of doom.

By contrast, other careers enable us to reach a peak at about 30 to 34, as we start around the age of 23. At 23 I could never have written a book. I was just out of university and being an author was this thing that other people did. I merely studied their works.

I take comfort in the fact the wonderfully talented Hilary Mantel is no spring chicken and she's going strong.

15 comments:

Suzanne Furness said...

You're definitely not too old! I'm over the 40 hill and still hoping for my big break. Go for it, whatever your age I say.

Debs Riccio said...

Gillian, if I didn't already know you I'd be insulted :) I'd give *anything to be 37 again (knowing what I know now, of course)
*includes chocolate but not cash x

Joanna said...

I'm fifty-two and started writing four years ago. I've just finished a novel and two collections of short stories. I know they won't be the best I can do, because I'm still a newcomer to writing. To make my work better, I have to keep going, just the same as anyone else. I may have fewer years in which to do it, but none of us lives with any guarantee of reaching great old age, so I think I'll disregard my advanced age and persevere.
If anyone tells me that it has to stop now because I'm too old to improve and should have started years ago, I shall feel devastated. I think it's wonderful to have discovered something I love so much and can't live without, however late in the day it is.
My age is an advantage in some respects. There are many subjects I write about that I couldn't have articulated so well in my thirties or even forties.
I started learning to play the piano when I was forty-six. I had never learned a musical instrument before. I couldn't even read music. But I have reached Grade Five, passing all the exams despite my hands shaking with nerves. (Unfortunately, my awareness of my advanced age in an exam waiting-room full of schoolchildren made me nervous.) I am never going to be a concert pianist, but I have fulfilled an ambition that I have had since childhood.
When a girl of eighteen who had learned to play the flute told me that she wished she could also play the piano, but felt she'd left it too late to start, I was able to reassure her it is never too late to start anything you feel passionate about.
I really hope I'm not too old to be taken seriously as a writer. But, if that is the case, I'm going to keep on writing anyway. Let's hope my doddery and crumbling old brain can tell me where my reading glasses are.

Sandra Davies said...

I'm a dozen years older than the oldest mentioned and started writing just a couple of years ago. Think of Mary Wesley - she lived a life and published her first novel at seventy. (I'm not quite at that ...)

JO said...

37 - and you're worrying about your age! If the medics are to be believe, you could live for another 70 years. Are you going to spend all that time wondering if you are old yet?

Rebecca Alexander said...

My book is just being sold (there are two publishers bidding for it) and at no point has my agent or the publishers asked for my age (I'm 52). I started writing five again years ago, and I'm finally getting there. I know people in their fifties selling first books...a good book is a good book, that's the important thing.

L said...

I, having entered the third age, reckon that you're past it when what you are doing no longer excites you or you can't improve upon it.

Anonymous said...

Thirty-seven... way to go, girl! Some of us have been working that long on becoming an overnight success - and still waiting...

Gillian McDade said...

Oh wow, just logged on and am heartened by the comments. There's life in me yet.

And good luck/well done to all writers, regardless of age :)

Thanks again for the comments.

Anonymous said...

I think the authors of Harry Potter and 50 shades answer your question:)

I didn't start writing til my late 30s and find is inspiring that nowadays, so many 'middle-aged' people are finally following their dreams.

You are never too old and the key to a happy and healthy old age, i reckon, is to never stop learning and trying.

Sam

Phillipa said...

I wrote a post about this for Novelicious last week: A Letter to My Unpublished Self. I started in my early 40s and have had 7 books published by Headline and Piatkus. If you're too old, I'm decrepit! http://www.novelicious.com/2012/09/a-letter-to-my-unpublished-self-by-phillipa-ashley.html

Thrifty Gal said...

I feel like this all the time. Glad to know i'm not alone!

Derek said...

Too old, too unphotogenic, too uneducated, not an interesting enough life, too pushy, too shy - the inner critic loves to trip us up at every turn. Yes, for some markets, being 'the right sort' of person will help you. But here's the secret you already knew....

The only certain, surefire way to not become a successful writer is to stop writing.

Having worked your way through that one, anything is possible!

Maria said...

Age is just a number. There are many older authors in circulation.

L said...

As my Mum's doctor used to say: it's biological not chronological.