Amongst all the doom and gloom written about your chances of ever getting a book published, one of the “truisms” that is stated over and over again is that if you’re a little past school leaving age you’re going to find it twice as difficult. As well as being a superb writer you’ve got to be young, fit, gorgeous and generally make it really easy for the publicist to get your photo in the papers – unless of course you’re a celeb when it doesn’t matter what you look like as things will still be easy for the publicist, and your writing skills don’t matter as someone else will have written the book for you.
Us – ahem – older ones are advised to stock up on support stockings and denture fixative and yes, dear, enjoy your writing, it’s very good for you dear, helps with that nasty Alzheimer’s, but do it for your own pleasure but don’t expect to get it published because frankly dear, you’re waaay past it and just don’t have your finger on the pulse any longer. What do you mean you’d be writing for people like yourself who read lots and lots? There are young writers doing that.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule – Mary Wesley being a glittering example. She’s actually an exception to two rules; the one that says you can’t make it when you’re old as she wrote seven best-selling novels between the ages of 70 and 79. and the one that states if you’ve been published once and weren’t a big success you’ve pretty well had it – she published two children’s novels when she was in her fifties which didn’t do much. Joyce Windsor wrote a charming novel called After The Unicorn when she was 70 but frankly neither of these ladies can hold a candle to Patricia Angadi for general vim, get up and go.
Patricia Angadi was a middle class girl, an unsuccesful debutant and artist who fell in love with an Indian, she married him in 1943 against her family’s wishes (some of her friends never spoke to her again), had four children, set up the Asian Music Centre with her husband, introduced Ravi Shankar to the Beatles and finding herself short of money, aged 54, trained as a teacher. Patricia painting George Harrison and Patti Boyd’s portrait.
When she was in her sixties her husband went back to India, Patricia refused to follow him, started dating, turned her house into a commune and threw outrageous parties. She then retired, and with time on her hands ,started writing. The Governess was published when she was 70 and another six followed.
Andrea Camilleri, the creator of the wonderful Inspector Montalbano, is another late bloomer and exception to lots of rules. To be polite he’s no pin-up – and he published two novels in his early fifties which weren’t successes, then when he was 69 he wrote a best seller. The first of the Inspector Montalbano books followed two years later, he published the 19th this year. He’s 87 and is still working as a TV and theatre director.
As someone who felt on her 20th birthday that she was already past it – hell, my teenage years were over and I hadn’t done any of those glamorous things that you saw college students doing in Coca Cola ads – I find all of this enormously encouraging and inspiring too. Fortunately I’m not in need of support stockings or denture fixative yet but I have to be realistic and admit that I’m middle-aged and which probably puts me at even more of a disadvantage – there’s a story in “Septuagenarian’s big break-through” none in “Middle-aged woman publishes book” – but that still doesn’t mean I can’t make it.
Perhaps I should dye my hair grey though…