Some random thoughts on writing and age. But first, you’re never too old to get a book deal:
An 82-year-old grandmother is celebrating after landing a book deal for her debut novel… Myrrha Stanford-Smith, a teacher and theatre director, said she was ”gobsmacked” to be handed the three-book agreement, which saw her first work The Great Lie start appearing on shelves last week.
The trained actress, who lives in Holyhead, North Wales, has always held a passion for creative writing.She decided to see if her talent could really take off after receiving positive feedback on a short children’s story she sent in to BBC Radio Wales last summer. The Brighton-born writer secured herself a deal with publisher Honno, for a trilogy based around her swashbuckling Elizabethan hero Nick Talbot. The adventure reignites, in fictional form, the rivalry between William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.
Perhaps it bypasses the perennial Amis riff on Ishiguruo, where “a writer’s best work is produced in their youth”, to have one’s first work published at a later stage in life.
I like to think that many writers produce their best work at an older age. DeLillo’s Underworld being an exceptional example of this – almost a thematic culmination (or perhaps this is in Point Omega). I love seeing a body of work that, over the years, spirals inward towards a writer’s set of inner truths. Then again, it goes the other way, and the same old rubbish might drift around like flotsam.
I like to think that, for the most part, we live in a fairly apologetic literary culture – debuts are bound to be rough, many say, because writing is something that improves with practice; possibly – hopefully – leading eventually towards some kind of edification later in a writer’s career. (I’ve mentioned before about people attacking young writers merely for being young, but this is a different thing entirely.) Reviewers generally forgive the problems of debuts, and that’s something I’m glad about.
So aging allows us deeper contemplation; we have better perspective, more experiences, even – and more time to think about those experiences – and one would hope that reflects in writing. Then again, there’s something to be said for the youthful energies of a debut, that keeness to get across a set of different ideas or style. To be recognised. As an aside: can ideas improve with practice? Perhaps, to an extent, we become better at explaining them.
And we as a community also seem so enthusiastic about the Next Big Thing, keen to see what’s new on the horizon, which freshly minted name we can attach ourselves to, though that may say more about the internet than literature. Though it should be said that literary careers are generally slow growers, books resist being produced quickly, to the internet’s rate of change, and will likely therefore resist such demands.
I wonder which of the current crop of genre writers will improve with age and still be around in fifty years? Personally, I’m investing in a course of yoga, cod liver oil capsules, and immense amounts of luck to ensure I’ll still be here annoying you all in decades to come.