Yesterday, gloriously, we sat outside in the north London sun and had lunch with Good Friends.
John Harvey was one of the first ‘other published writers’ I ever met, on the first ever book reading I did, when Calendar Girl first came out – which means it must have been some time in 1994. I know it was Wales, I’m fairly certain it was Cardiff, but for some reason I also have a suspicion it might have been Swansea. Sorry, Welsh people. (I was, naturally I think, quite nervous, and so the exact location has become a bit blurred.)
What I do know for sure is that also on that panel were Val McDermid and Frances Fyfield, and they were all immensely kind to me, a new writer, with just one book to my name. They didn’t treat me like an interloper, like someone who might steal their sales (as if!), they gave good hints about the business (always be nice to booksellers, one suit with a variety of accoutrement changes is brilliant for a book tour), let me shine in whatever way I was able to, and then afterwards, Frankie took me and the Mrs and Val out to dinner – I recall her saying she thought it was the kind of tab her publishers might well pick up. (Those were the days!)
I suspect they were kind because they are all crime writers and it was a crime-writing panel. From my very clear perspective as someone shelved under both crime and literary fiction I can categorically say that crime writers are (almost always) friendlier. It might be the chip on the shoulder that comes from being marginalised (while bringing so much money into the industry!), it might be that rarely (if ever) being nominated for the big lit prizes means there’s a feeling of less competition, it might be that almost every crime writer I know is also a political animal of some kind and therefore I’m personally predisposed to like them. My personal is still very political. (The crime novel, in particular the modern British crime novel, is often more likely to deal with society’s ills than the modern British literary novel – something I find profoundly depressing.)
Anyway, the point is, they were kind to me. The crime writers made me feel welcome then, and have continued to do so even though I haven’t written crime for a couple of books and may not for the next few books at least. I was also coming to this writing lark from the theatre, and was amazed that there was no sense in which these older, more skilled, more successful writers thought I was stepping on their toes. Which certainly wasn’t often my experience with older, more skilled, more successful actresses!
Now, how do I put this delicately? (Do I need to?) John is no youth. He wrote a nice interlude on his blog recently about being delighted to be asked to show proof of age when asking for a senior ticket in a cinema. And John is still working, studying again now too. His new book’s doing great, and he’s allowing himself more time for other things he also enjoys, but aware there will be another book in time. Which is exactly the kind of role model every (middle aged) writer like me and the Mrs needs. Neither of us intends to stop working at 60 or 65 (not that we could afford to right now anyway, ah this pesky recession!) We don’t want to stop working. What we do doesn’t have a cut-off date. And more and more I am impressed by my older friends who are not letting age or illness or finding they need a rest up a long flight of stairs stop them. They might be adjusting their schedules a little, they might be basking in the glow of hugely successful pigeons finally coming home to roost, they might not be having easy lives at all – but they’re not STOPPING.
Personally I’m a little bored with youth culture. I’m more than tired with TV execs who want to find and screen the youth voice all the time. I’ve had enough of theatres funding YOUTH writing schemes when they could (should) be helping NEW writers of whatever age. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge and wisdom out there, gained from simply years of living. (Yes, of course I know annoying and stupid old people, I know annoying and stupid young and middle aged ones too!) Our age pyramid is turning upside down and by the time I get to have a senior pass for the movies, it will be well and truly inverted. I don’t intend to be an ignored ‘older person’ – not as a writer or a woman or a gay woman (hmm, because we’re so present in the public eye now – hah!) – so I guess it’s time for us all to start changing things faster, sooner. In twenty years time that youth market the tv types are so damn keen to capture will be middle aged, quite possibly with even fewer youth after them than we have now. So, in truth, the market they should be aiming for right now, those producer types in all fields, is the middle aged and older market. Yay. Can’t wait to see how they try to win us over!
Maybe they could start by stopping pretending that we don’t exist?!
(And as for career changes when older, starting new projects when older, becoming a writer when older, well, as I always say in workshops … remember Mary Wesley!)