Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I love to share midlife reinvention stories. Here I chat to Janet Kelly who has transformed her life since turning 50
What were your main activities before turning 50?
I was self employed after having my first daughter in 1989 and my second in 1990. I worked as a freelance journalist then as a PR and set up a business providing content to the media which failed in the credit crunch which was around the time of my 50th birthday.
What have been your main activities ( job, commitments etc) since turning 50?
I have still worked as a PR and writer although I took a year out after everything collapsed to write a novel – having gained a place within the Faber Academy on their ‘Write a Novel’ course in 2014.
What prompted you to start your business/ take up the challenge/follow your dream.
After my business failed and I lost a fair bit of money I also went through a very shaky patch with my partner, my kids were leaving home or at University and my dog died. Everything that could have gone wrong did – so I just reached rock bottom and knew something had to change.
How old were you when you started?
I started writing creatively when I was about 50 – going on a course for script writing in Spain.
Did you have to take any courses or training to do this?
Yes, I went to Spain on a number of occasions to work with a scriptwriter to learn how to write plays and TV material. Then I decided I wanted to write a novel and applied for the Faber Academy and was one of 12 people to be accepted on my course.
What does your business / dream /job/challenge look like today?
I had my first novel, Dear Beneficiary, published by two different publishers in 2015 and have since had the book optioned for film, which is currently being progressed. I have written a further novel and a children’s book and subsequently set up a small publishing company of my own, taking on four new children’s writers. I am also a partner in a new TV production company looking at developing a number of documentaries and also dramatic programmes in the near future.
What has been the best aspect of your journey so far?
Getting my agent, then finding out that a publisher wanted my book – and then getting that book optioned for film.
What was /is your biggest fear?
That I won’t be able to realise my dreams of writing for a living, as I still need to supplement my writing income with other work.
Did anybody in particular inspire you?
A very good friend inspired the story behind Dear Beneficiary and I have had huge support from many people who have enjoyed what I write or helped me along the way.
The difference it had made to my life
What difference has it made to your life?
I feel like I really have found my passion in life and I want to keep working as long as I can, rather than having to force myself to go through the motions just so I can get an income at the end of each month. Writing creatively doesn’t feel like work.
What challenges did you initially face? How did you overcome them?
The challenges are still there – people who say they are going to help you but don’t, or haven’t got what it takes. There is also a huge amount of competition and while age doesn’t seem to be an issue there are a lot of young people desperate to get into the industry so are doing work for nothing, because they have more freedom to do this than I might. It is also difficult to break into the publishing industry. Although very much ‘emperor’s clothes’ it is a tight knit community.
How did the opportunity come about?
Through a number of different scenarios starting with the scriptwriting courses, then Faber and then finding an agent who took me on.
What other opportunities have materialised as a result?
I have been appointed as the Writer in Residence at the Martyrs Gallery in Lewes for 2018 and asked to speak at various events – and have also run a couple of writing courses myself, in the same place I started going on courses in Spain.
Which of your previous experiences (if any) did you draw upon the most?
My journalistic experience helped with the ability to shape a story and my discipline from working from home while bringing up children stood me in good stead for persevering and getting the first book finished.
What are your next steps?
I have written more material for a couple more novels and want to write more scripts for TV and film. I have set up a production company with a TV producer and hope to write some documentaries as well as a sitcom and a couple of dramas that are in progress. It would be good to get recognition as a writer and be able to make a living from it.
How have friends and family reacted?
Very supportive and pleased for me with a few becoming investors in the film as well.
No regrets but plenty learned. There are a huge number of ‘sh*ts’ in both the publishing and film industry but it takes experience to know who they are. It has taken a while to work out where I am wasting my time and where people have been out to benefit from my ideas and input.
What 3 tips would you give other women over 50 looking to do something similar?
- Age really is just a number
- If you feel outside of the pack that can be a good thing – it means you are different and not run of the mill
- Don’t give up.
A little bit more about you……
All time favourite book or film?
I love ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ as a book but also anything by Bernice Reubens. It would be difficult to choose an all time favourite film although I think ‘Love Actually’ and ‘Cabaret’ would be the top two.
How would you describe your own style?
Down to earth, pragmatic and practical with a big of Bohemia thrown in for colour and character.
Three words that sum up your life over 50
Janet lives in Brighton, is 57, married with two grown up children, a large German Shepherd, three cats and three children.