The recent death aged 93 of writer Andrea Camilleri, Italian author of the Inspector Montalbano novels, prompted me to consider writers that start (not simply finish but start) writing in older age. Aside from one early (at least commercially) unsuccessful publication, Camilleri did not start writing until he was almost 70, yet went on to produce over 100 novels, histories, and biographies (I should have included him in my blog referring to particularly prolific writers – Double Juggle).
Other well-known writers that started ‘late’ (shall we call that over forty-five – not that I am suggesting that’s old?) include those below (in chronological order of first publication).
- We can go write back to the early novel here, for Daniel Defoe did not publish his debut novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) until he was 59.
- Then there’s author of horsey classic Black Beauty (1877) Anna Sewell, who began writing at age 51.
- Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), who wrote his famous book aged 50 after a career in the civil service, writing reviews for free as a side interest.
- Writer of the Little House on the Prairie (1932) books Laura Ingalls Wilder who did not publish the first book in her series until she was 64.
- Raymond Chandler, who turned his hand to short story writing after losing his job in the oil industry aged forty-four, published classic depression-era detective-noir The Big Sleep (1939) at the age of 51.
- Watership Down (1972) Richard Adams, another civil servant and ‘hobbyist’ writer, who published his best-known work aged 54.
- Booker Prize winner Penelope Fitzgerald started out as a biographer aged 60, publishing a life of Edward Burne-Jones in 1975, then later her first novel The Golden Child in 1977.
- Mary Wesley, who had her first children’s book Speaking Terms published in 1969 when she was 57, though is better known for her adult novels, starting with Jumping the Queue published in 1983 when she was 70 years old (she produced ten bestsellers in the last twenty years of her life).
- Annie Proulx, a Pulitzer Prize winner who published her first novel, Postcards (1992) at 57 – with her famous work The Shipping News published a year later.
- Angela’s Ashes (1996) writer, and another Pulitzer Prize winner, Frank McCourt, who was 66 when the first in his series of memoirs was published.
There are, of course, loads of other examples. Particularly if we were to lower the bar to, say, forty.
Arguably, ‘older’ writers have a greater length and often depth of experience behind them. They have already ‘been someone’ in their personal and / or professional lives
George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), who herself published her first novel, Adam Bede (1859), at the age of 40, is quoted as having said “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Meaning, I suppose, that no, it never is too late to fulfil your potential in any area you choose (okay, that’s probably in areas that are mental rather than physical).
Main picture: Dominika Roseclay