The Open University’s (OU) national campaign Life-Changing Learning is showing the difference that part-time study can bring to people looking to transform their lives and careers. Highly acclaimed authors, and former OU students, Carys Bray and Lisa Whenham-Bossy, have been chosen to be a part the campaign and here they share how they made their literary dreams come true.
Mother of four fits study and writing around her family to fulfil childhood dream to become published author
After having four children and seeing her youngest off to school, Carys Bray, 39 from Southport in Merseyside, started to reminisce – she dared to dream about becoming a writer, a passion she had long ago filed away as she committed her time to having and raising her family.
As a teenager, Carys devoured books with aspirations of becoming an author, and when the time was right in her family life, she knew she need to do everything she could to make it happen. Carys decided on a Bachelor of Arts in Literature through The Open University, needing and valuing its flexible learning structure to fit study around her busy life as a mum and to refine her skills and ideas with the hopes of becoming a published writer.
“As a teenager I wanted to be a writer and then I had my children and everything seemed to be on hold for a while. I emerged from a pile of nappies and then remembered what it was I wanted to do. I didn’t know I would achieve like that – not at all. At the end of my final year, I did a creative writing module and I did start to think about being a writer, but I didn’t think I would have two books published before 40.”
With four young children to look after, Carys worked around their needs, managing to do her OU study and assignments when she put the children to bed or they were at school – something she says would have unlikely been possible at other universities with more restrictive schedules.
“My youngest child had just started to go to nursery when I considered the OU. I really wanted to do it, but I needed enough time to be able to. It was ideal because I could study in my own time while the children were in bed, or when my youngest was at nursery.
Today Carys is an award-winning writer. The recipient of the Salt Publishing Scott Prize, she published her engaging and critically acclaimed short stories book Sweet Home in 2012 – poignant and compelling, her stories explore the loss and regret, frustration and pain experienced by everyday people. A novel – A Song for Issy Bradley – based on one of the short stories followed in 2014 after Carys was approached by an agent who suggested that a novel should be her next goal. Carys’ novel was shortlisted for the 2014 Costa Book Awards and she has recently been made a finalist for the Desmond Elliott Prize.
“I was reading short stories and they were mostly stories about family relationships and there were a lot of children in them – I started writing my own stories and then I put them together in a collection and sent them to Salt Publishing who had this competition for unpublished collections, they chose to publish my work – Sweet Home. It was incredible.
“For my second book, an agent found me – luckily I didn’t have to go through the difficulty of finding one. She asked me when I was going to write a novel. I started thinking about it when I finished the short story collection. I had a short story that I thought had the potential to grow into a novel. I worked on it for a couple of years and it became my first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley.”
Carys is also putting the finishing touches on her creative writing PhD, teaching undergraduate students at Edge Hill University and masters students at Manchester Metropolitan University while actively exploring ideas for her latest novel.
“Education definitely changed my life - it reintroduced me to the world that I had loved as a teenager who read and wanted to be a writer.”
Distinguished author overcomes childhood adversity finding her feet in the world of words
Lisa Whenham-Bossy, 54, from Leicestershire, is a mother, wife, a distinguished writer of two highly acclaimed and respected books, and a survivor of severe, prolonged child abuse that inspired her stories.
Suffering abhorrent abuse from a young age and throughout her life at the hands of loved ones, Lisa’s adult life has been plagued by very low self-esteem and anxiety linked to chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which has seen her hospitalised many times.
In her pursuit to find some freedom for her thoughts and creativity, Lisa pursued her dream of study and writing when her children started school. Previously a freelance magazine writer, Lisa knew education was the key to a writing career and success.
Through the OU she has been able achieve beyond her wildest dreams – Lisa found confidence in her learning environment as well as the opportunity to master her writing skills and psychology expertise, enabling her to pen two successful books about the harrowing abuse she experienced in her life.
“I never did higher education and always regretted not being able to do it. I pursued it at the right time in my life when the kids were ready – one was six and one was eight – they were more independent and at the right age for me to look around. I saw an OU ad on television or in a magazine and thought I would enquire about it.
“I did the first year in a health and social care course. I enjoyed this so much – I actually got a distinction and this inspired and motivated me to do more. Every time I did a course, it grabbed me.”
Endorsed and supported by leading experts including the British Psychology Society, Lisa’s books – A Fine Line: A Balance to Survive (2009) and The Survival (2013) remain best sellers on ebooks, helping child abuse victims and survivors from all walks of life.
Each book is a blow by blow account of her experiences documenting the tragedy and adversity she has struggled to overcome. The impact and positive feedback about her books has been such that Lisa is now transitioning into counselling and looking at a third book, contemplating the idea of a series representing an ongoing story of Lisa’s incredible fight for survival against unspeakable odds.
“I’m aiming to get counselling underway and I’m planning on a third book. I’ve had so many requests to do a follow up on the first two - they’re like a series. I would maybe like to do a more humorous one after the first
Readers and followers of her journey have attributed their own success stories to Lisa’s remarkable courage and honesty, and she has motivated a number of people to seek higher education for themselves. Lisa credits her education for helping her to find the courage and determination to fulfil her potential as a writer and as a role model to those around her - friends, family, colleagues and strangers.
“The knowledge I got from education transformed my life. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done at another university. The OU bent over backwards to help me. Right from one day someone came out to assess my disability, they helped me with a laptop, and I had the same regulator come out for my exams. I mentioned her in my books and called her Sergeant Major - she was lovely.
“My advice? You’ve got to go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose. I’m very thankful and whenever someone asks me for help I do it because I have had the OU help me so much.”
For more information about The Open University and Life-Changing Learning go to www.openuniversity.co.uk/lcl
Carys Bray photo copyright of Colin McPherson.