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Letting the Creative Juices Flow with Gilwern u3a

Letting the Creative Juices Flow with Gilwern u3a
24 October 2022

The winner of the 2022 u3a creative writing competition, Harriet, shares how Gilwern u3a's creative writing group encouraged her to start writing fiction - something she thought she could never do - for the first time in her life.

I grew up in a household of writers, mother, uncle and father wrote continuously before and after the war. It was assumed I would follow suit, but I was not pushed to write regularly. Being a girl, they thought I did not need formal education so I was haphazardly home schooled. I went out into the world without a qualification to my name, but after a young marriage, 3 children, 3 'o' levels and a diploma in social work, at the age of 39 I became a probation officer and had to write court reports. They were awful until my final supervisor suggested that I write her a letter about an offender. My reports improved and were a useful model for any story, having a beginning, middle and end. I was always convinced though, that I could never write fiction. I have since got a degree in history and a masters in local history. I wrote a privately published book about my eccentric parents and, recently, a short history of a Surrey village. No fiction though.

When lockdown first happened, Gilwern u3a began a newsletter for which some of us provided short articles. Into 2020, one of these authors, Kay, set out to start a creative writing group ruthlessly signing me up since I had been a contributor. Four of us signed up. The others had all written a variety of stories, poems and autobiographical pieces throughout their lives, and while I had at last written some fiction in the shape of childrens' stories for workshops run by my daughter, I still had not written any adult fiction. So the group all started together and were initially inspired by Kay who set us our first task, to write about the woman in Degas' painting, 'The Absinthe Drinker'. We all produced very different pieces and we were away. We met on Zoom until lockdown was over and then in each others' houses. We meet once a fortnight and chose topics from a list that gets added to at intervals. Some will be non fiction and autobiographical. My Cinderella story was inspired by Kay suggesting we write an alternative version of a fairy story.

While being made to write something about the unfamiliar has been enormously helpful, I think being part of the group has activated inspiration from the past so I have been to tap into long buried emotions and ideas.

Our meetings are informal and supportive - we are all woman of a certain age (having just turned 80 I am the most senior) and can struggle with medical issues for ourselves and our loved ones, but Kay never allows us to forget the main focus of our meetings and though we do not criticise each others' work, we all feel that our writing has improved enormously over the last two years. I know mine has. Kay and Lynda have done well in the Welsh u3a creative writing competition. Bev, our fourth member, is wonderfully subversive and keeps us well grounded.

As for how I feel about winning the competition, I could not be more surprised and delighted. I was initially thrilled to be short-listed and had not expected to go further and when I listened to the stories that came 2nd and 3rd, was convinced that my story would be considered far too frivolous! The comments from the lovely person at Bloomsbury were so encouraging, but I could not have done it without the group.

I shall keep going within the lovely group, but without allowing pressure. Given my age and a husband of 88, writing will have to remain a side line!


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