Putting Age to the Page- Words of Wisdom with Elaine Somers, World Book Day 2023
Local author Elaine Somers had her first book published in her seventies. The Co. Down Woman always loved writing but thought working life was over. To mark World Book Day, COPNI caught up with Elaine, for a words of wisdom interview- and what wisdom she has!
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Belfast and for the first 3 years of my life we lived ‘above the shop.’ My father owned and ran a grocer’s shop on the Belmont Road. ‘Just like Margaret Thatcher’ my mother would say in later years. When my mother discovered me escaping outside onto the main road, my father was despatched to look for a house with a garden and a gate. This he did without my mother setting eyes on it. 26 Holland Crescent was a two down, three up semi detached, close to the village of Ballyhackamore. It’s from there that most of my childhood memories were made. It was an almost idyllic place for children, with lots of friends for me and my younger brother and streets full of interesting people. We had ‘the plots’ as our playground, which is now the Orangefield development. After I passed the 11 plus, I went to Bloomfield Collegiate School which was within walking distance of home. It wasn’t a particularly happy time for me as I have come to realise in later years that I suffer from ADHD, not something which was recognised back in the 50’s. We moved to Stormont when I was fifteen and that was my home until I married at twenty-one.
What did/do you work at?
When I left school, I attended Miss Elliot’s business school in Royal Avenue. Whilst it wasn’t my choice, I have to say that the skills served me well, particularly when in my later years I started to write the first of my novels. After I married my second husband, Bryan, he encouraged me to open my art gallery which I ran for a decade, first in Holywood and then in Belfast city centre. Bryan and I had five children between us and in 1995 my mother and her sister came to live with us. We had three generations living together. The experiences from that time were varied, full of laughter and occasional tears. I also considered the younger artists who exhibited in my gallery as part of my extended family.
What age has been the best age of your life? Why?
On reflection, I believe my forties and fifties were the happiest years of my life. I was in a happy marriage, I travelled a lot with Bryan and I took an exhibition of Irish art to New York which in itself was a wonderful experience. At that time our children were becoming more independent and my mother and aunt were in good health. Life changed when I lost my mother and best friend within three months of each other. That particular year was not a happy one for me. I had also just celebrated my 60th birthday, the first time I actually felt old. How wrong I was!
What in your opinion was the best decade? Why?
My best decade had to be the sixties. Belfast was alive with music venues, there were numerous places to dance and listen to the show bands. The mini skirt had arrived and I loved wearing them. Fashion was daring, Wallis was my favourite shop and big hair and big skirts were the order of the day. The Troubles may have been murmuring but I didn’t hear it. I met my first boyfriend when I was sixteen and a lot of my socialising centred around Queen’s University where he was a student. The Beatles had emerged on the music scene and I attended two of their concerts. Brigitte Bardot became my role model. Caproni’s in Bangor was another wonderful venue. Life was full of excitement and it was an incredible decade for young people. The Troubles began after the birth of my first son and life was not ever the same again.
My greatest achievement apart from being the mother of four sons and a daughter, all of whom are good hearted people, has been publishing my first novel at the age of 75. I have written all of my adult life, most of which have been thrown away, but during lockdown I sat down every single day to write a new chapter. The result was Marjorie and Claudette, a tale of two very different ladies. I published each chapter on a site on Facebook and to my astonishment, hundreds of people signed in every day to read the latest chapter. What gives me the greatest pleasure is knowing the happiness my writing gave to so many elderly people, many living alone in the dark days of the pandemic. Their messages of love and encouragement led to the book being published and read literally all over the world. I doubt that I could ever have written as well in my 30’s or 40’s as I do now. With the years has come a new confidence and the freedom to express myself how I wish. I’m very happy with where I am now.
What would you say are the most difficult and most rewarding things about growing older?
Most of us of a certain age look back at how our grandparents lived and after them, our own parents. My maternal grandmother was a huge influence in my life, but whilst she had a lively mind, she was always old to me. She wore her white hair up in a bun, long tweed skirts and sensible shoes. My paternal grandmother was much more severe and donned a shawl on her 60th birthday. My mother was much more up to date, largely influenced by myself, but she had the attitude of an older person, especially after being widowed.
What I discovered for myself was that age truly is a number. If you are blessed with good health, there is still so much to achieve. You don’t have to go grey unless it suits you, you can wear your hair however you want and clothes are not dictated by age. It’s about thinking young, living for the day and making each day count. The more I write the better I become. I wish I’d had the wisdom I have now when I was younger. Life would have been so much easier. Today I embrace who I am, I compel my knees to work and I love clothes every bit as much as I did. Wearing red on a dull day can change your mind set but the most important thing you can wear is a smile.
What advice would you give to your 16 year old self?
Elaine, you are pretty, you are clever, you are worthy of love. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. You are a good person and you are enough. When other people hurt you, it’s because they are hurting inside, don’t let them affect how you are and who you are.