Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's Never Too Late

Last night we had a novel writing meeting, and one of those present was Nancy. My inspiration. She is in October's Cornwall Today, 2009.

After twenty years away, a 70 year old Cornish woman returned home
and embarked on her third career.

Nancy Kinnison has a lot in common with the late Mary Wesley, who once said, ‘Sixty should be the time to start something new, not put your feet up.’ Nancy agrees with this, having changed career – again – when she retired from teaching at 65. Her latest reincarnation is perhaps one of her hardest challenges. Becoming a writer.

‘I’ve always wanted to write,’ Nancy says in her breathless fashion. ‘I had a very encouraging teacher at school, then, when I was married, I started writing short stories. I always said that when I finish work I will write, and that’s what I've done.’

Nancy talks quickly, waving her hands as she speaks. She wears no makeup, and her jewellery is all silver; a pair of dangly earrings, a variety of chunky rings on each finger, and a pendant. She is short and stocky, with understated, comfortable clothes that struggle to contain her overflowing enthusiasm. Her eyes flash back and forth, missing nothing.

‘The worst bit about being a writer is the frustration of trying to put emotions into words that will evoke those feelings for a reader,’ she says.

Nancy moved back to Cornwall in 2004 because, “simply, it's home. But I'd lived in cities for 20 years and enjoy their facilities: that's why I chose to live in Truro. It's at the centre of Cornwall but only minutes away from the sea; the sound of breaking surf was a childhood lullaby.”

What did she miss about Cornwall? She laughs. “Everything! The people – their down to earth character and wicked sense of humour. The infinite variety of its landscape, and above all, the untameable and ever-changing sea.”

Nancy now lives in a small house on a quiet estate in Truro. Her living room is filled with novels, books on psychology, Cornish magazines and newspapers. A collection of fruit ripens on the window sills, next door to pots of basil and parsley, and above the television are a collection of photographs of her grown children and grandchildren. An ordinary house, you might think. But there is nothing ordinary about Nancy.

She was born and brought up in a small fishing village in Cornwall, and started pre-nursing training in 1950 aged 16 before doing her nursing training at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital.

When Nancy married a policeman in 1957 she worked as a staff nurse until she had children. When they were at school she returned to work, but not for long. ‘It was impossible to fit in with my husband’s shifts while the children were young,’ she says. ‘When they were older I did my Diploma in Nursing and worked at Treliske hospital as a night sister for two years.’

In 1976 Nancy’s marriage broke up. ‘My husband left when the children were 15 and 18,’ she says, the pain and anger still clear in her voice. As a result she left nursing and worked as a technician at Falmouth School. ‘It wasn’t the most fulfilling of jobs, but it was right at the time,’ she adds resolutely.

When Nancy was 45 she applied to Southampton University to read Sociology and Social Administration. ‘I’d always wanted to go to university but never thought I was bright enough.’ She smiles defiantly. ‘I was terrified. Most people considered going to university at my age ridiculous, but I thought I must try - and fail if necessary.’

So she’d never thought about going to university earlier? ‘Coming from a working class family, it wasn’t an option,’ she said. ‘But if I could change anything about my life I would have gone to university earlier. It was the first step to finding intellectual fulfilment.’

Nancy got her degree and secured a lecturing post at North London College teaching Sociology and Psychology. ‘I got a tremendous amount out of all my various jobs,’ she says, her eyes gleaming, ‘but teaching was the most rewarding. Having piloted a BTEC Nursery Nurse course, I applied for a job to set up a similar course in Bath. I stayed there till I retired in 1997.’

Most people would have some time off before starting on another career, but not Nancy. ‘The second Saturday after I retired, I went on a writing course and started writing,’ she says with her open laugh. ‘I wish I’d started earlier – someone told me it takes ten years to produce anything professional.’

But since then Nancy’s short stories have appeared in QWF (Quality Women’s Fiction), Woman’s Own, Fiction Feast, Yours and Family Circle, which has greatly increased her confidence.

‘I've joined various groups, attended a novel writing course and started writing my first novel,’ she says. The novel, the first of a trilogy, is set in the 1950s, about a young nursing student. ‘I wanted to show how different nursing was then compared to now,’ she explains.

The novel was interrupted when an ex-colleague asked her to collaborate on a psychology textbook for nurses. ‘If I’d have known how much time it was going to take, I probably wouldn’t have done it,’ she says. ‘But it’s in print now, so I've gone back to my novel which is such a relief!’

At 75, Nancy is aware that she has less time than some of us, but this doesn’t deter her. ‘I always knew that learning how to write would be a long slow process,’ she says. Her hard work was rewarded last year when a London literary agent asked to see the whole manuscript. 'She turned it down, but to have got that far is very encouraging,' Nancy says. And she is positive about the future. ‘In five years time I hope to be writing a bestseller - my third best selling novel!’

Nancy is an inspiration to anyone regardless of sex or age. So what advice does she have? ‘If you want to try something, do it,’ she says. ‘Get tuition, join groups – take whatever you're doing seriously.’ She looks up and smiles. ‘It’s all about having the courage to try. If there’s something you really want to do, go for it.’

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