Age: Seventy. Residence: Oxfordshire, England. Book: Meet Me at the Museum (Flatiron Books, August), an epistolary novel about a dissatisfied farmer’s wife and a lonely museum curator who develop an unexpected relationship.
Editor: Caroline Bleeke. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand of Union Literary.
ISEEM to have waited longer than most to have my first novel published. Meet Me at the Museum came out just after my seventieth birthday. I have been asked (and ask myself) whether I wish this had happened sooner. On the whole I do not. I have enjoyed every moment of the process, from preparation for publication through launch and beyond, and I feel incredibly lucky to be doing so many things I have never done before, when I might have expected nothing much would happen to me that I had not already experienced. On the other hand, if I had known before that what I was writing justified an audience, I would have had more years of reactions from readers, which has been one of the most engaging aspects of being a published author.
I have always written, but only for myself and for a group of committed writing friends. I had another career, though, and I waited until I retired before telling myself that now I would be a writer. I knew I needed to improve, and I did that by writing more and by seeking feedback from professional writers. Both of these things happened, for me, through writing courses: an undergraduate diploma and a master’s degree, as well as a PhD, which I am currently still working toward. I wrote mostly short stories and sent them off to competitions and had some success but never tried very hard to find a publisher for my experiments in longer fiction.
With Meet Me at the Museum, though, success came easily and early. When I started writing it, my PhD tutor introduced me to an agent he was sure would be interested. She was, and when I finished it, she secured an offer from a U.K. publisher within days of sending it out for consideration. The sale to Flatiron in the U.S. came shortly afterward, and it is now due to be published in nine other languages.
It took a year from the point I finished the book to its first appearance in print, and
the editing process, which I expected to be awkward at best, turned into a valuable insight into how a practiced eye can spot the places where the prose starts to sag a little, the places where the text ends a moment too soon and those where it needs to be pruned back. I always had control; if I did not want to make the change, I did not.
So why didn’t I try harder to find an agent earlier? Partly because I was afraid the quality of my writing did not justify an agent’s time. But also because I did not want the drive to be published to diminish the enjoyment I have always found in writing. I thought, “If I set this as a goal and fail to reach it, I may find the disappointment is so great I no longer want to write.” And despite all the fun I am having through publication, just writing is still the best bit.
One thing my story proves is that, whatever the competition, publication is achievable. The package has to be right—the book has to be based on a good idea, well constructed, well written, and, of course, finished. If all this comes together, the age of the author turns out to be irrelevant.
One thing my story proves is that, whatever the competition, publication is achievable. The package has to be right—the book has to be based on a good idea, well constructed, well written, and, of course, finished.