Glorious news for the over-50s! Passing your half-century is not the beginning of a long and slow decline into forgotten phone numbers and mislaid car keys. Quite the opposite. For many, it is the start of a creative explosion of literary triumph, artistic glory and entrepreneurial conquest. As Manchester University psychology professor Cary Cooper explains, this surge is the release of creativity that has always been there, but put on hold as we’re weighed down by family and career responsibilities. So, be inspired by these late bloomers and get writing, painting or selling
For the first 50 years of his life, Daniel Defoe was a jack of all trades - travelling hosiery salesman, wool merchant, businessman, poet, political pamphleteer and occasional bankrupt. Then he took up writing and, in 1719, aged 59, penned his debut novel, Robinson Crusoe.
As a teenager, Trevor Baylis swam for Great Britain, but failed to qualify for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In 1991, aged 54 – after stints in the army, as a swimming pool salesman and a stunt performer – he invented the wind-up radio.
Harland David Sanders, AKA The KFC Colonel, was a school dropout, farmer, steamboat pilot, stoker and insurance salesman. As a service station manager, he sold petrol and fried chicken dinners to passing customers from his front room in North Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression.
When a new highway was built, diverting all the traffic and ruining his business, he had a brainwave – he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken and opened the first branch in South Salt Lake, Utah, in 1952. He was 62.
Impoverished inventor Walter Hunt (53) created the safety pin - the first pin with a clasp and spring action, designed to keep fingers safe from injury, hence the name. On April 10 1849 he was granted a patent, which he sold for $400 – a huge sum then – to a creditor.
New Yorker Jack Cover, a World War 2 test pilot, had worked as a scientist for Nasa and IBM before relaunching himself in 1970 at 50 as an entrepreneur when he invented the Taser gun in his garage. Though not an immediate success (the police were wary), electroshock stun weapons are now used by law enforcement agents worldwide.
Peter Mark Roget wrote Roget’s Thesaurus, loved by wordsmiths, when he was 73.
The first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus was published in 1852. He supervised every update until he died at the age of 90.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, a mother of two from Wisconsin, wrote Little House in the Big Woods at 64. It started as an autobiography called Pioneer Girl, but when she couldn’t find a publisher, she reworked it into the first of the Little House on the Prairie books in 1935.
Alexander McCall Smith was a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University who wrote unsuccessful books as a sideline.
But in 1998, the year he reached his halfcentury, he hit the big time with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, his novel set in Botswana. It was subsequently made into a BBC TV series.