A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to teach someone on an Arvon course who, it turned out, was a branding and marketing expert. I needed help with my branding and marketing and she needed help with her writing, so it proved to be the start of a very fruitful friendship.
She helped me to create a new website where I could bring together all the various aspects of my writing and teaching, and develop a much more consistent brand for myself as an author. She’s called Sarah Mackie, and her company is Caxton Bell – I highly recommend her.
It was mostly really interesting and fun working with Sarah, but there were a few sticking points, and the first one for me was her suggestion, when I sent her the draft of my blurb for Writing in the House of Dreams, that rather than describing myself as a ‘much published’, ‘versatile’ or ‘established’ author, I should use the term ‘veteran’.
I argued it. I wasn’t technically a veteran author, as I’d only been published for 23 years and not yet 25. I had had an unusually large number and wide variety of books published in that time, so ‘much published’ and ‘versatile’ were more accurate descriptions. And anyway, I was too young!
She told me of course I was too young, and of course I was prolific and versatile, but the bottom line was there were three kinds of effective author profile, bestselling, award-winning and veteran, and as far as she was aware I hadn’t had a bestseller or won a major award.
So I had to really examine why I’d felt reluctant to acknowledge my age in my professional life, even though in my personal life I celebrate it. I’d never put the year of my birth on my website for example, and had dreaded it appearing somewhere on the net. It has recently done just that, on google search, but according to the bio I’m from the Bronx and was born in 1958, neither of which is the case.
In our culture, we fear ageing and death and idealise youth. We try to disguise the years and look as young as possible. But that is at odds with my personal values because I’ve always believed that while the energy of youth is essential for social change and regeneration, so is the wisdom of age to temper and direct it.
I feel very grateful to have had more than six whole decades of living and learning. In the fields I’ve been writing about recently – dreaming and writing – I know so much more now in my sixties than I did ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years ago, when I first started to explore them in earnest.
When I thought about the experience I brought to Writing in the House of Dreams and When a Writer Isn’t Writing, and how I should be proud of it, and flag it up, it occurred to me that it’s not just in these books that my main drive has been to share what I’ve learnt from life experience.
I remembered that in an interview in 2007, I was already describing myself as ‘an elder’
I think of myself as an elder in a society which doesn’t really have elders any more, writing the sort of reassuring common sense that grandparents used to be there for when families had more leisure and were less geographically dispersed
So Sarah’s suggestion that I should describe myself as a veteran author, flagging up that the value I bring is experience, didn’t only describe what I was doing in my recent books on dreams and writing, but also caught something of the essence of what I’d always done.
Veteran author… OK, I can live with that!