Never Too Early Never Too Late
Category: Writing
Tags: writing publication success

Never Too Early Never Too Late

In just about everything, I fall into the latter category, starting everything late in life. I got married at 47, started writing at 50, and only felt any desire to have children when being a grandmother was more appropriate. Luckily with writing it is never too early, or too late.

Alexander Pope penned his first poem ‘Ode to Solitude’ when he was 12, although his real fame came when ‘Pastorals’ was published in 1709, when he was 21. He suffered childhood illnesses: asthma, a curved spine and headaches. Was this the reason he began writing?

Dorothy Straight holds the record for the ‘youngest published author ever’. At four years old she wrote a story for her grandmother, which pleased Pantheon Books so much they published it when she was six – an extraordinary achievement. The story was in response to her mother’s question: ‘How did the world begin?’

The Guinness Book of Records cites Christopher Beale as the youngest-ever male author. His five-chapter story about his favourite stuffed animals was published in 2006, when he was exactly six years and 118 days old.

The youngest author to reach the New York Times best-seller list is Christopher Paolini who had the first book of his ‘Inheritance Cycle’ published in 2002, when he was 19. His success continues.

And we must not forget Mary Shelley, who completed ‘Frankenstein’ at the age of 20.

I imagine most published authors – including successful self-published authors as well as those taking the traditional route – start writing in their 20s or 30s, with or without a university degree or a creative writing certificate. Kazuo Ishiguro once said that writers were at their peak in their 30s. Others disagree, saying older authors have a wider life experience to draw on.

It’s interesting to note how many find success somewhat older. Raymond Chandler was 51 when he was first published with ‘The Big Sleep’. Frank McCourt didn’t become a published author until the age of 66 with ‘Angela’s Ashes’, going on to become a best seller and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

The oldest author to have her first book published was Bertha Wood. At 100 years old, ‘Fresh Air and Fun; The Story of a Blackpool Holiday Camp’ was published just before her 105th birthday. She began writing this memoir at the age of 90.

On par with that record, the world’s ‘oldest-ever published author’ was Ida Pollock, who died at 105 in 2013, just before her 125th book was published. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

I suspect elderly authors are less sought-after by publishers due to their assumed slower output and lack of social media skills (by no means always the case) and the simple fact that time is running out to keep more books coming. But it’s good to see it’s far from hopeless. Self-publishing can also help.

I wonder what prompted you to write. Perhaps being an expat? Or was it something going back to your childhood? Or retirement? Early or late, something triggered it. And as you can see, there is no particular age for success.

My biggest dread as a late starter (tongue very much in cheek) is to become a best-selling author posthumously, which means I may need to live to well over 100!



Cacophony and Chaos
Category: Writing






Late this August I was systematically working my way through my writing course. The assignment was to write a travel piece. I’d decided to target a literary travel magazine and set off around my adopted home town to collect some stories. I found Margriet, the patron saint of waitresses, Erasmus, the Toren Zonder Nagels  (literally the tower without nails that somehow survived an allied bomb blast in 1944. The adjoining church was destroyed but the tower remained intact), the city’s commitment to music for all ages - which it provides free during the summer, the festivals, the public transport system, the canal system, the footpath network, the cycle path network, where to rent cycles - ordinary, electric, tandem and more. I also found bells, a lot of bells. 

Having decided to focus on the bells for my assignment I settled into a book on the subject. My personal deadline sailed past with a whoosh as I became engrossed in the history of carillons. Eventually I managed to write the piece despite the racket in my head, like a flock of sparrows, from the other story lines I’d uncovered. They were fledglings vying for attention. Having written the piece I double-checked what was expected for this exercise and found an outline for a second pitch to a different magazine was also needed. Settling onto the sofa I thumbed through my yearbook looking for likely candidates. My eye paused over a religious magazine title. At that very moment one of the inner stories on reconciliation chirped up. I wrote the outline and bundled everything off to my tutor. She encouraged me to submit both the story and the outline to the target publications.

  The outline was a success. They gave me a commission, my first ever commission, to write a feature piece for, of all things, a religious magazine. I’ve got an eighty year old aunt who is a devout christian. Luckily she has a pretty strong constitution because she’s going to need it when she hears this news. The travel story got rejected but it was far and away the most constructive rejection I’ve ever received. They’d left the door ajar. I changed the angle on the original story towards another of the chattering story lines and made a second pitch. The magazine said they’d be happy to read it. Late September and instead of moving methodically on with my writing course I had a piece that needed a home, a first proof under consideration, the design of a new piece dancing in my head, the next writing assignment to do, a speech to deliver that hadn’t been written yet, and three other pieces that needed finishing for various writing commitments. 

In my previous incarnation I tended to work in a linear fashion and that’s the way I started with writing but I’m beginning to believe there is comfort in chaos. The speech I’m working on is a, hopefully, humorous nod towards the benefit of cooperating constructively. Echoes of it run through the reconciliation piece. Echoes of the reconciliation piece run through the speech. The new, possibly second, commission starts from the history outlined in the original piece and then picks up the story of cooperation between the two cities to effect a reconciliation over an event that drove a wedge between them just over one hundred years ago. The pieces for the next writing assignment, supposedly a restaurant review, an event review and an anniversary have taken on tones of community gaining strength and focus as a result. While working on individual pieces and outlines other story lines keep chittering away colouring the language and mood. Without being directly mentioned they support the written pieces like undercoats on a canvas support the final visible image.

 This cacophony, which would have driven me to distraction previously, has become essential. The constant chatter creates movement. Each individual piece is examined from a variety of angles, prodded for consistency, and poked to check resilience. Whether or not this is a good methodology for writing only time will tell but, for the time being at least, it certainly is a lot of fun.

Why Do We Read?
Category: Writing
Tags: Writing reading books

Stephen King says: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” No doubt this is excellent advice, but what exactly does he mean?

How much is ‘a lot’. I read every day and feel strange if I haven’t managed to read anything all day. Reading is such an ingrained habit that it feels akin to brushing my teeth. I nearly always read before going to bed, sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes only ten minutes depending on how tired I am. I used to read on my commute to work (and was always disappointed to note how many people were playing on their phones rather than reading on the underground). On average I read a book a week. Some people I know find this a lot, but I know of many others who read much more than I do.

And what should you read? Some people advise that you should read exclusively within your genre so that you get a feel for the pace, style, vocabulary, etc. Subconsciously you absorb aspects of others’ writing that will make yours better. Others say you should read as widely as possible, from Classics and literature to trashy novels and everything in between. This gives you a ‘bigger picture’ concept and you learn from other writers’ positives as well as negatives.

And what should you do with that book once you’ve finished reading it? I used to have a blog and write extensive book reviews for the book I’d read. This made me read more ‘actively’ as I was searching for quotes to use in my reviews and looking closely at style, sentence structure and vocabulary. I also used to find out information about the author. This was also very useful; it was always interesting to learn how many books the author had written and how his or her journey to publication had evolved. Now, because my time is more limited and I’m focussing on writing, I no longer write long reviews. I do, however, have a goodreads account and write short reviews for the books I’ve read. This still makes me think about the book and it’s good for fellow authors to have reviews online for their books.

The question I’d like to leave you with is this one: do you read solely for pleasure, or do you read more actively?  


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