The literary world is crammed full of wunderkinds. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published when he was 24. Emma Cline published The Girls at 27 after receiving a record-breaking advance for her work. Mary Shelly was 17 when she wrote Frankenstein. But not every author finds success that young. In fact, not every writer even finds writing that young.
We rounded eight author struggle stories in the past, but to inspire you more, we’ve discovered six more writers who found success later in life, proving that age is just a number when it comes to completing your great American novel. Check them out below.
1. Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker penned the bone-chilling classic, Dracula in 1897 at the age of 50. On a day-to-day basis, the gothic novelist was the personal assistant to popular actor Henry Irving, and the business manager of the theater Irving owned in central London (the Lyceum Theater). Proving once and for all, that it’s possible to make your great novel a side hustle. And while Dracula wasn’t Stokers first published work—he’d written a non-fiction standard work entitled The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland and a couple of short stories that were published in local newspapers—it was definitely the book that established him as a serious author and the only one to bring him any notoriety.
2. Richard Adams
Richard Adams was born in Wash Common, Berkshire, England in 1920. In 1940 he was called up to join the British Army where he served in the airborne division until the end of WW2 in 1946. After the war ended, he completed his higher education studies and joined the British Civil Service before finally, finally publishing his masterpiece Watership Down in 1972 at the ripe old age of 52. It was only after Watership Down found international success that Adams quit his civil service job and became a full-time author, penning 18 more books before his death in 2016.
3. Anthony Burgess
Anthony Burgess, probably best known for his masterpiece A Clockwork Orange, lived a very full and varied life before turning to writing at 39. He served in the army (and climbed his way up the ranks to sergeant-major), worked as an English and Drama teacher, produced amateur theater productions, joined the British Colonial Service and was stationed in Malaya and moved to Brunei. It was there that Burgess collapsed and was diagnosed with what was believed to be an inoperable brain tumor. After moving back to England in 1959 he turned to writing in order to leave a stream of income for his widow. In a crazy turn of events, Burgess found out he’d been misdiagnosed, but was so obsessed with writing by that point that it became his full-time career.
4. William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs was one of the main voices of the beat generation, and while we tend to imagine the beats as perpetual twenty-somethings, Burroughs was 39 when his first book was published. In 1951, while playing a drunken game of “William Tell” in Mexico City Burroughs accidentally shot his second wife, Joan Vollmer and was consequently convicted of manslaughter. While dealing with the stress of an impending trial and the guilt of knowing what he’d done (whether accidentally or not), he turned to writing and began work on Queer. He said this in reference to his writing career and it’s strange origins: “So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.”
5. George Eliot
George Eliot was the pen name of Victorian-era writer Mary Ann Evans. She’s often regarded as one of the most prolific and acclaimed writers of the era but felt that the pen name was necessary in order to ensure that her works were taken seriously during her lifetime. Mary Ann had worked extensively as a critic and editor in her younger years, but when she published her first novel Adam Bede (at 40!) she wanted to separate it from her more academic work and discredit any assumptions that it was going to be a lighthearted romance. The pen name did the trick, and she was able to publish her most acclaimed novel, Middlemarch, twelve years later to unanimous praise.
6. Anna Sewell
Anna Sewell wrote the beloved children’s classic Black Beauty in the last decade of her life. Born to a devout Quaker family, Anna worked closely with her mother, also a children’s book author, which inspired her to eventually take up writing herself. She also had a major accident as a young child that left her with a bad leg, and, for the rest of her life, she required crutches to walk any distance. The leg injury also made her extremely reliant on horse-drawn carriages to get around—something that made the humane treatment of animals a major concern for her and gave her the concept for her book. Finally, in 1957, at 57, she published Black Beauty, only to die the next year.