In my 50’s, during Covid, I changed jobs again. I’d originally worked as a stand-up comic, but had been a BBC radio-drama producer for ten years at that point. Then came lockdown, and there were no recordings happening, so no producing work. The only thing I could think of doing from home, was to finally try what I’d always dreamed of: writing a novel. My first book THE DAUGHTER was published in 2022: ‘One of the best crime books of 2022’ Sunday Times. ‘Pitch Perfect’ Daily Mail. My second book THE SAVED, is published Jan 25th 2024. Here are seven things I’ve learnt while becoming a novelist in my 50’s:

Author Liz Webb

Author Liz Webb

-       Risk-taking gets harder as you get older, but it’s so worth it. In my 20’s and 30’s, I worked as a stand-up comic, a nude model for art classes, and a cocktail waitress in the West End, putting mercenary’s guns behind the bar; I rode a motorcycle; I drank, experimented with drugs and had lots of lovers; I was constantly trying new and sometimes dangerous things, without considering the consequences. In my 40’s I became the Queen of Careful, with a proper job at the BBC, a husband and child and seven sizes of sticking plasters in my bag. In my 50’s, I became wary of drinking caffeine after five! Without lockdown I would never have risked writing a novel. But being forced to make that leap, was brilliant and life-changing. 

-       Thank God for relativism with age. Writing can be a paranoid profession. Writers are totally on their own as they come up with ideas, bang out a shaky first draft and then edit endlessly till they risk asking their agent/publisher/readers to judge them. It’s daunting, but now I’m a bit older, I know what proper stress is from life’s major ups and downs and losing loved ones. Publishing pain is real in the moment, but hardly mortally wounding. I’ve been well reviewed so far, though everyone gets the odd shitty 1-star review on Amazon, and when that happens, I just think, hey ho, that’s their opinion, and anyway I don’t like lots of best-sellers, so no sweat, I’ll stay in my lane and keep on writing.

-       Writing is creative – but it’s a tough mundane job sometimes. Would-be writers sometimes fantasise that the life of a writer consists of lying on a velvet chaise longue feeling the muse descend, or gayly tapping out books on a pastel-coloured laptop in a jolly little coffee shop. Those fantasies are quickly dispelled when you actually try to finish a whole book that’s sellable. A book is looooong, you need a unique hook, a distinctive voice, rich characters, layers, motifs, a crafted narrative, endless edits and that certain X factor that no one can ever define but that everyone says you need to make your book pick-up-able and un-put-down-able. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of hard work along the way and by the tenth edit you’re delirious with words. Novelists are no slouches.

-       Writing isn’t a job for recluses. When I was a stand-up comic, I was showing off for crowds. As a drama producer, I was encouraging writers, negotiating the BBC hierarchy and organising a large team during productions. I thought that writing would be a solitary affair and I could be my true shy quiet self, leaving the selling to publishers and publicists. Ha! When a book is ready to sell, there’s so much to do: writing articles like this once; talking on book podcasts, doing readings and Q&A’s, appearing at book festivals and on panels. And then there’s the dreaded social media: eye-catching tweets and messages; reels of me quirkily unboxing my books; charismatic readings of vivid book extracts; forty second introductions to ‘ME’; and soundtracked, graphically enhanced little films of anything that will draw readers in on TikTok. Basically, loads of different forms of me begging PLEASE BUY MY BOOK! 

-       Everything is copy to a writer. All the good stuff in my life, all the dull stuff, and all the strange stuff is useful for plots. And even all the bad stuff: the family arguments and years of relations not speaking to each other; the crappy boyfriend who got me and my best friend’s sister pregnant at the same time followed by my miscarriage; the extreme illness of loved ones. That stuff that was horrible at the time, but has been useful in my writing. And by writing about those things, I’ve managed to work through them to a certain extent. In my 2nd book THE SAVED, I wrote about the fear of the death of a loved one and the relativism of forgiveness – things I knew nothing whatsoever about when I was young, but being middle-aged, I know only too well.

-       Writing success doesn’t breed confidence. I’m two books in on this writing journey and doing well, but with each book I feel more nervous, not less. I wrote my first one in a whoosh, knowing nothing about the business, so not anticipating what was ahead. With my 2nd book, I knew that I had to make my book jump out for readers, that the publishing industry was choked with psychological crime, that the process of writing and editing was going to be long and arduous and that there would be a ton of selling to do once it was written. Knowing more, made me daunted and self-questioning. But I survived and thrived, and eventually typed ‘The End’ on book 2. Now I’m onto book 3, feeling even more fragile!

-       Writing has brought me new close friends. Jerry Seinfeld famously once said: ‘I actually only have three friends. I really can't handle any more.’ By my 50’s, I had my circle of close friends, and I found new people difficult. But writing has opened up a whole new pool of people and I have lots in common with them because of our shared writing experience. I’ve met new friends on courses, writing retreats, when travelling for research, at writers’ conferences, in my agent and publisher and surprisingly, on social media: 99% of the writers there are great and supportive. Being a writer is like being part of a secret society where we’re all bound by the shared knowledge of how hard it is to write books and how vulnerable we can feel along the way, so we’re generally there for each other. (With a bit of green-eyed jealousy for others’ successes of course, we’re not angels.)

Liz Webb's latest novel The Saved is out 25th January 2024

The Saved by Liz Webb cover image

See Our Preview Click Here

THE SAVED, is published by Allison & Busby on 25th January 20224 and is available in hardback, eBook and audio Here

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