Between 2015 and 2017 Robin Lloyd-Jones interviewed nineteen Scottish writers over the age of 70 (and himself):
Sheena Blackhall, Larry Butler, Jenni Calder, A,C,Clarke, Stewart Conn, Douglas Dunn, Sally Evans, Vicki Feaver, Lee Gershuny, Alasdair Gray, Diana Hendry, Richard Holloway, James Kelman. Carl MacDougall, Bernard MacLaverty, Robin Lloyd-Jones, Alison Prince, Pauline Prior-Pitt, John Purser, Sheila Templeton.
The twenty established writers who speak to us through Autumn Voices represent a total of over one hundred and fifty years of varied, fascinating and colourful life experience since passing the age of seventy. All of them show that productivity and creativity can be extended well into later life and provide role models for future generations. These are men and women who see old age as life’s last great adventure and who have chosen to embrace it, to regard it as a new and interesting phase of life, full of possibilities while also accepting the losses age brings with honesty, courage and even humour. Through their lives and their writing they demonstrate qualities, values and attitudes which contribute to successful ageing and continuing creativity. These mature autumn voices speak to us from a point where experience is at its maximum, perspective at its broadest and mastery of craft at its peak. We have much to learn from them.
Too often, because of the weight of negative expectations, so much potential that could be released on retirement and so many ambitions that could be fulfilled in later life come to nothing. By providing positive role models and by furthering our understanding of the nature of creativity in later life, Autumn Voices will help future generations lead creative and fulfilled lives.
Examining creativity in later life is an important strand in our society’s need to acknowledge and understand that physical decline does not necessarily mean a decline in emotional,
creative and personal growth; that creativity is linked to both mental and physical health; and that our economy will not survive unless we stop regarding our elderly citizens as a burden and start seeing them as potentially productive and useful people whose maturity, greater life experience and insights are valuable assets. A society that is better for older people is better for people of all ages. To address the problems and the opportunities of the elderly, as does Autumn Voices, is to benefit the welfare of our society as a whole.
The writers in this book are proof of Emerson’s dictum that you don’t grow old, you become old when you stop growing. The responses to ageing and the changes that have occurred may vary, but in every case growth has continued.
There is much good advice in Autumn Voices, both about writing and about living. It comes from men and women who, rather than denying or resisting old age, have chosen to embrace it, to regard it as a new and interesting phase of life, full of possibilities. While acknowledging that their later lives are related to their earlier years, they appreciate that they go beyond them. Their present lives are not just repeat performances of earlier life. The challenges are different. There is a realization that as one door closes another opens; and that the doors which close behind have positive messages about the direction of their lives every bit as much as the ones that open up in front.
The kind of losses they speak of include loss of friends and life partners, loss of freedom through being unable to drive or because of impaired mobility, a diminishing in faculties such as sight, hearing and memory; and a general slowing down. We see in Autumn Voices how these and other problems and sorrows have produced some beautiful, heartfelt, insightful poetry, short stories and other writings – writing filled with a renewed wonder, with a wry humour about increasing infirmity, with unflinching courage and honesty. And we see how the act of writing about these things is central to coming to terms with them.
Autumn Voices, then, turns out to be a book not only about creative ageing, but about successful ageing in general, The two being closely connected. The mind is a powerful tool in
keeping the negative aspects of ageing at bay, and creativity is like a tonic.
The writers interviewed by Lloyd-Jones talk about the gifts that accompany old age: Deeper self-knowledge; feeling more connected to your true self; feeling connected to something greater than yourself; increased acceptance of self, of your limitations and of life as it really is; greater interest in other people; a strong sense of gratitude and a desire to give back some of the things you took from life; becoming more reflective. a feeling of liberation and of being less afraid of doing and saying what you really want to; time to cherish the people and relationships important to you; a sense of serenity and a growing spirituality.
We live in a culture that is still learning how to age. ‘To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living’, wrote Henri Amiel in 1874. The autumn voices in this book are moving towards this wisdom and, through their writing and their example, helping others in its discovery.