I have a small confession to make: I’ve been feeling a bit old lately. Why? My hair is still proudly 100% natural dark brown and I don’t have gout. No, it’s a few other things that have me feeling geriatric. For one thing, I’ve recently started working at Clarks (incidentally, it’s amazing how many people have bunions) and I discovered that most of my co-workers are aged 16-21 – I asked one guy where was the best place to park and he replied ‘don’t ask me, I’ve only just turned 17, I haven’t started driving lessons yet’. Yikes. For another thing, I saw a post on Tumblr (admittedly a website notorious as a playground for angsty and/or hormonal teenagers) which said ‘reblog if you’re older than the Nintendo Gamecube’.
The Nintendo Gamecube was released in 2001. Yep, I’m older than that. I’m also older than the N64. And I’m older than the SNES. Heck, I’m older than the bloody NES. This makes me, in Tumblr terms, roughly equivalent to the ancient Egyptians. Gah.
Oh well, I thought, perhaps I should spend less time on silly young person’s interwebnetsites and more time on my writing – a much more suitable occupation for an aging matron such as myself. Then I discovered how old Brandon Sanderson is. Brandon Sanderson, for those unfamiliar with his work, is a frighteningly prolific American fantasy writer. His books include the Mistborn series, one of my personal favourites. He was also selected by Robert Jordan’s widow to conclude the Wheel of Time series. He’s 39.
39! That’s not that much older than me! I’d have guessed from his extensive bibliography that he was at least 20 years older. Bloody hell. This discovery pitched me into a pit of despair – how could I ever hope to catch up with someone like that? I’ve written all of one-and-a-half books and a handful of short stories, and I’ve not had anything published outside unpaid stuff on the net. I might as well give up now.
My husband attempted to bring me out of this pit by using annoying tactics such as logic and rationality, eg by pointing out that Brandon Sanderson’s age is of no relevance whatsoever to my writing career and that there are plenty of other writers who haven’t got going until later in life. His example of the latter, however, JK Rowling, was ill-chosen, since by the time she was my age she’d already published the first two Harry Potter books. And so I remained in the pit for about 24 hours, until I looked at the author bio section in the back of my copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I was delighted to find out that the author, Susanna Clarke, is now 55, that she didn’t publish her first book until she was 44, and that it remains her only full-length novel. Yes! This is the kind of slow start and lack of prolificity I can adopt as my target to beat. And if I fail that target, there’s always Mary Wesley, who was first published in her 70s. Feeling better now.
If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that this is all a bit silly. It doesn’t really matter how old other fantasy writers are or how many books they have unleashed on the world – and even if it does matter, I can’t do anything about it. What matters is that I get on with my writing to the best of my ability. There’s always an urge to check out the competition – but the real challenge is to wrestle the ideas in my head onto paper. And, I can remind myself, one-and-a-half books at the age of 33 is much better going than all those untold thousands of would-be authors who’ve never managed to finish a thing.