TIME OUT: Members of the U3A Novel and Memoir Writing Group and tutor Margaret Penhall-Jones (in green) get their first look at The Times of Our Lives.
TIME OUT: Members of the U3A Novel and Memoir Writing Group and tutor Margaret Penhall-Jones (in green) get their first look at The Times of Our Lives. Belinda Scott

Seniors writing about the time of their lives

WRITING has proved both educational and cathartic for a group of 11 Coffs Coast seniors who have spent many months this year plumbing their memories and their imaginations.

The women have been taking part in a University of the Third Age (U3A) course called Novel and Memoir Writing, under the supervision of tutor Margaret Penhall-Jones.

In spite of a range of ages from 55 to 90 and a wide variety of nationalities and first languages, the women have become a tight-knit group.

Now they have pooled their efforts to create a 60-page collection of stories they have written during the year.

Margaret, who has self-published her own romantic fiction stories and also conducts writers' workshops for the Coffs Harbour Writers Group and the Grassroots Writers Festival, said the course was designed for people who had an actual writing project in progress and wanted to know the techniques for getting it moving and completing it.

"I have to say all the students have improved amazingly over the three terms," Margaret said.

"We have become a very positive group and enjoyed each other's stories so much we decided to put them together into a limited edition self-published book, just for us and our friends, so we can remember our great year together.

"We have Betty who is 90 writing about Sydney during the 1940s and WW2, Jill writing about her friendship with a family of 1970s Vietnamese refugees, Rhonda about chasing Pokemon in 2016, Dianne about helping a blacksmith in inner Sydney in the 1960s, Joanne with her Norwegian motorbike- riding boyfriend, Poly on safari in Africa and Thelma who was one of only five female government chauffeurs in the 1980s.

"What connects us is the wealth of lived experience we all have and that we are all writing about that experience."

"I am totally 'green' and 70 years old," said Norwegian-born Johanne Kristensen.

"I didn't think I could learn something so complicated, but I know now I can write."

"Everyone adores the teacher," said Poly Schmidt, who migrated to Australia in 1997 and is now attempting to write in English.

"Everyone is unique and Margaret shows us different ways to approach our stories."

Their book, The Times of Our Lives, is not available for sale but there are copies available at the Harry Bailey Memorial Library; the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and the Coffs Harbour District Family History Society.


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