Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Does your age really matter?

The clock is ticking ...

There has been a bit of discussion in the Society of Authors' magazine and elsewhere lately on the implications of age for authors. The latest edition highlighted a new prize for a debut novel by an author over the age of sixty - the  Paul Torday Memorial Prize. Paul Torday was sixty when he published Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and now his sons have endowed the prize in his memory. I think this is a fabulous thing, and deserves a round of applause. There are are awards for young debuts - so why not this too? Writers are writers, wherever they are on the age spectrum. 

Elsewhere, however, it is rumoured that agents and editors will not take on an older author, as they are not expected to have a long enough career to make it worth while. So, if you have plans for your retirement - maybe it's time to re-think them? 

Or should we be re-thinking the definition of 'old'?

With pension age ever rising and life expectancy increasing, is the idea of 'an encore career' as a writer really beyond reach? 

I have to say authors can be just as guilty of portraying age in a way that might no longer be realistic. I have read several books lately - and I'm not naming any names - where people in their sixties are portrayed as frail, decrepit old dears who need their afternoon nap, presumably while wearing their cosy slippers. It was reading these that got me thinking about this post in the first place. 

I mean sixty is old, right? Well, maybe once it was, but this year Madonna, Simon Le Bon, Viggo Mortensen and Michelle Pfieffer  all turn sixty. Not sure that any of them are ready for their slippers yet. The Rolling Stones are still filling stadiums, Liam Neeson is still filling cinemas as an action man, Jeremy Irons is still filling theatres and Cher is playing what might be the most glamerous grandmother on the planet in Mama Mia - and none of them are going to see sixty again.  

They're all still doing what they love - and shouldn't writers be able to do the same - whether this is a longstanding or a new career? 

Maybe it's up to authors themselves to start readjusting the clock? One of the books I have floating in my head, for when the day job is done,  has a character who is one hundred years old. He's not so much of an action man now as he was, but he's not ready for the cosy slipper either. I'm really looking forward to writing him. 


  1. While I think it's good that there's now a prize for which older writers are eligible, I fall in between being too old for the prizes which previously existed and too young for this latest one!

    And I know the rumours and can understand the logic behind publishers wanting an author with career potential but I still believe that they will publish a good book, no matter the age of the author, if they think it will sell.

  2. It would be good if there was a prize for each decade - the Milestone Prize? Have to do some crowd funding.
    And as Lindsey Kelk said yesterday - we just have to keep writing the books that make us happy - and hopefully other people too - eventually!