Blog, education

From School Dropout to University Student…

Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire

This has been quite a year for me. I was not looking forward to my son’s last university open-day of the season on June 29th 2018. I was due to spend the day as his taxi service, sitting around for hours while he tried out sample lectures at the University of Gloucestershire.

Twenty-four hours later I was studying the university’s prospectus myself, and wondering if they’d accept me as an undergraduate on the basis of my handful of mismatched O-levels, and a portfolio of written work. Twelve months later, and I’m looking into topics for my Phd.

Things happened so fast after I discovered UoG accepted mature students that I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath. I’m lucky that my hobby of writing is also my full-time job. The idea of doing a degree in Creative and Critical Writing as part of my continuing personal development really appealed to me.

It’s the chance to read all day and call it work…!

The first piece of good news was that the usual minimum requirement of a degree at 2:1 level or above was waived for mature students. Then I found myself fast-tracked. I had an interview, where it was explained that my publishing history suggested I’d be better off going straight onto the Masters course, rather than doing a first degree. The list of modules looked so interesting I agreed straight away.

It was only on my way home from the interview that I started to worry. I hated the idea of being the oldest student in the place (it turned out I wasn’t—not by about three decades!).

I hadn’t driven in a city rush-hour since I became self-employed, back in the nineteen-nineties. Going back to that would be scary (I got used to it).

Nothing to it! (Pic By Jonas KIM)

The university car park is small. It’s always a case of squeeze in where you can, and I wasn’t a confident parker (Last week, I had to take my son for one of his regular check-ups at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. The car park was packed and we were heading a procession of cars looking for a space. Suddenly I spotted one, flung the car into reverse and squeezed in with inches to spare. Son No. 1 was impressed. “It’s something else I learned at University!” I told him).

One of my regular lectures didn’t finish until 9:15pm. An hour’s drive home through wintry, pitch-black country lanes really didn’t appeal to me (I got used to that, too).

…except when boar or deer jumped out in front of me!

Somehow, I managed to enjoy my first year of lectures, workshops and assignments at university—and a whole lot more. That surprised me. Part of the reason I became a writer was because I like my own company. Going from an almost silent working life behind a keyboard to the full-on excitement of a campus was nerve-racking. The first time I spoke up in a lecture was scary, but as I had to attend two workshop sessions every week, it soon became second nature.

The more I did, the more I wanted to do. I’ve been interviewed about my job in front of a class of undergraduates, talked to a class of forty first-year students, taken a women’s empowerment course and completed a business start-up weekend. All that gave me the confidence to sign up for extra curricular activities, too. I haven’t been a party person since I got married, but I’ve been to two social events in this past month!

It’s party time!

I’ve got an amazing amount out of signing up as a mature student. I’d recommend it to anybody. It’s given me a whole new lease of life. Why don’t you investigate what’s available in your area? If there’s nothing on offer, try the University of the Third Age, or even the Open University. Blended learning, which is the term given to a mix of online activities, face-to-face lectures and tutorials make learning much more fun than it was when I was a teenager.

I’ve enjoyed all the things I’ve tried, especially the business start-up weekend. That was particularly useful. It’s made me wonder about setting up my own small business. That’s going to take a lot of thought and organisation, so follow this blog and sign up for my newsletter here to find out what happens!

Blog, Writing

Writing…and Publicity

The rain has been lashing down outside for a couple of days, and it’s cold and miserable. Whatever happened to “Flaming June”? On days like today I’m glad I’ve got a nice indoor occupation, with no heavy lifting. It’s a world away from toiling outdoors in all weathers.

The biggest problem with writing as work is the constant urge to move on to the next project. I keep a notebook to write down all the new ideas that pop into my mind while I’m busy with a project. That way I’m never short of inspiration. When one book is finished, I flick through my notes. That gives me plenty to think about. When one particular image or scene germinates well, that’s when I start writing again.

That’s the future mapped out. What about the past? I’ve got a sizeable backlist of historical and romantic fiction. As my university course means I’m having to concentrate on writing non-fiction at the moment, my backlist is a valuable resource.

The weather was too bad to work on my vegetable plot yesterday, so I was cooped up indoors. It was a day exactly like that when I started writing His Majesty’s Secret Passion. I needed to escape the miserable British winter. A luxurious spa in Greece felt like the perfect getaway. His Majesty’s Secret Passion was a lot of fun to write, and readers enjoy its take on the Cinderella-type story of an overworked woman passed over for promotion desperate to make a fresh start. I liked the idea of inventing a Prince Charming who wanted a real job as a doctor, rather than living an idle life of luxury as a king.

His Majesty’s Secret Passion went on to become the first book in my Princes of Kharova trilogy. All three books are full of secret desires, men who want change and women who know their own minds. I used yesterday’s down-time to create a book trailer on Animoto. I’ve only used it once before, to make a trailer for Struggle and Suffrage In Bristol (you can watch that here).

Talk about going from one extreme to the other! What do you think? Have you got any advice about using Animoto?

Blog, gardening

I’m Back (Temporarily…)!

Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire

I haven’t blogged for a while as I’ve been up to my ears in university work. My final assessment of this semester was submitted on Tuesday morning. I spent the rest of that day in stunned silence. I’m sure my tutors would like to think it was mental exhaustion. Actually, I was more wistful than tired. By this time next year, my course will be over. I’m having such a great time, I wish it could go on forever!

After some reviving tea and cake, I managed to make it out into the garden on Tuesday afternoon. We’ve had only one or two short bursts of rain over the past few weeks, but weeds made the most of it. While I’ve been locked in the library or chained to my desk, a green tide has swept in across my vegetable patch. I’ve now got to try and stem the flood.

Our winter flowering honeysuckle was covered in bees during the dark days of January and February. It is now putting on lots of fresh green growth, making it almost impossible to push between it and the row of tanks holding any rain water which drains from the eastern side of Tottering Towers’s roof. The rule about cutting back early flowering shrubs such as this and forsythia is that you do it as soon as the flowers have faded. That way the plants are stimulated into making lots of new shoots which will flower next year.

Winter Flowering Honeysuckle, copyright Christina Hollis

First thing this morning, I took a saw and secateurs out to attack the honeysuckle…and had to bring them straight back in again! I always check before starting any job like that to make sure I won’t disturb any nesting birds. Sure enough, I spotted the bright eyes of a hen blackbird watching me over the rim of her nest. She looked exactly like the bird in the photo below by Heinz Melion, (via Pixabay) although this nest is in a conifer. I backed off, and left well alone.

Blackbird by Heinz Melion, via Pixabay

We’ve got quite a few nest-boxes dotted around the garden, and almost all are being used by busy house sparrows, robins, and titmice of all sorts. One nest box hangs on the north wall of our house, only yards from the kitchen door. We pass it dozens of times every day, and both the cat and dog are never far away. A little while ago this box was investigated by a pair of nuthatches. I never thought they’d use it. There’s a constant stream of people and animals going backwards and forwards past it but they still settled in. They’ve raised a family to the noisy stage, so —fingers crossed— there will be plenty of nuthatches in our wood this year. The parents are flying in with food on average once every seven minutes, from dawn until duck. That means we have to leave and return to the kitchen carefully. We wait until a parent bird has either just popped in to feed their chicks, or popped out on its next hunting trip!

Nuthatch, by Rebekah Wilkinson, via Pixabay

The garden plants and nestlings might be changing fast, but some things are the same all year round. DD got up for work at 5am this morning , and looked out of the kitchen window to see a wild boar rooting along the outside of our boundary fence!

Blog, competitions

The Winner!

In my blog for International Women’s Day on 8th March, I asked which woman had inspired you. There were lots of nominations, from Jane Austen to the late Princess of Wales. They were all great, but one entry really stood out. Congratulations to Dorinda Cass, who nominated the English nun Mary Ward.

Portrait of Mary Ward, c. 1600, via Wikimedia Commans

Mary was an exceptional woman. Born around the time when Sir Walter Raleigh was setting up the first colony in North America, she was incredibly brave to travel as far and wide as she did, and all on foot. Her later life proves there was at least one still, small voice of calm in England, despite the turmoil of the Civil War.

Here’s Dorinda’s winning entry:

I find Mary Ward (1585 – 1646) an inspiration. She was born in Yorkshire during the English Reformation when Roman Catholics were persecuted and even executed for their faith. In time she was called to the religious life, regardless of the danger. She entered a monastery in France but found she wanted to be active in the community rather than living a secluded life. Travelling throughout Europe, on foot, she founded schools for girls.

In 1631 she was imprisoned in Munich as a heretic. Eventually, she returned to the north of England with her own religious community where she established a convent in Heworth near York. She survived the siege of York but died the following year in Heworth.

She is buried in the churchyard at Osbaldwick, near York. Her tombstone is now inside St Thomas’ church in the village. During her life she said that “There is no difference between men and women that women may not do great matters…and I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much.”

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the title of ‘Venerable’ on her. Although not a Catholic, or even especially religious, I think it is inspirational the way, against all odds and difficulties, one of which was simply being a woman, she was determined to do what she thought right. And she succeeded. Her view on women and what they are capable of was ahead of its time. It remains inspirational and relevant in the twenty-first century.

The City Walls of York. Image by 12019 via Pixabay

Contact me with your address, Dorinda, and I’ll put your signed copy of Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol into the post.

Thanks again to everyone for their suggestions!

Blog, history

Women’s History Month

March 1st marks the beginning of Women’s History Month in the USA. This began life in 1978 as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. It was originally only Women’s History Week, but was so popular it was copied by towns and cities across the country. In 1987, Congress designated March each year as Women’s History Month.

According to the National Women’s History Museum the theme this year is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.”  All over the USA events will honour “women who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.”

Image via Pixabay

One group of women from San Mateo, California did a lot to raise the spirits of their sisters during the bleakest days of the Second World War. The Daughters of St George sent Christmas parcels to the Bedminster Emergency Station, Bristol. Packed with rare treats like candy , American comics and magazines these were distributed at New Year 1941 among those who had been bombed out of their homes.

You can find out more about city life during the Second World War in my new book, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol which is available direct from the publisher, Pen and Sword Books, and from Amazon.