Tuesday, 29 October 2013

When Age Comes Into It

A seasoned writer first mentioned the ugly word ‘ageism’ to me when my first book came out, asking me if I’d experienced this thing called ‘ageism’ while hustling my work. I almost said I refuse to experience ageism. I am simply MYSELF. I’m not a writer-with-a-use-by-date.

Hmmm. Scoot ahead to the other day when I was filling in the details for a big short story competition and I saw a space for my age please, on the dotted line. My age? Why? What the -- ?

It’s not that I have a problem with my age (though I’m not telling you here to prove my point) but why should it be included in my info for a leading competition? Can’t you just read the thing? Does that mean all of us ‘well-over-25’ entrants are going to be turfed out after the first round to make way for a strapping young prize-winner?

Some people are slow to bloom. Just read my star sign for example. Capricorn: ages well, determined, late success, bad knees. It could happen to anyone. You have your writing dream. You have kids or you work damned hard, you live hard, you read hard. And then it comes. Time, place, voice, determination. Encouragement. Everything to need to set off the fire in your belly.

You produce. You refine your short story. You fill out your entry form and are willing to pay hard-earned cash and throw yourself out there with the masses.

And then some cretin asks your age.
It feels a like a good kick in the knees, eh?

Age comes into everything, doesn't it? When you're young and inexperienced there’s a chance you’ll write a certain type of tale, a coming-of-age story perhaps close to the family woes you’ve lived through. The oldest tale of time, and told beautifully by some.

And yet, sometimes, when an older writer comes into their own, he or she may produce the inverse of this. A work that is just and sage, full of equilibrium. Must we reject it because it is not dizzy with more immediate delights?

One of the things I realised when reading a review of ‘Pelt and Other Stories’ is that many of my characters are 30-ish. Gosh, I hadn’t thought. Is it because that is where I seem to think people get themselves into interesting pickles? Given young adulthood can be so plainly raw and is so frequently recorded, and the older years sometimes more static and tilted towards decline? It’s given me a lot of thought, and I’ve wondered whether I should push in either direction in future, or whether my subject material has been subconsciously swayed by what I think a reader might enjoy...

So what does that mean? That I am ageist myself?

Well?! I don’t know yet. Jury’s still out. But what I do know is that the more I read, and the broader my own reading experience becomes*, the better equipped I am to recognise devices, tendencies and outcomes.

Another tricky day in the life of an ageless author.

*currently reading ‘Love Begins in Winter’ by Simon Booy


  1. Some pertinent points,Catherine...writing as a 5* year old! I've always held the view that life doesn't keep all of its deepest experiences for the young bloods who are constantly promoted by publishers.Authors can be a bit like footballers...over the hill at 33!...but can often mature & change...from young whirlwinds who tear up trees by the roots to steady breezes who bring comfort & relief,rustling the foliage & cooling the fevered brow! It is interesting too that your characters are of a certain age...but your older characters are beautifully delineated,& add a perspective to the more jagged,younger protagonists.e.g 'The Coptic Bride'. I'm reading many more short stories since stroking your pelt!
    Take a bow!

    1. Glad you are reading more short stories. I can't seem to stop. Read a wicked interview with George Saunders today, including how the best endings are the ones that come up and tap you on the shoulder.. Great hey?

  2. Thank you for another lovely post, which will age well like a fine wine. As a 40+ stand up comic I think my comedy gets better the older I get

    1. Thanks Lou for dropping by. I am desperately hoping to come out next year for work/pleasure trip and aim to be in your audience. Let's raise a glass!