Why Don’t Writers Retire?

In January 2002, a very sad announcement was made. Stephen King, author of The Shining, would write no more. In 2013 he released Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining and one of his best works. It is to be made into a film. In April 2013, Stephen King retired. In June 2013 he released Mr Mercedes, the first of a trilogy which he completed in 2016. A collaboration with his son will come out in 2017. What is going on?

In his afterword to The Secret Pilgrim, written in a Penguin paperback of 2001, John le Carré confirms, 11 years after it was first published, that this is the end of George Smiley. I had, he writes and I paraphrase, found a need to finish Smiley’s life story. The themes of le Carré’s life had not been tied off to his satisfaction. All that stuff about moles, traitors and slip-ups. On 5th September 2017, we will see another George Smiley novel. What is going on?

Let me tell you what is going on. Writers do not like writing. They like promoting their writing even less than they like writing it. Writing is bloody hard work, thankless work, and for most of us the pay is awful. We write because we must.

Once you understand that writers only write because they must, you will realise that they cannot simply retire. Look at John Mortimer. He lived to 85, leaving us in 2009. In 2007 he had written his last book. He did retire, but not from writing. He left his legal career in 1984. He had created Rumpole for BBC Radio in 1975. Much like John le Carré before him, he had nurtured a double life as a writer and ditched his day job at the earliest opportunity.

And that is the real truth. To a writer, nothing else really matters. And worse, for you, the fans, family and friends, everything is material. Nothing is sacrosanct. But it’s all fiction. No harm done, dear thing.

So never believe a writer who tells you he is finished. Believe me, nothing is ever finished. Until the bitter end. And after that, your children will bank your royalties for another 70 years. Triples all round!

John le CarréJohn le Carré

John le Carré

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