For all those talented writers still plugging away in obscurity, here’s today’s ray of hope – an infographic from Tesco’s Blinkbox Books, which asks “What age did the greatest authors publish their most famous works?” The original page itself is in fact a fully interactive mega-bookshelf, which invites you to “explore the careers of some of the world’s most successful authors” and “sort by first published book, age at breakthrough book, and number of books published, so you could do far worse for a quick comparative summary skimthrough of some great literary careers. But even the raw graphic is useful enough.
I’d query some of the page’s calls on breakthrough books – for instance, did Evelyn Waugh really have to wait until age 43 and the publication in 1945 of Brideshead Revisited for his “breakthrough,” rather than enjoying his youthful success with his first hit Decline and Fall, published in 1928 when he was just 26? But there are plenty of other examples that do make the point that fiction isn’t always a youngster’s game. And that’s even when it comes to cashbacker bestseller novelists more famous for the size of their print runs (and their wallets) than the quality of their prose. James Patterson, for one, hitting high-net-worth stardom at age 47 with Along Came a Spider (though he’s obviously decided to conserve his energy since then by engaging partner/ghost-writers as well). Or Rosamunde Pilcher for another, hitting the big time at age 65 with The Shell Seekers, after almost a lifetime of Mills & Boon romance writing.
Blinkbox Books itself may not be around much longer, with all the news of a potential sale by Tesco. But at least they’ve left us with this testament to staying power. Back to those keyboards, now, o ye literary toilers – hope springs eternal.