Continuing our conversation with older women writers, a contribution from Cheryl Powell who has a story in Menopause: The Anthology due out October 2023
If it wasn’t for the menopause and mid-life malcontentment, I wouldn’t have started writing. So, thank you, hormones. Without the hot sweats, anxiety attacks, brain fog and crises of confidence, I might never have explored the joy of storytelling.
So, this is how it happened. I was in my early fifties and had been self-employed in public relations and copywriting for more than twenty years. All going along without a hitch. Then one day, quite out of the blue, I had a meltdown. I felt I didn’t know what I was doing, couldn’t think straight; I was a fraud, an imposter and hopelessly out of my depth. Looking back, I realise I had typical menopause symptoms. At the time, I wondered if I’d always been inept, but had only just rumbled it.
It was January, I took time out from work and – so I didn’t feel totally without purpose – did an ‘introduction to teaching’ course at my local college. By September I was teaching English GCSE to disenchanted car mechanic, social care, early years and hairdressing students, some of whom were on the course because they simply didn’t know what else to do. My first class involved stopping motor mechanic students from dangling a tyre out of the window and trying to persuade them to sit down and put their phones away. If I’d wanted to throw myself to the lions in a fit of self-loathing, this was as good a start as any.
But, here’s the thing. English GCSE has a 40-mark creative writing question. I bloody loved that question. I loved preparing class materials for it, teaching it and even writing a response to the question myself. Even though my students were generally a tough crowd, there were occasions I felt I actually did teach a few of them something and, more importantly, helped them to find their inner creativity, which can do a lot to nurture self-confidence.
The upshot: I started writing. I joined a fantastic writers’ group in Solihull, submitted a few flash fiction pieces to magazines and anthologies, got one or two accepted, and submitted more. My stories are dark and speculative and explore what it is to be human, and the hell we bring upon ourselves. Pretty glum, sometimes, admitted, but often with a knife-slide humour. They’ve been performed by the Liars’ League in London and Hong Kong, and appeared in magazines and anthologies, including Arachne Press’s Menopause anthology, due out in October this year.
In 2018 I completed an MA in Writing at Warwick University. I had the absolute time of my life. Me, a woman of advancing years, a student again, in the much-revered Writing Room at Warwick. Well, how ridiculous. Yet, I found out that young people, though awesome, didn’t have the monopoly on creativity and talent. Some of the best writers on the course were those who, yes, had talent, but were also older and had life experience. That was heartening.
I now live in Worcestershire where I have started a local writing group, deliver writing workshops and also go on writing retreats twice a year with some longstanding writer friends. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”