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Seizing The Latter Part of Life to Be Creative


1 Minute Read

‘Epic Minds’is a 35-minute dance theatre circus production about psychosis and the idea of insanity. I have created and directed this piece to complete my MA in Directing Circus and Physical Theatre at Bristol Circomedia.

I am a woman, 69 years of age, who is passionate about making engaging, thoughtful work that embraces dance, theatre and circus. I am a contemporary dancer by original training. Reaching my 60s was like being rocketed into a creative and productive phase in my life where time seems to rush by and the need to explore my dreams is urgent.  I have felt completely liberated to be anything I want to be and to ignore any of the restrictive and boring expectations society often still has of what a woman in her sixties ‘should’ be doing. It feels like the rules need no longer apply and I only wish I had come to this awakening earlier in my life!

I have noticed an emerging group of women and men like me who are seizing the latter part of their life with passion and curiosity.  I am hopeful that this group is expanding with every passing year.

I think this is partly why I was so drawn to make a piece of work about the experience of psychosis which is perhaps a vivid example of liberation, freedom, imagination and living in the moment.

The main character in ‘Epic Minds’ is played by Heather Parkin, an aerial rope artist with a head injury from a car crash who frantically tries to process the ecstatic but disturbing psychotic episodes she experiences though autobiographical writing. I have been incredibly lucky to have her writing and experience as a rich and insightful resource from which I have drawn in creating this show. The show is not specifically Heather’s story; but her long relationship with her aerial rope illuminates many of the ideas.

‘Epic Minds’ looks at the wildly liberating, surreal, sensory and disturbing world of psychosis as well as its unsustainabililty and eventual damage to the brain. It asks questions about insanity and its treatment plus attempting to look at our perception of what insanity is and how this at odds with society’s perception of sanity and what is ‘normal’.

The tension between a restricted, controlled life and the adventurous, fully in-the-moment life of someone experiencing psychosis is explored through the medium of dance, aerial rope, juggling and song.

I drew ideas and images from surrealist art, drug-inspired music such as the Beatle’s ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and artists such as Yayoi Kusama making work about their own hallucinations and psychotic experiences as well as from Heather’s own writing and experiences.

Whilst the content is serious, it is an entertaining piece, with many comedic moments when the conventional medical world clashes with the world of the ‘lunatic’ or is drawn into the world of the ‘lunatic’ which seems so much more fun than their own world.

Many people believe psychosis to be a miserable, frightening experience; but it can also be incredible and memorable with visions and ecstatic moments. Of course, it is not a state the brain can sustain and intervention of some kind is required as the brain loses volume if left for too long in this highly activated state. This is one of the reasons for making this piece as I wanted to show both sides and also to provoke spectators to think about mental health, how we label it and how we treat it, perhaps seeing so called mental health issues more as natural human responses to our lives, our experiences and events around us. Viewing mental health challenges this way might shift how we treat/medicate people struggling.

Interestingly, simply listening attentively to someone has been shown to be phenomenally powerful as an intervention.

There is still so much judgment, lack of insight and lack of compassion for people experiencing mental health issues. As a result, they often feel isolated, broken somehow and unable to talk honestly about their experience. I have experienced depression, anxiety and complex PTSD and still have times when they overwhelm me again. At times like this,  I feel closed in and unable to be honest about how I feel to most people.

Working in circus and theatre gives me a space to create work that can represent all ages and a wide spectrum of human experience in an engaging and entertaining way. I hope also that it can be a small part of the shift towards a more thoughtful and compassionate world.

How I Became a Holy Woman in my own First Novel at 60


7 Minute Read

My father had just died of hospital-acquired Covid, my mother was in the depths of grief and clearly further developed in her dementia than I had realised. Towards the end of a working lifetime of being bullied and/or taken for granted, interspersed by failed attempts at self-employment, I felt I had run out of steam. I wondered if I could re-invent myself?

Losing my father and attempting to care for my mother had put me back in touch with childhood trauma in a most unwelcome way. I was 60, the age at which, when my career began, I could have expected to retire. The idea of working beyond 60 had never upset me.  Yet suddenly I felt utterly spent, although not ready to say, ‘I’m retired’ if anyone asked, ‘What do you do?’

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer to the re-invention question. Planning an outing with some ex-school friends, one of them suggested going to Boscobel House in Shropshire. All I knew about the place was that King Charles 2nd had hidden in an oak tree there after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, to save himself from execution by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘it will be a day out, and good to see my friends again’. Little did I know what was waiting for me.  Or, should I say, who?

As we entered the house, a guide was relating how Charles, aged 21, recognised by Royalists as Prince of Wales in England, Ireland and Wales, and King without power in Scotland, had arrived at Boscobel in the early hours of Saturday 6th September 1651. He was soaking wet, cold, hungry, exhausted and very footsore. ‘I expect Charles would have rather stayed by the fire all day instead of hiding in the oak tree,’ he said. Something inside me lit up. ‘What if I’d been here then? I could have taken care of him!’ I thought. That feeling grew stronger and stronger as we went around the house. At one point it was so powerful that I dissociated for a few minutes, swept up in my fantasy of looking after Charles.

For a fortnight afterwards, I barely slept. I read everything I could find about Charles’ rescue and eventual escape from England after six weeks as a fugitive. Source books fell off library shelves into my hands, and a friend to whom I mentioned my newfound passion gave me Georgette Heyer’s novel Royal Escape which he had just finished reading. Simultaneously, I started writing my creative narrative, blending historical events and characters with a fictional account by an imagined woman who cared for Charles.

The story poured out of me so naturally and so fast that it felt more like remembering than imagining. Sitting at my laptop one day, I saw the words ‘Healing is my sacred calling’ appear on the screen. ‘Who wrote that?’ I wondered, before quickly understanding that these words were the key to my story. Dame Sarah, my fictional alter-ego, was a herbalist. Charles needed medicinal interventions for his traumatised mind and body. This revelation also gave me a great plot twist. Sarah was adamant from the start that she was a holy woman.

The house to which Charles was first escorted from Worcester was a manor house called White Ladies, built among the ruins of a convent. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries monastic communities were suppressed, but some men and women still gave their lives to God. Sarah was one such, serving her community with her healing knowledge and practice. But herbalism also has roots in witchcraft, and during the Civil War, the ferment of Republicanism versus Royalism, and Puritanism versus Catholicism (Roman and Anglican) provided ideal conditions for anyone who practised healing to be suspected of witchcraft. Puritan rule had done away with bishops who had previously issued licenses to midwives and healers, so if the slightest thing went wrong these practitioners were prey to accusations of being witches. And women like Sarah, highly intelligent and of independent means, were threats to the patriarchy in such dangerous times.

What started as a private writing exercise soon burgeoned into a 15.000 word novelette, and it didn’t stop there! I wrote a preface setting the story in the social history of herbalism. Then friends began asking to read it. I’m normally extremely private about my writing, but I decided to share it. Six trusted friends who are writers and/or academics read it, and all said, ‘This needs to be published!’ My republican friends – whom I had expected to say it was a pity the monarchy was ever restored – told me instead that they had lived every moment of the story and they also picked up intuitively on the subliminal message I’d woven in about the relevance of Charles’ rescue to today’s emergencies of wars, inequities and the cost-of-living crisis forcing so many people onto the kindness of strangers.

So, one damp January afternoon I began an internet search for a publisher. As a first-time novelist, I knew there was no chance of being accepted by a traditional publishing house, so self-publishing was the only way forward. Nevertheless, I was astonished and elated when the first company I approached was very keen to take on my book and had a lead editor whose favourite genre is historical fiction. And, just in time for Oak Apple Day on 29th May, the anniversary of Charles’ birthday and coronation, my book is published and selling!

That visit to Boscobel House was a truly life changing experience. Not only did it give me a fabulous structure on which to write my first book of fiction; it taught me to really open up to a hugely powerful benevolent force. Many people might call it The Universe. I am an Anglo-Catholic Christian. I had an overwhelming sense of vocation to help and to care when I was a child, but have struggled with belief in adulthood. This recent experience has felt like a massive blessing and has rekindled my faith.

It has put me back in touch with happy times in my childhood when I felt spiritually at one with Nature. My love of gardening has a new focus in planting an apothecary garden. I’m applying to study a foundation course in Medicinal Herbalism, and guess what: the only college in the country which offers this course is just 16 miles from my home. Dame Sarah is a thinly veiled version of the person I would most like to be, and now I feel her guiding and shaping me to become more like her.

I even have a plan after studying to offer Living History events at which Dame Sarah teaches herbal identification and demonstrates medicinal plant remedies. But perhaps most of all, I have been taught to open myself to signs and wonders all around us which strengthen, support and sustain us if we observe and listen carefully. Emmylou Harris says that women can be just as reproductive, if not more so, after the menopause than before it, if we’re paying attention; and the Dalai Lama has said that spiritually empowered women will change the world for better. I have always believed in those ideas and am more ready than ever to embrace what is called sweet power and be part of a beneficial life force thrumming with nurture, love and compassion for the whole world.

Hilary Wellington (on social media as Ginny Rawson)

Nottinghamshire, May 2022

My book A King’s Sanctuary can be bought at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kings-Sanctuary-Hilary-Wellington/dp/1915338212/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3GTFL2XLL3S3N&keywords=a+kings+sanctuary&qid=1653169752&sprefix=A+King%27s+%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1

or contact me at hjwellington@icloud.com for direct sales

AofA People: Robin Thomson – Sculptor and School Technician


8 Minute Read

Robin Thomson, 66, is a marvellous gentleman – he’s also a sculptor and a school technician. I met Robin on the plane to Morocco in 1985. He re-appeared at the performance of Dance Me To Death in Kensal Green Cemetery. Here he kindly answers AofA’s questions in a fulsome way.

What is your age? 

66 last time I counted

Where do you live?

Raynes Park, West Wimbledon

What do you do?

I’m a Sculptor and School Technician in Design Technology

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

Very cool. I’m in good health and financially secure, I have many lovely and loyal friends, a close-knit band of siblings and a clear conscience. I feel lucky to be in good health – lucky firstly in the lottery of genes, and grateful to have been brought up with a positive attitude to health. My parents were vegetarian and didn’t taste meat until age 16. Except for a spell (18 – 30) when I sampled everything from black pudding to ostrich, I’ve stuck to a vegetarian diet, though since my mid 50’s I’ve included fish and seafood. I’ve always been active – my workshop has been my gymnasium, and gardening and walking have kept me fit.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

My own home, a job that I LOVE, happy memories and brilliant experiences enough to fuel reminiscences for years to come, a more complete understanding and outlook on life, and a collection of obsolete technology.

What about sex?

It’s a wonderful thing but, for me, it seems to have been a complication to relationships that I am happy I no longer need to worry about.

And relationships?

Intense relationships never seem to work for me long term. I was married for three years after living with a girlfriend for six. We divorced in 2000. We have no kids but we keep in touch and care for each other. I had one partner since then, 15 years younger than me. We were together for 3 years.

I have many lovely friends, stimulating, fascinating and supportive, and I make new ones from time to time. A few are very special to me and I know it’s a mutual feeling. My close friends range in age from 10 years senior to 47 years junior.

How free do you feel?

With no dependents or partner, no “ties”, I’m used to immense freedom about what I do and when. But I’m inclined to get sucked into projects, and sometimes feel enslaved by them. Usually, it’s a cathartic experience and no less rewarding for that. These can be of my own making – like the total refurbishment of my own bathroom I took on a few years ago or starting a sculpture work in my studio that started small but has grown both in scale and time input to become a magnum opus. They can also be work-related, like my commitment to a Summer School this year – there was only a week’s paid work but the planning and preparation dominated four weeks of my Summer break. Did I mention that I LOVE my job? If I didn’t have that I’d feel free to up sticks and leave the mothership that is London, though I wouldn’t want to be too far from friends and family.

What are you proud of?

My work; my achievements in the pursuit of excellence!

Apart from some exceptional bespoke furniture that I produced as a designer/maker between 1985 and 2002, I’m proud of my contributions to Education in my second career, maybe I’m more proud there because the benefits to the next generation will outlive me and anything physical I’ve produced.

Working in an Inner London Secondary school since 2011, I’ve enjoyed the interplay of support and inspiration I’ve shared with students aged 11-18. One annual seasonal highlight has been a Drama production, usually a musical. On my part the input was both technical and artistic, designing set and making props and scenery. I know that my designs and products took productions to another level from the audience perspective, but I always felt I was putting my best efforts into supporting the latent talent of the young performers, giving them a professional setting to match their aspirations.

I also designed and planned the construction of a ‘model’ Saturn Five rocket for a Science day. The finished article was 30’ long, 1-metre diameter and hung in an atrium space until Xmas, when it acquired Santa as a jockey, wearing a mask with an uncanny resemblance to our Headteacher.

What keeps you inspired?

The expressions of joy that come naturally to the young; they shriek, sing, dance and, often literally, embrace and celebrate racial, gender and so many other differences (replacing the exclusion, sexism, division and bigotry that seemed the norm in my youth).

The expressions of surprise on the faces of students seeing the results of some practical skill or technique I have taught them.

Seeing young people gaining confidence and strength, through their formative years.

Meeting former students now “comfortable in their own skin” and succeeding in the wider world.

When are you happiest?

Sensory phenomenon bring delight of course; music, dance, art, the natural world all bring pleasure, but I’m happiest in a creative mode. I’m in a “comfort zone” when working on something, refining a surface or a form, or arranging parts in a pleasing composition. When something I’ve worked on succeeds, that’s when it becomes happiness; getting feedback in the form of acknowledgement or praise, or seeing the delight and wonder it might bring someone else.

And where does your creativity go?

In my day job, I have lots of opportunities for creativity, from arranging a spreadsheet so that it’s easy to read and identify key data, to creating displays, props or scenery. Sometimes, without being asked, I’ve produced a display item destined to be seen by the whole school.

In the run-up to Halloween one year, I led students in assembling together a few redundant dome tents to make a sphere. We then taped big bags together and stuffed them full of crumpled newspaper to make huge sausages that were draped top to bottom, and tied around the tent-dome. I then stitched fabrics – anything orange or tan in colour – together, to clothe the whole thing, which was then hoisted high into the atrium.

It was at this point that the Headteacher in passing said “Robin, would you mind telling me what this is supposed to be – just in case anyone asks?”

When I had added a gaping gap-toothed grin and sunken eyes, illuminated from within, it became obvious it was a giant pumpkin-head – well most people got it after they were told what they were looking at!

What’s your philosophy of living?

A fellow gardener once said his philosophy was “Leave your little patch in better heart than you found it” I can’t top that.

And dying?

My dad died when I was a wilful and rebellious teenager. He and I had been going through a difficult patch – perhaps the tension was heightened for him as he had suffered a “warning” heart attack. So, I was stunned when he died during surgery. I’m sure that, today, a 16-year-old would be offered bereavement counselling. As it was, a couple of years passed before I grieved his passing. I think I have had an enhanced sense of mortality as a consequence, often contemplating the natural cycle of life and death, ruminating on how I would be affected by the deaths of others, and I think this helped prepare me for my mum’s death in 2010. As to my own demise… I’m not expecting an “awfully big adventure” – I think that when we’re gone, we’re gone, but my main concern will be for others to know that I was happy with my time on Earth.

Are you still dreaming?

I love this question – it should be song lyric! If you’re asking about the unconscious at play while we sleep – yes, I love my dreams and their constant ability to surprise me!

If you’re asking about ambitions – I suppose I would like to see myself playing some role in the transformation that has to happen if life on Earth is to be anything more than a blip in geological time.
I think my role may be in encouraging urban young (and old) to make an emotional connection with the natural world. The joy that that could deliver might compensate for the hardship that I think must be entailed in letting go of fossil fuels, of failure to process waste in a circular economy, of casual materialism. Maybe my dream is now that we stop dreaming and wake up!

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

The assumption that I must have done something outrageous recently – how very dare you?!

I’ve shared my surprise at this question with a few friends and colleagues. Their response has been more along the lines of “Which to choose??”

Would it be the giant cardboard bicycle decorated with colourful butterflies, caterpillars, flowers and seeds, now hanging in the atrium at The Elmgreen School?

– or could it be that incident when the Punk Rock Goblin invaded the stage at the end of the school production of “We Will Rock You!” snatched the tribute bouquet from the Headteacher and threw it into the audience?

– or was it the theft of whole branches full of ripe cherries that somehow fell from a neighbour’s tree into the yard at Parade Mews Art Studios and was shared by fellow artists and potters last Summer?

– or would it be the mysterious arson attack on the isolationist allotment neighbours’ fence? Oh, strike that last one, it hasn’t happened yet!

Midlife Women’s Discovery 3 Day Retreat in Cheshire, UK


1 Minute Read

Do you find yourself wondering what life’s about at times, or struggle to find your purpose? Maybe your lacking passion and inspiration or want a new direction.

Our retreats are designed to help you tap into your emotions with journaling, look for opportunities in the universe with tarot and unblock your energy with reflexology and Qi Gong.  Also included are 3 yummy vegetarian meals a day plus homemade vegan cake, because life is always better with cake. The cottage is located in stunning nature with an award winning pub nearby – just saying! Walking, talking, laughing, the odd drink and a dance if the mood takes you, are all on offer.

Dates: 10 – 13 July & 13 – 16 July. Prices from £295 with discounts for AoA members.  Soul Sisters looks forward to having you.

https://www.soulsisterscommunity.com/retreats-for-women

Why I had to Write This Book


1 Minute Read

Last year, Dr Eva Chapman wrote about her book, ‘Sexy at 70’ for us at ‘Advantages of Age’. Here she explains why she had to write her latest book, ‘Butterflies & Demons’.

 Butterflies and Demons is set in Adelaide, South Australia. After a vision, in 2006, about the Adelaide Aborigines (the Kaurna), I felt compelled to tell their story, which is also partly my story. In 1950, I arrived as a three-year-old Eastern European refugee in Adelaide.

I didn’t see an Aboriginal person until my teenage years even though the Kaurna had inhabited the Adelaide plain for 40 thousand years. It was as if they had been obliterated. I was taught the European version of history at school, which was that Australia began when the white man came to her shores. I was curious and spent the next few years researching the history of the Kaurna. This entailed going back – by this time I had moved to the UK – to Adelaide, speaking to Aboriginal people, and looking through diaries, newspaper articles and archives. I loved doing the research and found that Kaurna people were so gentle, so clever, and so mindful of the piece of earth they lived on. They suffered terribly at the hands of the British Empire, as did I, an unwelcome refugee in 1950s Adelaide.

I was thrilled to come across the diaries of two Lutheran missionaries, Teichelmann and Shurmann who came to Adelaide in 1838 and lived among the Aborigines, describing in great detail, what happened to the Kaurna, as the British occupied their lands. The missionaries learnt the Kaurna language, believing this was the best way to convert the Aborigines to Christianity. I reproduce many of the conversations between the missionaries and Kaurna men especially Murlawirrapurka who was regarded as the wise elder of the Kaurna people. The missionaries recorded many conversations and events which involved Murlawirrapurka, which demonstrated the measure of the man and the delicate line he had to tread with his new masters. He was gentle and trusting and bent over backwards to accommodate the white man, working hard to ease tensions within his own people. He, as the custodian of the Kaurna people, hoped that the whites would uphold their traditions. But sadly, this was not to be, even though Adelaide was set up to be a model colony, which was not supposed to repeat the harsh treatment of Aborigines in the Eastern States.

The story in my book bounces between two eras, the 1840s, which describes what happened to the Kaurna, and the 1950s, which follows the story of a migrant child who also suffered at the hands of British imperialism. This is based on my own story and describes the prejudice I personally experienced, as I spoke weirdly, looked strange and smelt of garlic. Adelaide residents prided themselves on their Anglo-Saxon heritage and were afraid that the influx of ‘aliens’, as we were called, would dilute their Britishness. They set out to ‘australianise’ us as quickly as possible. My misery was compounded by having a violent, schizophrenic mother who thought the Communists were persecuting her.

The Kaurna story and my story intertwine in a startling and dramatic way – I personally received great healing from their loving energy, which still imbues the gum trees and blue skies of the majestic Adelaide plain.

The pivotal theme that fuses the parallel stories is that past misdeeds cannot be buried. I include a meta-commentary that illustrates this. This Greek chorus is supplied by a dreaming circle of Kaurna grandmothers who observe the unfolding drama, confront and challenge the author (often with humour), and also take part in the action. So I use it as a way of challenging myself. For instance –

Grandmothers:  Eva Chapman, who do you think you are?  Are you attempting to write about the Kaurna, the Red Kangaroo people?

Author: Hey who do you think you are? I am trying to write Chapter 1.

Grandmothers: We are the Kaurna Grandmothers. And we want to know why you are writing about us? We exist in an oral tradition. We are here to protect our sacred Kaurna heritage. We don’t want white, nosy know-it-alls, poking their pointy snouts into our business.

This dialogue device is in honour of the Kaurna oral tradition, and also of the plays or ‘ngunyawaietti’ that the Kaurna loved to put on, and which were described by Teichelmann and Shurmann, in their diaries. The other outstanding contribution of Teichelmann and Shurmann, was their grammar book of the Kaurna language which they published in 1840. This was subsequently lost for 150 years, but by a series of miracles recovered. As a result, Kaurna is one of a handful of the original 450 Aboriginal languages that is still spoken, and taught in schools.

The story ends in the present. Deeply held racist attitudes still hold sway towards Aborigine people. The author is challenged by the Kaurna grandmothers about her own racism, and the result is surprising and ultimately rewarding. Out of the chrysalis of greed, racism and demons emerge new hope – including a song that had been driven underground and a virtually extinct butterfly.

The butterflies which are in the title and on the cover are the Delias Aganippe which were in abundance on the Adelaide plain. Now they are rarely seen. Fortunately, the South Australian Butterfly Conservation Society has taken it on as its mascot and are working to restore vegetation to bring them back.

I have had many visits with Uncle Lewis Yelopurka O’Brien, the current highly esteemed Kaurna elder, who is now 91. What a lovely man. As well as taking me on a historic tour of the Kaurna sites, he read my book ‘Sasha & Olga’ and said my life had been harder than his. Excuse me! His humility is astounding. He feels very honoured that I wrote ‘Butterflies & Demons’ and has fully endorsed it.

Please message me if you want a signed copy or get it on Amazon.  Website www.evamariachapman.com , emachapman@gmail.com  

Age is no Barrier to Getting your Book Published


5 Minute Read

Judy Piatkus, 71, is an entrepreneur, publisher and business coach specialising in conscious leadership. She founded Piatkus Books when she was in her 20s and grew the company to become an international brand, before selling it in 2007, just before the global financial crash that she had shrewdly foreseen. She is now a keynote speaker and a coach and mentor to start-ups. In 2011 she founded Conscious Café, a network that brings people together for connection and discussion.  www.judypiatkus.com

It was 2019. I had no plans to write a book as I travelled to a café in Islington, North London, for a ladies networking lunch organised by a friend of mine. Yet one of the women I was to meet there was to set my life on a new and unexpected trajectory during the next three years.

Helen Elizabeth Evans offers a process called Scientific Hand Analysis which helps you understand yourself better. I was fascinated when she looked at the palm of my friend’s hand and revealed information about her that she could not have previously known as they had only just met. I booked my own session with Helen and discovered that I had ideas I wanted to communicate to the world, stories I wanted to share. Writing some of them down seemed an obvious route to go and so it began.

My background is book publishing and I had founded my company, Piatkus Books in 1979 and sold it successfully in 2007 to one of the largest publishing conglomerates. I had made a first attempt at writing a book after that but the three eminent literary agents I offered it to were not impressed and so I abandoned it.

At the start of 2019, I determined that writing my book would be my project for that year and that I would approach it in a more professional way. I joined a writing class run by a previous colleague from my publishing days. It soon became clear that memoir would be the form of writing that came most naturally to me and so I began. Interestingly, I didn’t write about my life in a linear way. I wrote the easiest chapters first and then amalgamated them with later chapters which were harder to write and didn’t flow so effortlessly.

After I had written 40,000 words I sent them to an experienced freelance editor who a publisher friend recommended. It was an anxious time waiting for her response. However, she was very encouraging and suggested guidelines that I could follow. I persevered and finally, the book was completed. It was a great feeling to finally write those two immortal words ‘the end’.

I sent the completed typescript which was by then about 80,000 words to the freelance editor and asked if she would copyedit it so that I could look for a literary agent to represent me. She got to work, subtly improving what I had written. Nevertheless, it was still a shock when the early pages were returned to me as she had cut 20,000 words from my text. As an ex-publisher though, I knew that whatever she had chosen to leave out would improve my book immeasurably and after a couple of days of adjustment, I was able to send it out on a quest to find a literary agent who would represent me.

Although a former publisher myself, I hadn’t given much thought to which company might publish it. Over the next eight months a literary agent took it on and she sold it to Watkins Books, a perfect fit, as it turned out because Watkins publish books in the genres I was writing about.

My memoir is entitled “Ahead of Her Time: How a One Woman Startup Became a Global Publishing Brand”. It’s the story of how I started the business in my bedroom at home in the 1980s when I was pregnant with my second child and how my colleagues and I gradually built it into one of the UK’s most successful independent publishing companies. We became known for publishing popular fiction and for being pioneers in the area of alternative health and personal growth publishing. In the 1980s we published classic bestsellers such as Colour Me Beautiful and cookbooks by Mary Berry whose first book for Piatkus, Fast Cakes, is probably on many of your shelves. We also published the earliest works by Jon Kabat Zinn, who brought the concept of mindfulness to the West and a range of health and mind, body and spirit titles including the first UK books on detoxing and decluttering.

In April this year – 2021 – my book was published. And so, after all these years of enabling other authors’ voices to be heard, I too found myself holding my own book with my name on the front and not on the spine this time. By now the UK publishing trade has of course changed considerably. Amazon controls over 50% of the marketplace and my book is available as a hardback, as a kindle download and as an audiobook. I already had a platform on social media (essential for all aspiring authors) but it was nevertheless quite an adjustment to find myself personally connecting with readers via Twitter. There was also a lot of new terminology to learn.

The advantage of being able to look back on a richly-lived life at this time of my life has been immeasurable. I feel very grateful that, at the age of 71, I am still capable of taking on a fascinating new project and of being able to see it through to completion. Age truly is no barrier when you have the right mindset.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/judypiatkus

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/judy.piatkus/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judypiatkus/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/judypiatkus/

AofA People: Kevin Allen – Film Director


7 Minute Read

Kevin Allen, 61, is a film director and old mate of mine from our Portobello days. He made Twin Town (before Rhys Ifans was on the cinematic map) to great acclaim and now runs the Mobile Film School where he teaches people of all ages to make films on their smartphones. His latest feature film, La Cha Cha, was shot during lockdown using Iphones with anamorphic lenses. It was a Mobile Film School production engaging a mix of students and seasoned pros. It stars Ruby & Sonny Serkis, Liam Hourican, Dougray Scott, Rhys Ifans and Keith & Alfie Allen. It’s scheduled for release in cinemas at the end of Sept – depending on the third Covid spike, of course. 

Age                                                                                              

I’m sixty-one year’s young.

Where do you live?

In a cabin by a magical lake on a farm on the fabulous Gower Peninsular, South Wales.

What do you do?

I write and direct films – and run my Mobile Film School, teaching people of all ages from all walks of life, to make films on their smartphones.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

I wasn’t at all happy about reaching the big Six-Oh. It’s around about the age when my relatives used to kick the bucket. But most of them had tough lives, I guess. I suppose sixty isn’t really that old these days. I don’t feel old. I think my kids are a decent barometer. They don’t really see me or treat me as an old git, and that’s nice. Although I suffered two serious knee injuries, my body is holding out okay.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25? 

Four bird feeders and a beard.

What about sex?

It’s definitely up there with a good Sunday roast. Always up for a bit of hanky-panky when the occasion arises. Although one-night-stands cease to satisfy these days, the ergonomics of Tinder has been a Godsend.

And relationships?

My marriage broke up about seven years ago. It took some time to get over but it was a good 16-year shift and we get on well. I’m happily single. I’m not sure I could live with someone again, to be honest. I know you never know what might come along but I do like living alone in my little cabin on the farm with my dog and chickens. The relationship I have with my rescued mutt, Schmeichel, is very satisfying. Our love for one another is unconditional.

How free do you feel?

Freer than ever I suppose. I live virtually off-grid, have no debts, no mortgages, and all my kids will be adults in a few years. FB keeps its eagle eye on me, of course – but I don’t really give a fuck who’s working out my algorithms. I can slip anchor anytime I want really. I have a loaded air rifle by my front door, should I be required to join the revolution. Although I’ll probably just film bits of it and sell it to Netflix.

What are you proud of?

My four kids. They’re lovely individuals. I don’t just love them, I actually like them. I’m really proud of the house I designed and built in Ireland … of my debut feature, Twin Town, and of my movie adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. But, I’m really chuffed with La Cha Cha – the movie I shot during the lockdown. It’s a sort of counterculture rom-com set on an alternative care-home/caravan park, where creative oldies can let their hair and pants down. We treat the elderly so appallingly in this country and the movie offers a glimpse of what could be a viable alternative for those wanting to go out with a bang, rather than a whimper.

What keeps you inspired?

Since setting up The Mobile Film School, we have trained many young filmmakers from scratch. Literally thrown them in at the deep end whilst making a movie. It’s a wholly immersive alternative to rip-off three-year Uni media courses. Watching them develop and blossom on set is truly inspiring. Balm for the soul.

When are you happiest?

Pottering about on the farm, cooking outside for friends, walking the mutt along one of our many beautiful beaches. I’m very happy when I’m making a movie. After the interminable grind of writing everything opens out during pre-production, followed by the adrenalin rush of shooting a film. I feel especially happy working on the score with my long time composer, Mark Thomas. Music is a critical component of my filmmaking and it’s just so much fun to play around in the studio after wrapping a movie shoot.

And where does your creativity go?

Quite often it goes straight into the bin – and sometimes it develops into something interesting and worthwhile. The filmmaking process can be quite protracted and often soul-destroying. It’s a journey that involves a huge amount of collaboration and juggling all the individual elements that go into making a movie is such a huge creative endeavour in itself. Filmmaking aside, I try and see the art in just about everything. With the lucrative proceeds of a big studio movie, we moved from Hollywood to a remote part of Ireland where we bred free-range pigs – and four free-range kids – in relative isolation. I learned to recognise and appreciate the art of the field. The creativity that goes into good farming is something to behold, and this is what inspired me to create the Flat Lake Literary & Arts Festival in County Monaghan, with the novelist Pat McCabe. The Arts Council of Ireland told us such an event couldn’t possibly happen in such a cultural backwater. We proved them wrong, and it was the ludicrous dichotomy of farmers and urban intellectuals coming together on the border that made the festival so genuinely special. It also made a significant cultural contribution to the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland – that Brexit just royally fucked up.

What’s your philosophy of living?

Don’t trouble, trouble – until trouble troubles you is a quip I picked up while writing a movie in Alabama years ago, and it sort of stuck with me. I guess I spent too much time in my early career looking for trouble that I didn’t need to address with such cockiness. I was so hell-bent on confronting what I loathed about my cartel-run industry head-on, that it only led to burning a few too many bridges. Leaving the Hollywood treadmill behind to farm in Ireland allowed me to rethink and reprioritise what I really wanted to do, and I naturally re-engaged with filmmaking with a quieter, calmer, more sustainable approach to achieving what I felt I could achieve.

And dying?

As more mates drop off around me, I guess it brings one’s own mortality into sharper relief. I’ve lost three best mates, the most recent hanged himself. It was traumatic, to say the least, and made me think a lot more about making the most of what I have left. I want to carry on making films until I’m physically and mentally unable – then check out in a place like La Cha Cha, the caravan park where my last movie is set. I’d like to spend my final chapter bathing in creativity. Painting, sculpture, growing weed, dancing around a campfire, taking lots of drugs … and if the body and mind allow, a bit of slap ‘n tickle by the lake at twilight.

Are you still dreaming?

Yes, I recently dreamt of making the perfect sherry trifle. My kids entered me into the world of sherry trifle-making championships held at Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a close run contest between me, Salman Rushdie and Fiona Bruce. Bruce pipped me at the post, but then failed a random drugs test, so I lifted the coveted Golden Trifle. I returned to Swansea on a double-decker bus where thousands of sherry trifle fans lined the streets. A male voice choir sang at a special ceremony at the town hall where I was handed the keys to the city. The triumph was bittersweet though, as I later learned that Fiona Bruce had been dropped from the Antiques Road Show. However, we all know that the Sherry Trifle circuit is rife with drug abuse, and the way of the transgressor is hard.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

I just spent 200 quid on a tin of organic olive oil from Umbria.

AofA People: Joolz – poet, novelist, artist, illustrator and tattooist


6 Minute Read

Joolz, 66, is a poet, novelist, artist, illustrator and professional tattooist. She came to prominence in the 80s when she was often called a punk poetess and was instrumental – Justin Sullivan, the lead singer was her partner at that time – in the rise of New Model Army. She’s still writing, painting, drawing and expressing her opinions from her base in Bradford

Where do you live?

I live in the same house in Bradford I’ve lived in for 35 years. It’s an end terrace in a hidden cul de sac in a very poor area but by chance has a large garden with trees. It’s extremely untidy and full of stuff and art materials. It’s very comfortable despite being in disrepair.

What do you do? I’m an artist, writer and tattooist, although I’m semi-retired from tattooing because it’s exhausting work. I have my own studio and set my own rules so I don’t have to get up early or any of that nonsense. I spent my whole adult life working at night either on tour with the band or just because I like it and it racks me off when people say ‘not up yet?’ I probably didn’t go to bed until 3.00 am whilst they were snoozing at 9.00pm. I’m sure it’s lovely to see the sunrise and I often do, just before going to bed.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

I will be 66 shortly. My current joke is ‘one six short of the Beast’ which no one finds funny but me. Life is a see-saw – when you’re young you have all the energy and no wisdom, in middle age, it’s 50-50, now it’s all wisdom and naps. It’s frustrating my body which was always fit and strong is still strong but less fit and I live with the constant pain of arthritis in my knees due to motorcycle accidents and the sports I did but hey. Everyone has something wrong with them. I don’t put up with bullshit and I speak as I find, so people try and pigeonhole me as a grumpy old woman but I’m not. I’m half in this world and half in the other world so I see things much more clearly than I did.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Insight and courage, I was a very damaged and hurt girl, I suffered serious sexual and physical violence, decades of abuse and bullying – now I understand and despite the legacy of CPTSD and depression, I’m actually much more liberated and free than I was. At 25 I didn’t have knowledge that I didn’t need anyone else to be happy. Now I like people well enough but I don’t need them.

What about sex?

I have a partner who’s 30 years younger than myself and extremely good looking. All my bits are in working order. It’s not a problem. I don’t lack for suitors either, but that’s their gig, I’m not bothered.

And relationships?

They have been extremely problematic in the past and I’m shit at them, I just take it day by day. I don’t expect the traditional holding hands in the twilight of our year’s stuff now. I had years of domestic abuse physical and psychological so I’ve seen the worst relationships can bring and I’ve also seen the best. I think people expect too much of their partners sometimes. They want a mother, father, sibling, best mate, nurse, counsellor and lover all in one and that’s a terrible burden to put on someone else. Just look at them as a person like yourself with problems like yourself that you’ve entered into a partnership with so you’ll each have someone to be close to over the years and never ever marry someone you couldn’t spend two weeks in a two-man tent in the Lake District with.

How free do you feel?

Extremely free. No one tells me what to do and I won’t be shouted at by anyone. I do as I like and make what I like.

What are you proud of?

Surviving. Being successful in every career path I’ve taken. Being a hard worker and researcher. Loving people. Loving my cat Scout. Having nice grey hair.  The garden.

What keeps you inspired?

Absolutely everything. Every day is a revelation and brings fresh insight. I’m not even kidding or bullshitting. Just keep your eyes open it’s all out there.

When are you happiest?

In bed reading with Scout lying beside me. Scout is a 9kg male Black Smoke variant Maine Coon cat so it’s like having a dog that purrs. We love each other. I feel safe, warm and comfortable and can dream of other places, places I’ll visit when we can travel again.

And where does your creativity go?

Into everything I do and am.

 

What’s your philosophy of living?

I don’t think too hard about that. Don’t get wound up about small stuff. Tell the truth and shame the devil. Stand up for what you believe in but question everything. You don’t get owt for nowt so be prepared to pay the price. Love with all your heart, if the loved one turns out to be shit that’s their karma. Women should always have money of their own and men should give up trying to control everything. Children are our most precious resource, don’t spoil or hurt them. Don’t use children as props to your ego or weapons against your partner. Respect your Elders, you don’t have to like them but they gave you life. Be polite.  Swear if you feel like it. Let your hair go grey and be proud of it because it’s two fingers up at Society that says we should be ashamed of being old.

It’s just part of the journey. We all die. I’ll make an end of it myself if I’m too ill to go on with dignity like my father did. At least I hope I’ll be that brave. There’s nothing to fear in dying, just try to do as much as you can prior. Think of it as the end of the summer holidays and that bright shore waiting.And dying?

Are you still dreaming?

Every day.

What was a recent outrageous action of yours?

My entire existence is an outrage to many so I don’t have to do anything special.

AofA People: Gilly Smith – Author & Podcaster


1 Minute Read

Gilly Smith is an author and podcaster who coaches and works with women in mid-life to help them find their voice. You can buy her book out this week,

How to Start and Grow a Podcast here.

What is your name?

Gilly Smith

Where do you live?

Brighton, UK

What do you do?

I’m an author and podcaster.

Tell us what it’s like to be your age?

Blimnin fantastic! At 54, I left the part-time working, child-focussed world and started podcasting. Four years on, I’ve found my voice, am coaching others, all midlife women, to find theirs in podcasting, hosting retreats (pre and post COVI) and my book on How to Start and Grow a Podcast has just come out. Finding my voice in podcasting must have helped my writing too; after writing 15 or so books, I’ve just been shortlisted in the food writer category for the Gourmand Best in the World Awards in June for my book Taste and the TV Chef: how storytelling can save the planet.

What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?

Where do I start? Voice, confidence, belief in myself, a proper relationship, a passion to change the world and a career that I love and can see growing until the day I die.

And what about sex?

I literally wrote the book on sex, but it’s not until I felt confidence in myself that it really works.

And relationships?

Marriage is a deep dive into ourselves and that’s been a 25-year swim among different universes, only occasionally coming up for air!

How free do you feel?

Once I’m done my lower back reset yoga in the morning – FREEEE

What are you proud of?

Finding myself in my 50s. My girls. My podcasts.

What keeps you inspired?

Family, work, campaigning through podcasting, communicating.

When are you happiest?

Pretty much all the time. I’m a white middle-class mid-lifer living happily, working creatively and keeping warm and safe in a pandemic. How could I complain?

And where does your creativity go?

Into my podcasting and writing, my daughters and my gold walls.

What’s your philosophy of living?

It’s never too late.

And dying?

I read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying at an impressionable age. Watching my dad die was one of the most incredible and privileged experiences of my life. I’m cool with it.

Are you still dreaming?

ALWAYS. I also host a weekly Dreamwriting Zoom class with a bunch of mid-life women.

What was a most outrageous action of yours?

I’m not sure I’d call anything I do outrageous although most people dare to ask for most of the things I ask for.

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