The older writer

Young authors with the potential for a long future career, especially if they are photogenic or have an unusual background, are the ones most likely to find favour with agents and publishers. But many wellknown authors have continued to produce new work of a good standard in old age. I have just finished reading Angela Bull’s excellent biography of Noel Streatfeild (1895 – 1986), who wrote numerous books besides the famous children’s classic Ballet Shoes, and who published her last novel when she was in her mid-eighties. Other English women authors who continued writing in their later years include Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976), Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999), and P. D. James (1920 – ) who is, I understand, currently working on another book at the age of ninety-four. There are many more examples.

A few successful authors did not seriously begin their writing career until late in life. For example Mary Wesley (1912 – 2002) wrote the first of her seven novels for adults when she was seventy-one. Her books were original, sexy and regarded as slightly shocking and several of them, including The Chamomile Lawn, became best sellers. As the saying goes “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”

Creative writing is one of those skills which is often well preserved, and may even improve, as age advances but there is a limit. It has to be acknowledged that books written by older people are not always of top quality, and sometimes only accepted for publication on the strength of their authors’ previous reputations. Mary Wesley knew when it was time to stop, and wrote no more novels after she turned eighty-three. Other older authors, in contrast, have continued to publish more books after they are past their peak. Linguistic analysis of the later works of both Agatha Christie and Iris Murdoch reveals signs of cognitive decline: a limited vocabulary, a vagueness of expression, and the tendency to repetition. Does this mean they should have stopped writing? I don’t think so; even if the later books by these remarkable women are not quite so good as the earlier ones, they still display outstanding talent and are valued by many faithful fans.

Older writers do possess certain advantages. They have a wide life experience to draw upon for material. If they are free of work and family responsibilities, they have ample time to write. They are likely to be driven by a genuine love of writing and the wish to create a quality product, rather than by the slim hope of achieving fame and fortune.

I had reached my sixties by the time I began to revisit my childhood passion for writing fiction, and I hope to find enough inspiration to continue for a good few years yet. Having no desire to produce best-selling books, I write mainly for my own satisfaction, however I only consider the activity worthwhile if at least some people read and enjoy my work. My second novella Blue Moon for Bombers: a story of love, war and spirit has just been published; I will post an extract of the text and details of purchasing options on this blog next week.

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