Grumpy Old Writers, or The Grampa/Grandma List: promising speculative fiction authors over the age of 40

It started with a tweet in response to the publication of Granta’s Best Young Novelists list for 2013

It is the most shattering experience of a writer’s life when he wakes one day and says quite reasonably, I will never make the Granta list.
@davidmbarnett

For, alas, if a writer is past the age of 40 he or she is deemed too old to be promising.

Some of us would set that benchmark differently. Far too many years ago, for example, I had to ask the editors of Interzone to stop referring to me as a ‘promising young writer’ as I had turned the grand old age of 30.

But then seven years later I was suddenly young and promising again: back in 2003, in my YA guise as Nick Gifford, I was on Waterstones’ list of bright young things, aka Faces of the Future (sneakily published a few weeks ahead of Granta‘s list for that year).

So, to narrow down the criteria… For an alternative list we’re looking for promising writers over the age of 40. Or 30. Or something in between. Let’s say 40 – that’s Granta‘s glass ceiling, so let’s re-use it.

Genre? Well much as I’d like to set no such limitations, let’s face it: I know far more about genre authors than I do about the lit’ry mainstream, speculative fiction authors in particular. Even then, there are lots I’d be likely to miss out, purely through my own oversight.

Nationality? I’d rather not, but it’s convenient, so as I’m UK-based let’s keep it local by sticking to authors who are based here, published here or have some other strong claim to being promising in the UK.

But then, as the Twitter exchange developed, we started referring to Grumpy Old Writers.

Woah, there!

Stamping down on the danger that we would branch into two rival lists almost as soon as we’d got started, let’s merge the two, and here are our criteria:

Promising speculative fiction authors with a UK presence, 40 or older, who I’m aware of and haven’t momentarily forgotten to include, and able to be grumpy about all these young upstarts invading our turf.

So who gets onto this list of significant oldcomers?

The Grampa List (first draft)
[also, please be reassured that I could be completely wrong here, both about the levels of grumpiness and the age…]

  • David Barnett (has published some interesting stuff already, but destined to make a big splash with his forthcoming steampunkery from Tor)
  • Chris Beckett (shortlisted for this year’s Arthur C Clarke and BSFA awards, perhaps he’s getting too much attention already)
  • Eric Brown (the perennial professional, like bindweed he keeps on putting out superb stories, occasionally getting lots of attention and then just keeping on plugging away)
  • Jaine Fenn (first novel only appeared five years ago, so definitely in the youngish upstart category)
  • Jon Courtenay Grimwood (ooh… controversial: surely Jon’s profile lifts him above the promising category? Well yes, I’d hope that would be most people’s response, but has he really achieved the acclaim he deserves?)
  • Dave Hutchinson (SF stalwart, capable of brilliance, and I wish he’d write more; and he’s promised to keep the grumpiness quotient up if others fall short)
  • Liz Jensen (dark, creepy, slipstream, always interesting)
  • Juliet McKenna (the kind of author this list could have been made for: a top-notch fantasy author who deserves a lot more success than a bunch of other fantasy authors I’m not going to name until you buy me another drink)
  • Jeff Noon (bright young star who went quiet, but now is bursting back onto the scene with an anniversary edition of his classic Vurt, lots of reissues, online experimentation and pushing of limits, and new books, too)
  • Ian Sales (such a fixture on the UK SF scene that most people probably think he’s published more than he has; winning this year’s BSFA short fiction award is surely the start of greater things)
  • Anna Tambour (okay, the link is tenuous: she’s based in Australia but has had much of her work published in the UK; I’ve no idea how old she is; and anyway, I love her writing so she’s on my list – in fact, I like her work so much that I talked my way into writing a foreword for her first book and have subsequently produced ebook editions of two of her books)
  • Jo Walton (too successful already? Perhaps, but much of her success has come in the US – over here she’s one of those who deserves more…)
  • Liz Williams (…as is Liz Williams, a fabulous author who shrugs off genre limitations, and has also published the non-fiction Diary of a Witchcraft Shop)
  • Neil Williamson (like David Barnett, Neil is a genuine old upstart, with some impressive short fiction publications behind him and a much-anticipated first novel due out in 2014)

Because of the rather unscientific approach taken here, I know this list is not comprehensive, hence my labelling it ‘draft’. Who else should be on it? Who shouldn’t? And what would an equivalent list be without the UK-ish restriction, or with some other arbitrary geographical limits?

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

14 responses to “Grumpy Old Writers, or The Grampa/Grandma List: promising speculative fiction authors over the age of 40

  • rosanne

    I’d suggest Nina Allan for your list! Author of many short stories, novellas and novel-like story collections, often on the slipstreamish and subtle side.

  • rosanne

    Shucks.. If there was a like button I’d click it now!

  • keith brooke

    Paul Cornell, SL Grey, SImon Ings, Nina Allan, Rosanne Rabinowitz… You know that thing where after you’ve said, or written, something in public and then you suddenly remember all the things you *should* have said? That.

  • baeneditor

    I’d suggest Frank Chadwick for the list. He’s old like us. He’s got a debut SF novel out now, and a very interestingly done steampunkish thing out next January. Of course, I am his editor, so take that into account as you will. 🙂

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  • keith brooke

    I knew I’d miss people. For instance, my wife tells me I should be on the list (I think she heard the ‘grumpy old writers’ part). And I should have included Stephen Palmer, Chris Butler, Sarah Singleton and others, too.

  • martin owton

    Gaie Sebold – though she isn’t grumpy at all

  • Anna Tambour

    Although I’m both honoured and delighted to be on this list of writers who passed 40 and kept going, I must object to the imposed mantle of ‘grumpy’. Why do we accept donning that mass-marketed brand of personality development? Some of us were born grumpy! At my first spanking, I composed my first blistering letter, upside down. But the whole gist of this list is wonderful.

    There are many authors who began writing after 40, and others who only hit their stride when their knees cracked like walnuts underfoot. Jean Auel began researching her first bookat age 41. Wodehouse wrote his most loved stories when he was well past 40. James Herriot’s first book was published when he was 54. Perhaps there is one quality that most of all defines writers who really get into storytelling when they look back at 40. They’ve seen lots of stuff that isn’t in books let alone taught. And they’ve accrued a wealth of failure and embarrassment. This brings a certain brash whatthefuckness to the writing, which could be construed as grumpiness, but I think is more accurately, pigheadedness.

  • Anna Tambour

    But then again, the difference between angry young and grumpy old might only be in the age of the perceiver. And what about the all those uncounted angruy youlds?

  • rosanne

    Yes, Anna brings up some good points. So what’s the difference between being angry and being grumpy? Perhaps anger implies action, while grumpiness implies sitting there (pipe and slippers optional) and grumbling in a slightly humorous way.
    But the two may be related and they aren’t mutually exclusive!

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