TEN YEARS AGO, in my 60s, I was a non-fiction writer with three books and hundreds of articles to my credit. I loved to sing but couldn’t read music and had never managed to learn a foreign language. Today, at 73, I’m singing in a demanding four-part choir and prattling happily away in faulty but improving Spanish. And, most importantly, after a lifetime of reading novels but never dreaming I could write one, I seem to have become a novelist.
When I told my friend, the novelist Jane Urquhart, a story about the marriage of two Swedish painters and she responded that that was the germ of my first novel, I thought she’d taken leave of her senses. But her intuition launched me on a 10-year journey in which I tried, over and over, to do justice to that story. The result, Sofie & Cecilia, was published this spring by Knopf Canada, and I’m halfway through the draft of a second novel.
I don’t mean to present myself as the poster girl for reinvention. But in my experience, the older you get, the easier it is. For one thing, we understand that time is not a renewable resource: age brings a very effective now-or-never impetus. It also brings perspective: if you want to do something for the work and joy it will involve, it’s time to stop fussing about perfection. As Montaigne said, “The journey, not the arrival, matters.” I still can’t read music at all well but I can learn the alto part of my choir’s repertoire by singing along with an alto soloist on YouTube. My Spanish is full of holes, but I decided just to jump in and keep swimming. As for writing novels, my dearest wish is for a good number of years to work at mastering my craft.