Wisdom of the Ages with Author Sarah Hampson

Sarah Hampson

Photo: Arnon Toussia-Cohen/Getty Images.

You could say that writer Sarah Hampson, 60, lived a Mad Men existence, beginning her career with “words” in advertising, where she came up with creative ideas for the likes of Dentyne, Heinz ketchup and Pot of Gold chocolates. After the birth of her third son, she quit and reinvented herself as an award-winning journalist and, in 2010, she wrote a best-selling memoir, Happily Ever After Marriage: A Reinvention in Mid-life.

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest is her debut children’s picture book. Inspired by a series of beautiful photographs of New York pigeons that she happened to see online, the story features a wise old bird, Dr. Coo, who helps his fellow pigeons regain some respect in the city. A lesson in diversity and tolerance, it is a timely and light-hearted reminder that a thriving community is made up of many people with unknown histories.

“When my children were young, I loved making up stories for them at bedtime. I thought about writing children’s books but I never had the time,” Hampson explains. “I wrote Dr. Coo on a whim in 2016. I typed it up on plain paper, sent it into the ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts at Kids Can Press and forgot about it. I didn’t hear anything for three months when I got a call from an editor there saying she loved it. It was totally unexpected and, to me, that always brings the most joy.”

What advice do you wish you’d given your 25-year-old self?
Say no more often. Don’t try to please everybody and stop thinking that it matters to be seen as “good.”

What advice would you give your 80-year-old self?
Remember how you felt at 60? You couldn’t imagine what else was ahead. But remember this: just as there are unexpected, difficult things around the corner, there are beautiful things, too.

What do you know for sure?
That love saves us.

What have you learned?
There is a limit to empathy, hard as that is to learn. Some experiences — like cancer, the death of a child, a divorce even — are impossible for those who have not lived through them to fully understand. That can make you feel lonely in your hardship but also proud that you have endured it.

What will you never learn?
That worry gets me nowhere.

Best piece of advice?
A journalist colleague once said to me that when someone passes you the ball, run with it. What she meant was an opportunity to write a column or a story.

Did it work?

What inspires you?
Writers who keep writing despite setbacks and disappointments.

The moment that changed everything?
I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in September 2017 after a routine mammogram. Prognosis is excellent but the treatment of chemo, surgery and radiation was difficult and taught me about fragility and resilience. It was not courage that got me through but submission and acceptance.

Happiness is …
Being with my husband, children and grandchildren.