I was 6 when decided to be a writer. World War II was in full swing, and my father was away in the army, so I planned to cheer him up when he couldn’t be at home, by creating books for him. Books that would make him happy. So I wrote a series of (undoubtedly plagiaristic) fairy stories, illustrated with ‘beautiful’ pictures, each ‘published’ in an exercise book, with essential book furniture such as publisher’s name (the hitherto unknown Closher Books). I knew about self-publishing at an early age.
As I grew older, though, I came the conclusion I needed to know a lot more about Life before I could write more books. On my way round the world, I walked onto the editorial floor of The Montreal Star, and told them I wanted to become a reporter. Cheek paid off, and from then on, I earned a living as a writer – journalist, magazine editor, radio commentator, theatre and book critic, in Canada, Belgium and London. This was what my contemporaries called the University of Life.
But I yearned to go to a proper university. The astute reader may already have concluded that a six-year-old in the war must have been a young woman in the Fifties. At that time, it was easy for a father (however well-read himself) to believe that educating a girl was a Waste of Time: “You’ll only get married.” Which is why I set off round the world in the first place. When my own children left for university and art college, however, I went to Oxford University, to read Psychology as a mature student. What, I thought, could possibly tell me more about Life than the study of the human mind?
I continued to write – but now it was essays, then a doctoral thesis of 100,000 words on the psychology of argument, editorials for The Psychologist, of which I became the Founding Editor. Through all this, I certainly acquired a new slant on Life. And published two non-fiction books, War of Words: Woman and Men Arguing and Stop Dreaming, Start Living , a self-help book that really works.
By then, though, I was no longer young. In fact, I was getting OLD in the eyes of the world. Had I missed the boat?
Today, I am retired and have the time to write those novels I dreamed of, but is it too late? Personally, I think this is exactly the moment when I should be writing books that draw on a lifetime’s knowledge, experience and understanding. But I have been advised not to mention the Awful Fact that I am, as I write this, 78 years of age. Frankly, I’m proud of it.. Think of Mary Wesley, who was lauded as amazing when she burst on the scene, and she was a youngster of 70.
I have just visited the 40+ Debut Writers Club, where writers bemoan the fact they are ignored because over 40. Good heavens! I was starting a new career as a psychotherapist in my mid forties. What is so wonderful about youth that we cannot also admire the knowledge and wisdom that come with age?
As the philosopher A. J. Ayer said in an interview, “Now I am old, I may not have the sparkle of youth, but I don’t say so many damned silly things.”