View Full Version : Which writers made their debut at an advanced age?

01-11-2008, 02:58 PM
I'm compiling a list of writers who made their debut at an advanced age (55+).

When my dad was young, he wanted to be a writer. He gave that dream up, and this year he's turning 60. He told me over Christmas that he'd been half-thinking of writing again, but that there was no point, as an old unpublished man would never be accepted.

I told him that was not true.

For his upcoming birthday, I plan on giving him a book by an old first-timer, and inside the cover a list of all those people who got their break at around his age. My list at this stage isn't nearly impressive enough. I'd like you to help me.

Do you know any writers who published their first novel aged 55+ ?

Thanks a bunch :)

Marian Perera
01-11-2008, 03:06 PM
Helen Hooven Santmyer, who wrote the bestselling And Ladies of the Club, was 88 when it was published.

01-11-2008, 03:13 PM
That's fantastic.

Any more? :)

01-11-2008, 03:22 PM
Mary Wesley was 71 when her first adult novel was published (she published 9 more before her death at the age of 90), though she did publish 2 childrens books in her late 50s

01-11-2008, 03:49 PM
This is good stuff.

More, anyone?

01-11-2008, 04:10 PM
Elizabeth Waite was 70. She's now in her 80s and has over a dozen books published.

01-11-2008, 04:14 PM
Sheila Quigley was 57 when she landed a 300,000 two book deal.

01-11-2008, 04:24 PM
This is gold!

01-11-2008, 04:53 PM
While his debut wasn't at an advanced age, Charles Bukowski certainly milked the "dirty old man" bio for all it was worth in his later years. It seemed to work. You never see pictures of him as a young guy, he's always that dirty old man who writes poetry. And novels. And really great short stories.

01-11-2008, 04:54 PM
Bryce Courtney (best selling Australian author) was 55(ish) when The Power of One (his first book) was published. It's not 65, but it's something.

01-11-2008, 05:03 PM
It's dang good, is what it is.

This list, and all your help so far.

01-11-2008, 05:13 PM
Shadow Ferret.

At least I'm hoping.

01-11-2008, 05:28 PM
How old be you then, mr. Ferret?

01-11-2008, 06:07 PM
William Steig was in his 60s when he tried his hands in writing... he wrote Shrek! in 1990, when he was 83 years old.

There were news recently about a 90-year-old debut novel... Here you go: http://www.radaronline.com/features/2007/09/millard_kaufman_bowl_of_cherries_mcsweeneys_1.php

Will Lavender
01-11-2008, 06:35 PM
Yeah, the author in the link Ray used has been much-talked-about this year. I believe she was nominated for the National Book Award.

There's also Charles Chadwick, the British novelist who was seventy-two when he sold his first novel, It's All Right Now, in a six-figure deal.

01-11-2008, 06:36 PM
How old be you then, mr. Ferret?
Turned 50 last year.

01-11-2008, 06:55 PM
I am 75 and had my first suspense horror novel, A GATHERING OF VULTURES, released in 2007 and my first historical, ROCAMORA, will be released this year.

Never give up or fear to begin at any age.


01-11-2008, 07:12 PM
Good for you!

01-11-2008, 07:22 PM
Writing is an endeavor that can be done at any age -- sometimes the older you are, the better.

Even acting. I've heard people say you've got to be young and beautiful to break into the business. Well, it all depends on what you're trying to do. I know a successful character actress who started her career in her 50s. She just won an Emmy a couple of years ago. Never say "too late."

01-11-2008, 07:27 PM
Frank McCourt author of Angela's Ashes. It's also a great film.

01-11-2008, 07:29 PM
William Steig was in his 60s when he tried his hands in writing... he wrote Shrek! in 1990, when he was 83 years old.

There were news recently about a 90-year-old debut novel... Here you go: http://www.radaronline.com/features/2007/09/millard_kaufman_bowl_of_cherries_mcsweeneys_1.php

Great link, Ray. It also mentions Raymond Chandler (51), Laura Ingalls Wilder (65) and Frank McCourt (66).

01-11-2008, 08:05 PM
That it did, and my list is starting to become a respectable size. I knew there were heaps of oldies breaking through out there! And I knew AW wouldn't disappoint.

01-11-2008, 08:41 PM
How about Norman Maclean? The man publishes his first book, A River Runs Through It at seventy-freakin’-four year’s old. There’s hope for us all! Because for every Rossini, who wrote The Barber of Seville at 23, there’s Verdi—who wrote Othello at 74 and Falstaff at 80. And for every Dorothy Straight, who was 4 when she wrote How the World Began, there’s Sarah Louise Delaney, the oldest published author whose second book was released when she was 105.

It was titled A Century of Great Sex. Ok, not really, but it was still a big deal.

01-11-2008, 09:10 PM
You might remind him that when someone sends a ms to an agent, that agent has no idea of how old you might be. By the time they find out you're too old, they've sold the book and it's too late.

01-11-2008, 10:47 PM
I did mention that :)

01-11-2008, 10:49 PM
I am 73.

01-11-2008, 10:55 PM
Of course you are. Your face carries your years, and a heavy burden they must be. *shakes head sadly*

Norman D Gutter
01-12-2008, 12:18 AM
Turned 50 last year.

Oh to have been doing this when I was only 50!

01-12-2008, 01:31 AM
Which proves chronology is not destiny.


01-12-2008, 02:30 AM
Every bio of an author that I read, first thing I scan for -- how old when first published. Great thread, WM!

Linda Adams
01-12-2008, 02:55 AM
This is not an author who made a debut but is still writing: Phyllis Whitney. She's 104 and is working on her autobiography.

01-12-2008, 07:00 AM
I think that this thread ought to become a sticky. Or, a list created of author, age and title/s, and then placed as a sticky.

In our youth-obsessed culture (which flies in the face of the major aging of the populations throughout most of the industrialised countries), this is very encouraging, supportive and necessary information.


01-12-2008, 07:17 AM
George Dell wrote his first novel, The Earth Abideth (CBS mini-series, Seasons of Love) at age 37 but it wasn't published until he was 85. His second published novel, Dance Unto the Lord, written at age 70, was published after his death at age 91. Both published by Ohio State University Press, same as "And Ladies of the Club". Puma

01-12-2008, 10:15 PM
I could be wrong, in that he might not have been in his 50's, but wasn't Tolkein quite up there when Lord of the Rings was published?

01-12-2008, 11:39 PM
A bit of quick research tells me he was 45 when The Hobbit was published.

01-13-2008, 12:33 AM
A bit of quick research tells me he was 45 when The Hobbit was published.
Hey, 60 is the new 45. :D

01-13-2008, 03:58 AM
I'll be sure and tell my dad that :)

01-14-2008, 06:28 AM
I am 73.
Liar, liar, chocolate pants on fire!

01-14-2008, 09:18 AM
Australian writer, Elizabeth Jolley. Apparently she started writing in her 20's but didn't gain notice until her 50's. She died last year.

01-14-2008, 09:38 AM
I am Padma Narayanaswamy an Indian writer . Nice to read such posts . I am a late starter .
I would like to be known as a writer. such posts makes me more optimistic

01-15-2008, 09:37 AM
Penelope Fitzgerald published her first book at 58, her first novel at 60, & won the Booker at 62.

01-15-2008, 07:12 PM
Hey, there Willow. Have you told your father yet? If so, what does he plan to do?

01-15-2008, 07:21 PM
His birthday is at the end of February. I'm still taking notes from this thread... :)

01-16-2008, 03:46 AM
L. M. Boston (Lucy Maria Boston), who wrote the Green Knowe series and a dozen other books for children and adults, wrote her first book in her 60s. She lived to be 98.
She also handstitched an elaborate patchwork quilt every year, even after her sight failed so that she needed assistance threading the needle.

01-16-2008, 09:01 AM
there's a 93 year old writer who has just published her first novel in the UK. She's published by one of the big publishers too, and I'll get back with her name when my writing students finish with my 'Writer's News'. That's where I first read about her.