Literary late bloomers show you’re never too old to write

British author Penelope Fitzgerald, pictured in November 1991. Photo: Fairfax Media Archives/Getty Images 1991

i never knew Anna Mary Robertson Moses’ given name. I only knew her as Grandma Moses, and I loved her because she began painting at the age of 78 and her depictions of rural New England’s countryside made her an art world superstar.

There’s something about a late bloomer that encourages those of us with a creative bent. Even if we haven’t reached our artistic goal by midlife or later, when a Grandma Moses bursts onto the scene, it gives us hope that success still may be ahead of us. It sure beats thinking we’ve missed the boat.

So it makes me happy to think about some best-selling authors who hit the big time at a relatively advanced age.

At age 93, Lorna Page has become one of the oldest debut writers on record. Her ella thriller “A Dangerous Weakness,” set in the Alps, made her enough money to trade her one-bedroom flat in Surrey for a big detached country house, and she invited her contemporaries to move in.

“Care homes can be such miserable places,” Page told The Guardian. “I thought it would be lovely to give a home and family life to one or two people who would otherwise be sitting around there.”

I’d love to say I adored her book. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. But a 93-year-old woman who can write a 300-plus-page novel with credible characters and a clever plot and make some real money from it? That ain’t nothing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House” series of books, pictured in about 1950. Photo: Bettmann Archive

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods,” which was the start of the “Little House on the Prairie” series, was published when she was 65. Formerly a teacher and a newspaper columnist (I love that!), Wilder’s family was wiped out by the Great Depression, and it was then that she decided to publish a memoir of her childhood. Anyone with a television during the 1970s remembers the TV series, starring Melissa Gilbert and Michael Landon, based on her “Little House” books by her.

Then there’s Frank McCourt, an Irish immigrant and New York City teacher who published “Angela’s Ashes,” the memoir of his hardscrabble childhood in Limerick, when he was 66. It won the Pulitzer Prize. “Angela’s Ashes,” read by McCourt himself, is one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to. It’s right up there with my favorite audiobooks of all time. Hearing McCourt, an actor as well as a writer, tell the story of his life from him is priceless.

Pulitzer Prize winning writer Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes,” is seen in New York in 1996. Photo: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images 1996

Penelope Fitzgerald (“The Bookshop,” “Offshore, “The Blue Flower”), according to her biographer Hermione Lee, had “all the makings of someone who was going to start publishing books in her 30s.” But she didn’t. After marrying at the age of 23, she had three children and settled into domestic life.

Her first novel, “The Golden Child,” was published when she was 61. Written to entertain her husband, who was terminally ill, the novel is a satirical version of the Tutankhamen craze of the 1970s, poking fun at museum politics, academic scholars and Cold War spying. Her de ella final de ella and, some would say, finest novel, “The Blue Flower,” came out when she was just shy of 90.

I have a 75-year-old friend who lives in Paris and didn’t start trying to write novels until several years ago. He works hard and diligently and has learned how to develop characters and create compelling plots.

Although I am far from objective, I think his books are pretty good, on par with or better than some of what I see getting published these days. But he has yet to snare an agent, a step he considers essential to getting picked up by a major publishing house. My gentle suggestions about self-publishing, more credible and possible than ever these days, go unheeded.

But he keeps at it. And why not? He might still be snatched from obscurity and emerge into the sunlight of literary celebrity. There’s always hope.



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