As we age, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that retirement means slowing down and letting go of the things we once loved.
But Sandy Curtis, a vibrant member of the Starts at 60 community and author of seven Australian-set suspense thrillers, proves that life gets even better at 60, and it’s a time that can be full of adventure, joy, and pursuing your passions.
She serves as a shining example that your passions can continue to thrive well into retirement, and her inspiring story encourages us all to never give up on our dreams, no matter our age.
Can you please tell us a little more about yourself?
I’m a terrible gardener, as you might have gathered from my “Feral gardens” column. But I love seeing plants grow and find great joy in producing an edible crop. I dislike the repetitive nature of housekeeping, but I like things to be clean so I grit my teeth and do it. I’m not the most tidy of people because I always have several projects on the go and life keeps intervening. And I’m a “stuff keeper” because every bone in my body is sentimental.
At what point did you realise you wanted to be an author?
My aunt and uncle used to buy the American Saturday Evening Post magazine, which had wonderful articles and stories that I loved to read as a child. When I read the serialised version of Philip Wylie’s The Answer, it touched me deeply, and I knew that was what I wanted to do – write a story that would affect many people. I asked permission to cut it out of the magazines and still have it.
What drove you to take the leap of faith and start your career as a novelist?
Being diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. I’d become quite ill, and so the diagnosis was a relief, but it also made me realise that I hadn’t pursued my dream of becoming a published author.
You’ve been kept busy with writers’ retreats/workshops/conventions, has this impacted your retirement, or was this your retirement plan?
I don’t think I ever had a retirement plan because writing isn’t something that lets you retire. When my husband retired, I slowed down to spend more time with him and do some travelling, and his cancer diagnosis stopped any thoughts of writing. His death created a writing black hole that took a long time to crawl out of, but now I’m having trouble finding enough time to get down all the stories in my head.
What was the most significant moment in your writing career?
As you can imagine, getting the fax from Pan Macmillan offering me my first three contracts was AMAZING. They liked to send faxes rather than phone because they knew writers would be so ecstatic at the news that they wouldn’t remember all they’d been told. But the moment that stands out in my career was when I’d given a library author talk and a woman came up to me afterward and said my books had helped get her through a particularly stressful and awful time in her life. It made me so grateful that my words had been able to help get someone through that.
In what way are you a different person today because of your work?
I think if you are a creative person you are never truly fulfilled unless you acknowledge and use that creativity. Am I essentially different? I don’t think so, but I’m grateful to be able to use the power of words to bring enjoyment to others.
What are some of the lessons you learned from your experience?
I think all writers will tell you that patience and determination are what they’ve had to have, or had to acquire. The publishing industry is just that, an industry, and like artists dream of having a patron who will keep them clothed and fed so they can spend their days happily painting, a writer dreams of non-stopping contracts so they can keep producing their books. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Even successful writers can be dropped at the whim of the accountants. Editors might love your work, but profits are the bottom line.
What would you say to others who find themselves wanting to step out of their comfort zone and try writing?
Do it. Life doesn’t come with guarantees, but you never know what joy might await you when you see your words in print. Join a writer’s group, learn the craft of writing, enter short story and poetry competitions, write articles for community newspapers and magazines, write a blog. You don’t have to see it as a job. It might be the best fun you’ve ever had.