Aged writers?

Probably done through ignorance, carelessness or thoughtlessness, this graphic aroused some strong reaction in the digiverse.

Some thought it silly, others were mortally offended. Most were insulted.

I think it’s springs from a sincere wish to attract mature writers, those who haven’t been able to write a creative work because of family or work commitments or a lack of confidence.

The genre is speculative literature, presumably along the lines of Ursula Le Guin or Margaret Atwood. So we’re looking at, for example, science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, dystopian, magical realism and steampunk. Basically, anything that bends reality.

Yes, these genres may seem superficial and trashy to some people, but in the famous words, “They know not of what they speak.” I don’t think people would consider Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or P D James’ Children of Men as trashy.

INCEPTIO in Waterstones (me at 62 years, 7 months)!

As a writer of alternate history thrillers that (I hope!) have some thoughtful moments, this is my field. My first Roma Nova thriller, INCEPTIO, published then by SilverWood Books, came out in 2013 when I was 62. In no way did I consider myself an older writer. I was just a super-thrilled writer holding her first book.

So what upset people about this cartoon graphic?

The Older Writers’ Grant has been awarded annually since 2004 to writers who are at least fifty years of age at the time of application to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level. So far so good. This could give all sorts of a boost to such writers especially those taking writing up as a later career.

But… (You know I always have a ‘but’.)

Is the image in the advert a true idea of how people, especially younger people, see women and men over 50? 

I consulted some of my fellow writers. These two comments sum up most of them:

“I’m 72. And the image in that ad is complete bollocks. My friends are in their 60-80’s and are superb! Filled with youth and energy!”

“This might work if eligibility started at age 100.”

Several posted photos of themselves at 67, 73, 70, nearly 60. I won’t repost as I haven’t asked their permission, but they’re on my Facebook author page. Gosh, they’re a fit and youthful lot. Most are wearing jeans or sports kit.

Ageism something that’s hard to avoid in any line of work, in the arts, and in every aspect of our culture, which is a great pity. It can inspire, especially when you’re told to take it easy now you’ve retired. (Falls over laughing.) Such a remark tends to spur me on. I mean, who doesn’t like a challenge?

Perhaps agents and publishers would prefer publish a first novel by a 30-year-old writer with a potential career ahead of several decades than by a 75-year-old veteran writer, no matter how distinguished the latter’s career. Unless your recent book or books have sold exceptionally well, it’s a rough market for a new book, no matter its quality.

But older writers have  secret assets: they’ve lived a long time and gained many insights through experience, something many 30-year-olds haven’t had time to accumulate. They’re also more crafty, patient and persistent. They’ve had to be as they’ve survived life so far.

But my core argument is not about age itself, but the perception of age. Yes, you can laugh off the image at the top as a silly joke. The couple in the image are cute and endearing, but totally unreal. It’s somebody’s limiting and rather patronising view of two older people.

In Real Life, we wear jeans and trainers, go out dancing, drink, drive sporty cars and work ridiculous schedules. We’re often looking after our children’s children or our own parents. Either requires stamina, patience and an agile mind, Yes, we probably get a little more tired, but most of us are not at the slippers and knitted rug stage, if that was ever a thing.

I applaud the initiative of the Older Writers’ Grant. I applaud any grant that supports writers, but I believe the Speculative Literature Foundation should really rethink their PR. This daft image does nobody any credit, least of all them.

And et’s just see writers as writers. It’s what they produce that counts, not the count of their years.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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