Posted Thursday 13 October 2016
Most students will be familiar with the thrills and challenges of settling into university life and 80-year-old Hilary Chalkly, who enrolled at Kingston University this term, is no exception. The energetic pensioner, who left school at 15 with just one O-Level in English, is on a two-year master's course in creative writing, becoming one of the oldest students in the country.
She's already bought her Kingston University sweatshirt and found the Picton Room, where she can enjoy a coffee with friends between lectures, and is relishing campus life. "I'm thoroughly enjoying it, my first impressions are excellent," the grandmother-of-three said. "It didn't feel strange coming here at all. The only slightly tricky part was trying to find my way around, but I've been following the yellow feet on the ground - I thought that was a great idea - and the Welcome Week students have been really helpful."
Hilary was very ill as a child and her father died when she was a teenager so she wasn't able to continue her education, but this never curtailed her passion for learning.
The retired businesswoman has been writing romantic fiction for the last six years and decided to enrol on the Kingston University master's after doing numerous short courses. She was spurred on by her friend Carol Marshall, also a pensioner, who has enrolled on the same course. "I think it's wonderful that Hilary is taking the MA in Creative Writing," Carol said. "Age should not be a barrier to learning. Hilary is bright and articulate and I think she will do well."
Hilary, who commutes to Kingston from her home in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, once a week, is looking forward immersing herself in her studies and has already been given a long reading list to get her teeth into. "Everybody keeps telling me there will be an enormous amount of homework - there's a lot of reading to do. I sometimes worry about how much my grey matter can take in, but I think the course will help keep me challenged."
Having already completed a romantic novel and in the process of writing a sequel, Hilary's hoping the two-year postgraduate course will help get her stories published. She felt encouraged when her course lecturer told the class that a writer's best work is often done in their sixties, seventies and eighties.
"I think it's because of the life experience you have at my age," Hilary said. "My family believe I've got something to offer the literary world, they are all right behind me," she added.
Course director Adam Baron is delighted to have Hilary as part of his new cohort of students and emphasised that a student's age is not an issue. "We've taught all age groups on our MA, from 21 up, and we will be challenging all our students to test themselves and be brave enough to improve as writers. The diversity of our student body extends well beyond age, too, as students come to take the Creative Writing MA from all around the world."
Hilary was among the new students joining Kingston University this term who each received a copy of The Humans, by Matt Haig, as part of The Kingston University Big Read scheme.
The aim of the project is to encourage new students to read the book before they arrive, to give them something in common to talk about. Author Matt Haig even made a special visit to the University during Welcome Week when students and staff had the opportunity to meet him and hear his thoughts about his work.
"I've read the first part of the book and I loved it," Hilary said. "I will never do that sort of writing but I find it totally fascinating. I imagine it must go through many people's minds, an alien's view of us as human beings."