Writers Abroad Blog
Never Too Early Never Too Late
Posted by Jill Brown

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 105 th 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 125 th 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!



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