Late Youth: An Anthology Celebrating the Joys of Being Over Fifty
by Susanna Johnston

(Arcadia Press, 2005)

The title of Susanna Johnston’s humorous book Late Youth: An Anthology Celebrating the Joys of Being Over Fifty, says it all. Described by Anne Chisholm in The Spectator as ‘Light, gossipy, upbeat, based on a well-heeled, well-connected circle of friends and relations mostly aged between sixty and eighty’, the book is essentially a collection of anecdotes from people who are not afraid to share the highs and lows of being, well, old. “People no longer have that fear of extinction,” Susanna tells me.

Late Youth has nearly ninety contributors (including George Melly, Barry Humphries, Jane Howard and Jilly Cooper,) all of whom have a story to tell. Johnston wrote to everyone individually, demonstrating the remarkable energy with which she now approaches everything. “At fifty you can only hope you’ve reached the halfway stage,” she says. “It’s a pretty monumental landmark in your life, and the time to start grabbing that life with both hands.”

And that’s exactly what she does. With a large family and seven books already published, Susanna Johnston might think it is time to slow down. Having spoken to her, I can see what an absurd idea that is.

Muriel She is now writing a sequel to her comic novel, Muriel Pulls It Off, as well as turning the many diaries she has kept over the years into a book. Johnston is kept young at heart by her ten grandchildren, at least one of which she tries to see every day. They like to come round and dance to her 60’s records. Age barriers are ignored as they treat her as if they are her age. “The only sadness is that as your family take up more and more of your love, you have less time and emotion to give to your friends, and some do fall by the way side.”

“The secret to getting things done,” she tells me, “is waking up early. After a good night’s sleep I’m ready for anything.” Getting older for Susanna Johnston means not putting anything off or on hold. “You can’t wait until tomorrow because you never know how long you’ve got left. You’ve just got to get on and do it, and that is what makes it almost as exciting as starting again. It is a new phase of your life and that gives you a new energy. It’s a stimulating time.”

That one reflective moment aside, Johnston wraps up our conversation and suggests I email her a copy of the finished article. I am astonished. Not even the complexities of the internet are too much for her. She once said in an interview that she planned to go out “in style”. When I ask her if she has anything particular in mind, she just laughed. “No, nothing special,” she says, “but I will go on ‘til I drop.” And I believe her.

— Lucinda Baring

Late Youth: An Anthology Celebrating the Joys of Being Over Fifty by Susanna Johnston is available at

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