Anne Young­son

Poets and Writers - - 5 Over 50 -

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.

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