SECOND ACT OF THE MONTH AWARD
Each month, we give the 50PlusToday SECOND ACT Award to an individual who made an intentional decision to change gears in this phase of life. It’s our goal to recognize and support people who reinvented themselves at age 50Plus. We therefore choose recipients who are creative, innovative and inspiring to others. Their pivot might involve a new career, business, community effort or lifestyle. A successful, happy and meaningful life means different things to different people. Reading what others did might start you thinking about your next journey! The bottom line is that your second half of your life can be as good as, if not better than, the first! We hope to inspire our readers with success stories from others. (Is there someone you know that created a wonderful second act that you would like to nominate? Complete this form to submit their name for consideration!)
The recipient for February 2023 is Carolyn Clarke
Carolyn Clarke started writing her debut novel, And Then There’s Margaret, at age 50. Becoming an author is really her third act, not her second. Carolyn went from working as an urban planner to ESL teacher (and now ESL program coordinator) to author. She juggles her full-time job, writing and marketing her debut novel and family responsibilities with grace and a sense of humor. She is a wonderful example of someone who sets a goal and then makes it happen. Carolyn believes you can make excuses about why something can’t be done, or you can motivate yourself to just do it. The choice is yours. Read her story below.
Carolyn Clarke’s book garnered an impressive number of awards including:
2022 Chick Lit Cafe – CLC Book Excellence Award Winner – Women’s Fiction/Humor
2022 Indie Book Awards Finalist – Chick Lit (Fiction)
2022 Maxy Awards Winner – Literary & Humor
2022 Readers’ Choice Book Awards – Finalist – Best Adult Book
2022 Readers’ Favorite – Finalist – Humor/Comedy
Read our review of AND THEN THERE’S MARGARET by Carolyn Clarke and enter our book giveaway HERE!
50PlusToday: What are your unique skills that contribute to your success?
CC: Being a good listener gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about other people’s lives. It helped me to see how unique yet still similar we all are. I am also good at reading people, which I guess you could say is a by-product of being a good listener. These qualities helped me create narrative threads for the characters in my book. Finally, I think my sense of humor and ability to keep things light, while not necessarily personal skills, help me to stay positive when things get tough. As a first-time author, these skills were key. Of course, a sense of humor and keeping things light can help no matter what your second or third act looks like.
50PlusToday: What did you do before starting your entrepreneurial journey?
CC: My first act was actually as an urban planner. However, after several years in this competitive and demanding field, I found I lost my sense of purpose and joy.
Long story short, as I worked as a tutor since I was fifteen and taught English while living overseas (that’s a whole other story), I eventually decided to become an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. Twenty-four years later, I became the coordinator of our ESL program.
I always had a very strong creative and entrepreneurial streak. While teaching, I owned and operated a tutoring company, created a blog and teacher resources for ESL teachers, and also created academic resources for Cambridge University Press. However, I always wanted to write fiction. So, seven years ago, I started experimenting. I wrote a few short stories and started Hentlit Central, my blog that presents a “lighthearted look at life and lit”. I took a creative writing course too. Then, after a year and at the tender age of fifty, I started writing the book that would eventually become my third act, And Then There’s Margaret.
50PlusToday: Tell us about what you are doing now.
CC: I’m in the trenches of marketing and promotion with And Then There’s Margaret. As a debut author, writing the book is only part of the challenge. If you really want your book to get noticed, stand out and ultimately be successful, you have to learn about and work hard at marketing and promotion. Lots of blood, sweat and tears!
I also work full time managing a team of ESL teachers in a government funded program for newcomers to Canada. In addition, I still actively work to grow Henlit Central. I also continue to look after my family. Even though our kids are almost out of the house, they still need me. And as my mom gets deeper into her golden years, I try to spend as much time with her as possible.
Last but not least, I’m working on a follow up to And Then There’s Margaret. I have the plot mapped out and the characters defined, so now I’m fleshing out the chapters.
50PlusToday: What passion led you to start this new endeavor?
CC: I always wanted to write a book and get published. It’s been a bucket list item of mine for as long as I can remember. I also had so much fun building and growing my blog, Henlit Central. Connecting with so many talented, passionate and successful authors really inspired me. It’s probably fair to say that not only did Henlit Central help fuel my passion for writing, it gave it focus, too. It’s likely why writing a light-hearted women’s fiction novel felt completely right to me. The blog really helped keep that fire inside alive, pushing (or pulling) me out of my comfort zones and provided motivation and support during the process.
The actual story line for And Then There’s Margaret came from a conversation I had with some friends in my book club. Several of them shared mother-in-law confessions, sins, and stories. I enjoyed listening to the ups and downs of this complex and challenging relationship. Interestingly enough, I never got the chance to meet my mother-in-law, although I was definitely familiar with the clichés. The more I learned about their actual experiences, the more I started to see “Margaret” and wanted to write a story about a MIL (Mother-in-Law) experience – they get such a bad rap!
50PlusToday: How does your age and experience help in your success?
CC: I feel I gained some wisdom and perspective since turning fifty. I saw and did a lot in my life and find I’m more patient and make better decisions now than when I was younger. This maturity can make a big difference no matter what your second act (or third) looks like. I also know myself better and have a greater understanding of, and compassion and empathy for, others. As a writer, this really helped me to create relatable characters and give them believable narratives.
50PlusToday: What unique skills did you have from your previous job/business/lifestyle that help you in this new position?
CC: Some of the main transferable skills that helped me with this new venture include structured writing, entrepreneurship and marketing and promotion skills. While writing fiction is very different from academic writing, the planning process, discipline, ideation, drafting and review processes are all very similar.
Communication and relationship building skills played an important role in helping me build a network for support, feedback and continuous learning. Most people don’t realize that writing a book is an entrepreneurial act. My previous experiences with entrepreneurship helped me get through some of the tough times and allowed me to “pivot” as needed, when needed.
My experience with building and growing Henlit Central was critical for helping And Then There’s Margaret to get noticed, reviewed and even to win some awards.
50PlusToday: What advice would you give someone in this age group searching for their meaningful second act?
CC: I would say that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself or to simply try something new. In fact, often people experience greater success later in life because of the wisdom, experience, and contacts they gained. The best place to start is with whatever you’re most interested in and passionate about. That interest and passion will sustain you during challenging times. Even if you’re not commercially as successful as you want to be, you’ll still have fun because you’re doing what you love. Finally, I’d say keep learning…always just keep learning. Starting a second (or third) act can be challenging and the learning curve can be steep. Whether it’s through reading, attending conferences or seminars, or even just in conversations with friends, peers, or others with similar interests (this is good for support and feedback too), there’s going to be a lot you won’t know that you don’t know. It’s important to stay open to learning.
50PlusToday: Finally, please give us three random facts about yourself.
- I have a twin sister.
- I’m a leftie.
- I’ve had a deep and passionate love affair with potato chips ever since I was five years old.
50PlusToday: Your favorite quote:
“Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”
– Wayne Dyer
Read our review of AND THEN THERE’S MARGARET by Carolyn Clarke and enter our book giveaway HERE!
About Carolyn Clarke
Carolyn Clarke is an author, blogger and instructor.
She is the founder and curator of HenLit Central, a blog focused on ‘life and lit’ for women over 40. And Then There’s Margaret is her first novel. She’s been an ESL teacher for over sixteen years and co-authored several articles and resources with Cambridge University Press, MacMillan Education and her award-winning blog ESL Made Easy. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her partner, Tony, her two daughters and her bulldog, Sophie.