It’s never too late: 82-year old first-time writer gets 3-book deal
Giving the lie to the truism that fiction is a young person’s game, an 82-year-old teacher and theater director has secured a three-book contract with U.K. publisher Honno Press. Myrrha Stanford-Smith declared herself “gobsmacked.”
She’s not the only one. Imagine how Sam Tanenhaus must feel. The editor of The New York Times Book Review, Tanenhaus is the latest scribe to argue “an essential truth about fiction writers: They often compose their best and most lasting work when they are young.”
Actually, Stanford-Smith’s late-late-blooming triumph is the exception that proves (i.e., “tests”) the rule, rather than a contradiction to Tanenhaus, who mentions several exceptions of his own, including Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Ann Porter and Norman Rush. He might also have included the recently deceased Portuguese Nobelist, Jose Saramago, a journalist who didn’t really get started as a novelist until he passed the age of 50.
So while it is probably true that most writers peak by 40, Stanford-Smith gives hope to all who have not yet written that masterpiece. Her first novel, The Great Lie, reached U.K. bookstores last week. I can find no word of its publication in the United States, but if it sells well at home, it will come here, too.
Stanford-Smith’s trilogy features a “swashbuckling” Elizabethan hero named Nick Talbot, reports the Daily Mail, and centers on the rivalry between playwrights William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Talbot, a 16-year-old nobleman’s son, runs away with a group of traveling players to London, where he meets Marlowe.
“I had to put the phone down and ring them back as I was so taken aback by the whole thing,” says Stanford-Smith.
A trained actress who worked in London’s West End, Stanford-Smith retired to Wales in the 1990s, but instead of taking it easy founded the Ucheldre Repertory Company, where she still works as a director and teacher. The Guardian reports she will direct a production of Richard III this Fall.
Stanford-Smith says she always “held a passion for creative writing.” After receiving positive feedback for a children’s story she sent to BBC Radio last summer, she decided to try writing a novel.
When the publisher called with news her manuscript was being accepted, Stanford-Smith was so overcome she had to put down the phone and call back later.
“It was out of the blue. I’d been waiting for the manuscript to be sent back really, rejected. It was such a wonderful surprise.”
So if you think you have a novel in you, get busy. Obviously, it’s never too late. Just don’t send it to Honno Press. A Welsh company specializing in women authors, it has been “overwhelmed” since news of Stanford-Smith’s success broke in the U.K., and isn’t accepting any new manuscripts Oct. 1.