22 January 2021
Costa-shortlisted novelist Anne Youngson writes about finding a voice as a writer later in life
Although I have always been writing short stories, in my head if not on the page, I didn’t settle down to write something long enough to be published as a novel until late in life. This was partly to do with time, as I had a family and a full time job to keep me busy when I was younger, but mainly it was because I didn’t think I had anything to say. I didn’t have a story or any ideas that seemed to me to be interesting enough; for me as a writer or for any prospective readers.
I may have been wrong. If I had put the time in earlier to write until I found a voice to write in and themes to write about, it might have worked. But I do know that the novels I am publishing now, I could not have written before I had the life experience which has gone into shaping them.
When I did start to take myself seriously as a writer, I did not expect to find a publisher for what I wrote. It was enough to practice a craft I loved and to make sense of the world in this way. My expectations were low because I had believed the myths bandied about in creative writing classes – that unless you were young, beautiful, already famous or with access to some sort of influence, you were never going to land a publishing contract.
I realise now that this is an insult to both the publishing industry and the reading public. What matters is the work. The words on the page. If an agent or a publisher reads something and enjoys it, knows the reading public will enjoy it too, why reject it because it has been written by someone who appears to be completely ordinary?
It is still tricky, to find that agent and that publisher. But what will stop that happening is nothing to do with age or appearance. It needs effort; to practice until the writing is a flawless as possible, to keep alert to let anything you see or hear or read trigger a story. And then to finish it. And then to knock on doors until one opens. But I would also say that if none ever does, anyone who takes joy out of writing should still count themselves lucky, published or not.
Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson is published by Doubleday.
Being an older writer means you have a lot to bring to the page. Read what novelist Sarah Maine says about the benefits of being an older writer.