Continuing our conversation with older women writers
Having my short story published in midlife in the anthology, Where We Find Ourselves has been an extraordinary experience which inspired me greatly. It re-ignited my passion for writing by exposing me to authors and poets of different ages, races, and life experiences with amazing stories to tell.
Whilst I was a shy child and spent a lot of time ‘in my head’ I had a vivid imagination and enjoyed making up stories to entertain myself and my siblings. However, the idea of being a writer was never discussed as realistic career option for someone like me. My dad wanted me to leave school after my ‘O’ levels and get a job to start contributing to the household, but my English teacher thought I should stay on to do A levels. As a compromise I went to a local college to do a one-year secretarial course – something solid and useful. My dad’s attitude was not uncommon to immigrant parents who want a better life for their offspring. He thought that one’s life purpose was to get a good safe job and do that until you retire in 40 years’ time, and only then can you do what you really want to do. Fortunately, my secretarial training led me to roles in HR in the voluntary and public sector which I do enjoy. However, my love of writing has never left me. When my daughter was at school, I often found myself living vicariously through her schoolwork: reading the literature she was set and taking any opportunity to help with her essays and course work!
It was only when she went to Birmingham University that I thought about writing seriously. Whenever I visited her, I would come away inspired by the university buildings and lecture theatres and thought how marvellous it would be to have my own further education – even if it felt slightly delayed.
So, I signed up to take a creative writing beginners’ class at the same college I went to more than 30 years ago! As I waited nervously at enrolment for the first class, I couldn’t help but feel my age, seeing the last straggle of childlike adults leaving for the day in boisterous groups. Many seemed younger than my daughter, and it made me wonder what I had let myself in for! However, once I was in the class this feeling dissipated as I found myself surrounded by mostly women of a similar age to me or older, some who had, like myself, come straight from work, while others arrived after looking after grandchildren or spending the day in less strenuous retirement pursuits such as gardening or catching up with friends.
Many had files of manuscripts honed over the years, or folders full of poetry or prose. The course taught me to express myself and to give myself permission to carve out time for completing writing prompts, which seemed to give my writing some legitimacy and feel less self-indulgent. I learned a huge amount from the tutor but also my classmates. One woman in particular encouraged me to not to downplay my ambitions. I remember she encouraged me to have my photo taken in the class when I was placed third in a competition. As my natural reticence took over, I remember her saying to me “Oh go on up there, will you? When you’re a published writer you’ll look back on this….” Her words seemed unbelievable to me at the time.
The range of writing styles showcased in class was also eye-opening. I think that there are preconceptions of what women of a certain age want to write and read. Rather than just cosy romances we heard YA fiction, folklore and fairy tales, crime drama as well as inspiring lived experience stories.
After the beginners’ class, I felt emboldened to take the Intermediate class and then joined Watford Writers to continue my writing journey. I now have my own folder of work, and the start of a manuscript!
It has been inspiring to witness so many women expressing themselves creatively at a time of life when it has traditionally been that we come less visible and active as the years go by. I am looking forward to contributing to the voices and adding my own stories to the discourse.