Getting Older, by Elizabeth Kay

Gone are the days when I could be so into writing a book that I’d be in front of the computer at 6am, eat all my meals there, and go to bed at midnight having written several thousand words. And I’d still be the same weight the following week, without having had any form of exercise whatsoever. 

I wrote The Divide in three weeks, all 70,000 words of it. It needed editing, obviously, but not as substantially as you might think. I’m 71 now. My 70th birthday really upset me, and I hated it. On one level I simply couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I didn’t like 40, but 50 and 60 were fine. But 70? That’s old. So how has ageing affected the way I write? Far more substantially than I might have wished. I get up early, that’s no problem, but there always seem to be so many jobs to do before I can settle down in front of the computer. For an hour at most. Because then it’s time for breakfast and after that, The Walk. Wrist problems rule out a lot of other forms of physical activity, but a walk is great. I can get out in the fresh air, mull over some plot problems, and be back in time for lunch. Except it’s dinner these days, since husband is retiring and we can order our days as we wish. Eating the main meal in the evening leads to indigestion and putting on weight, so it’s back to my childhood with dinner in the middle of the day and tea at 6pm. Excluding cake. Well, sometimes excluding cake. Anyway, The Walk takes an hour and a half, and dinner another hour, and after that all I want to do is go to sleep. So that’s another couple of hours. I might manage to write for another hour or two before it’s tea time, and watching the news, and then I’m too tired to do anything other than watch something on the box, or read. 

The absence of travel abroad has has a bigger impact than I expected. Just three years ago I was getting fit so that I could climb volcanoes in Nicaragua. I may have been slightly slower than the young things who were also in the group, but I still got to the top. Last summer I was wild camping in Botswana, and climbing trees quite happily to get a better view of the terrain. But I know the combination of lockdown and age has resulted in a lack of confidence, and I’m not sure how enthusiastic I’d be about doing something new and challenging any more. So the new and challenging has been a mental one, to tackle a new genre, and escape into it. 

Writers are the lucky ones during lockdown, even if it doesn’t feel like it. We have the ability to lose ourselves in the settings we have created, and meet new people – the ones we have invented. And if new ideas aren't coming as thick and fast as before, try writing a sequel to something you've written before – or even someone else's book, that's out of copyright. It can be a lot of fun. Catching up with characters we haven’t been in touch with for a while, and finding out what they’ve been doing in the meantime. Discovering that there’s been a coup while we were away, and everything has changed. Writing a sequel does take a bit longer, because you’re constantly having to check your facts – did this person know that person? What colour was their hair? Where were they when you last left them? And writing the third book in a trilogy is even harder, because you’re having to refer to two other texts. And then you get a ten-year-old who seems to know the book better than you do, and points out something even the editor missed. It happens to the best of us, though. Did anyone else notice that The Silver Chair has a real time discrepancy? Caspian was a teenager when we left him at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where he met and married the Star’s daughter. But in The Silver Chair he’s a very old man, and his son Rilian has gone missing. Rilian is about twenty-five, the age a grandson ought to be. Perhaps Star’s daughters don’t go through the menopause, and find it extremely hard to conceive when they’re young? 

Anyway, after I've finished this I shall travel back to Kenya, stranded in the bush without a phone. At least I still have my sleeping bag! Or do I? Was that a baboon dragging it off while I was checking my punctuation?


Sandra Horn said…
Ah, Elizabeth, I'm even older - and have found this year has taken its toll on my health, BUT have put a first edition of poetry together in the extra time lockdown has granted. You still sound incredibly adventurous! It's just a number. Thanks for a great post!
Bill Kirton said…
I've got bad (or good) news for you, Elizabeth: 70's not old. But, as Sandra says, you seem to be doing very well anyway. I wish I still had your ability to sprint up mountains. I do, however, appreciate that the pleasure in writing doesn't fade (or hasn't yet, anyway) and time still gets nicely suspended when it’s just me, the keyboard, the screen and an active imagination. Bon courage.
Nicky said…
You are so energetic and passionate about everything, I hadn't even noticed you were older than me!keep doing what you're doing!
Bob Newman said…
I'm glad there really was a baboon. I was afraid it might have meant me, her husband, also pictured.
Umberto Tosi said…
Oh my, yes. At 83, I know the feeling. I just finished my latest novel's final draft ready for editing, in far from my record time. I'm happy just to finish anything. I can't sit for those endless stints anymore. I can only give thanks to still accomplish anything. Who knows? Maybe quality has improved. We are different people writing at 70+ than at 30+ after all. Happy holidays!
70 is the new 50!!! But good for you, diving into new work. I've found writing fiction really difficult this year, but I did manage to finish a book that needed some redrafting. A sequel (or maybe a prequel?) is a good idea, though... hmmm, it might be time to revisit the Echorium?
Unknown said…
Thank you all for you rejuvenating comments. I feel twenty years younger!
Penny Dolan said…
As I read this, Liz, I did recognise that slippage of the day and how it impacts on the time available and even the importance of writing. Also, as this time becomes more sharply poignant - and one is so blatantly labelled as "elderly" - being around one's partner as a companion seems even important.

But, also, you have such a host of wonderful memories, Liz! I have always envied the places that you've visited and your courage in journeying so far. Hope some of that inspiration is still there, and is just resting fallow during this odd collection of months.

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