Older Debuts

You're never too old to become a published children's writer. In this post Janet Foxley shares her own experience of achieving success as an older debut and also shares examples of other authors who produced bestsellers later in life.


Writers struggling to get their first book published should take encouragement from the fact that a number of children’s authors who went on to become household names were not published until they were in their fifties or sixties. (Pre-published writers already in their sixties should aim for a place in the record books by bringing out a debut in their seventies, eighties, nineties…)

Lucy M. Boston (1892-1990) was 62 when her first book, Yew Hall, an adult novel which she described
as "a poem to celebrate my love of the house" (the medieval Manor at Hemingford Grey, near Cambridge), was published. The house went on to star in her Green Knowe series of children’s books. She wrote five books in the series, with A Stranger of Green Knowe winning the Carnegie Medal in 1961 when she was 69.


Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) never found a publisher for her autobiography, Pioneer Girl, but she used it as the basis for her ‘Little House’ series of children’s books, the first of which, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932 when she was 65. She completed the series in 1943 aged 79. A TV series based on the books ran for 8 years.





Richard Adams (1920 -) didn’t intend to be a writer. It was his daughters who insisted that the bedtime stories he told them about rabbits ought to be turned into a book. He spent two years writing it and after seven rejections it was published by a small publisher when he was 50. Watership Down quickly became a modern classic and won both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction award.



Dick (actually Ronald Gordon) King-Smith (1922-2011) didn’t intend to be a writer either. He began teaching at the age of 52, after a failed career as a farmer, and started to write a children’s book in the school summer holidays. The Fox Busters was published in 1978, when he was 56, and he left teaching to become a full-time writer aged 60. He went on to write over 120 books, including Sheep-Pig, the basis for the film ‘Babe’, winning many awards. He wrote his last book when he was 85.


What all these writers have in common is that they came to writing in later life, some almost by accident. At 66½, I was actually older than any of them when I first had a book published. But I did not come to writing later in life, or by accident. I wrote my first book, all 8 chapters and 14 pages of it, when I was about eleven. And I continued writing on and off until, at thirty and with a daughter aged one, I decided to write a book for her to read when she was ten. I finally finished Midsummer Legend, had it edited and, because it had become an epic saga far too long to interest a publisher, self-published it when she was thirty-one. She still liked it.


At that point I started to write something appropriately short. But it still took eight years, eight drafts and eight rejections before Muncle Trogg won the 2010 Times-Chicken House competition and went on to be published in 2011.

I’m sure I’d have reached a publishable standard much sooner if SCBWI and all the creative writing courses and editorial agencies we have now had been around when I started out. But I hope I still have time for a ‘career’ and that, like Dick King-Smith, I shall still be writing at 85.



Janet Foxley was nearly put off books for life by a degree wading through German and French classics. She always preferred writing books to analysing them, and she started writing children’s stories when her own children were small. There was little help available for aspiring authors at that time and it took her 35 years to find a publisher. Then, ‘overnight success’, Muncle Trogg sold to 24 countries and was optioned for an animated film. Janet has since written two more books about Muncle, the third currently published only in Germany. She joined SCBWI in 2007.

10 comments:

  1. Inspiring post, Janet. Thank you.

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  2. Hooray for Janet! And don't forget that SCBWI have a special grant for unpublished authors over fifty: The Karen and Philip Cushman Late Bloomer Award

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  3. Janet, exactly what i need to read thank you very much!

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  4. Thanks Janet - that's a heartening post - funny, I've been reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder and was surprised to find she was published with the Little House books in her 60's. When we read children's books we often expect them to be the age of their characters. And good on you for being a mature debut - it makes sense, an older writer must have a treasure chest of material in their loft. There's also Diana Athill...

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    1. There is indeed Diana Athill, and no doubt many others. This being SCBWI, I restricted myself to writers best known for their children's books.

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  5. Great article Janet! With three books published, you're only just hitting your stride. Here's to a long writing career to come.

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  6. Lovely post, Janet. Very informative and reassuring.

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