Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life

Jill Phillips – publishing a family memoir in retirement

December 18, 2022 Claire Waite Brown/Jill Phillips Episode 63
Creativity Found: finding creativity later in life
Jill Phillips – publishing a family memoir in retirement
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers
Childhood memories inspire a self-publishing project in retirement.
When Jill Phillips was growing up, creative pursuits such as painting and writing were not activities that her working-class community ever thought of doing, they were considered luxury pastimes for the more wealthy Londoners.
That was in the mid 1960s. Fast forward to the 2020s and Jill has published a memoir of life on Lamlash Street back then, and found a whole new outlook on life to boot.
Jill had a way with words as a youngster, but failed her A-levels and went to work in a clerical role. Pre-computers, she would file cards and answer the phone, and explains that
‘I was never so bored in my whole life.’
Jill liked to travel, and eventually emigrated to Canada, where she worked in occupational therapy and healthcare for 30 years.
In her early retirement, Jill started to write down the stories her family had recounted to her of life in 1960s working-class London, and some of her own tales of growing up there.
When her much-loved uncle died she wanted the family stories and his war stories to live on, and used some of the small inheritance he had left her to invest in mentoring and getting her book published.
Lamlash Street is that book, and in writing and publishing it Jill found out a few surprising things about herself too.

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Researched, edited and produced by Claire Waite Brown
Music: Day Trips by Ketsa Undercover / Ketsa Creative Commons License Free Music Archive - Ketsa - Day Trips
Artworks: Emily Portnoi
Photo: Ella Pallet

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Claire Waite Brown:

For this episode, I'm speaking with Jill Phillips, who recorded her family's stories of working class life in post World War Two London and woven together into a book. Writing Lamlash street has changed Jill's life in many ways, as we're about to find out. Hi, Jill, how are you? I'm doing great. Thank you. Brilliant. Can you start by telling us how you have been expressing yourself creatively? Recently, I've been thinking about what my next book is going to be, which is always after you've written one book that is like, Okay, what you're going to do next. So I can't decide really quite whether to go with a sequel to the first book, or whether I should go with something completely different. Because not only do I talk about my book, I also talk about motivation and doing anything you want to and even if you want to start running five K's and you're in your 60s, you can go and do that. But you just have to do it slightly differently. So I'm really passionate about people doing whatever their dreams are. And I'm also in some more practical things in my life right now things Evan flow with creativity. Sometimes you have lots of time for it. Other times you're into the more day to day stuff. That's where I'm creatively right now. Yeah, that's really interesting, kind of enveloping the main two elements of creativity found doing something creative, but also doing something new, no matter what your age and having the confidence to try something new, later in life, whatever that may mean. So that's really good that you have that outlook. Did you have a creative childhood? No, nothing at all. A mom was very goal focused. My grandfather, he died was one years old. I didn't really know him. But he's certainly influenced my mother. And he was a regimental Sergeant Majors drill sergeant. So mom was very task orientated. She had no time for things like sitting and drawing, or painting or writing or poetry, none of that. It was all very goal focused. And I think I can understand it haven't thought about her life so much when I was writing the book. I think I can understand now because they basically had to get food on the table if you didn't have money coming in. And money was really week to week, they didn't have savings. Nobody had savings in those days, that were I lived anyway, you really were just trying to make ends meet. If you paid rent, you'd better make sure the rent was paid, and you have money for groceries. So everything was very focused around bringing money into the house. So very, very practical. So now we have no history and anybody in any part of our family who were creative, because the way I was raised when I understood life to be in those days was that only people who were rich had time for those sorts of past times. It wasn't really people like us as a working class. We were there just trying to keep body and soul together and make sure the kids got enough food to go to school and clothing and that sort of thing. So no, absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. That's amazing. Only people who were rich could afford to have the time and leisure to do things creatively? Ah, so what was life like at school growing up generally? What were your aims when you were growing up? Well, to be honest, the time that the book was written with a brilliant age of 10, it was just to try and get my homework done, and keep away from mom, but she had something else for me to do. So I was really avoiding things as much as I could. Although even at the age, it was interesting. When you write down your family stories, you get a chance to talk to your family at a different level. Yes, they tell you the stories, but then I say, Well, mom, so what why do you think I got this? It was when I wrote the book. She read it just before she died. She read it, which was lovely that she had read it before she went. But it's so what do you think I got this be indifferent type thing, which in my family, if you've written things like written a book, you're different somehow, you're not doing the day to day stuff. I said, where you were always a bit different. She said, we had cockney rhyming slang and going up the apples and pears and the trouble and strife for the wife and all this sort of thing. You did it, she said, but you also at the same time, didn't do it because you use proper English a lot more than we did. And I didn't, I wasn't aware of that until I started to talk to mum and mum was in the 90s. So Mum was sort of reminiscing and that sort of thing, which was quite handy for me when I was getting the stories together. So yeah, she said, you're always a little bit different from other people. And so I was like, oh, right, then I realised that. So my need to write just came innately. It's just in me, I find Writing helps me focus on what's important helps me understand what's around me. And sometimes I just have to write, I don't know anybody in my family, except my daughter, which is really interesting, because my daughter is very creative. She wrote poetry when she was like 1718 years old, which I think is amazing poetry. But she says it's just average, but I'm the mum, you see. So it's probably bout of it. But she also does things like Dungeons and Dragons, which is where you have somebody who guides the storyline. And people have, it's like playing games online, but you're actually doing it face to face. Well, she creates amazing storylines through that and characters, and they have accents. So that type of thing which did not exist in my family, it seems to be something that she's going to carry on with, I have no idea where my need to write came from, other than the fact that academically also was quite good. So I did a lot of writing anyway, just you know, like with homework and, and I wrote thesis when I did my master's degree in my late 50s. People told me it was an utter waste of time, but I really enjoyed it. And it's led to writing the book. So that was amazing. So yeah, I think it's just something in me, and I just had the opportunity at some point to address that. Yeah, brilliant. So you've mentioned that you were academic, and that you did a master's. But you did also do an undergraduate degree. When did you get the chance to do that? And what were you doing it in? Well, I did it in occupational therapy. I left school I had my I took my A levels, and there was a lot of family upset going on at the time. So I failed my A levels as a mum said, well, let's get you out to work, at least, you know, you fall back on the older we get you out to work, bring money in sort of thing. And I did that for a year, and I was doing a clerical job. This is prior to computers. That was I can remember I had to put these cards, these filing cards into alphabetical order and answer the phones. I was never so bored in my whole life. I thought school was far more interesting than this was at least I was learning something new. So after a year of that, I thought I'm gonna go do something else. I can't stand this. So then I started doing a swap that in the day they called a legal executive course, or paralegals are also called now, because I did that for two years. So I thought no, no, because I wanted to travel a lot. And then a so happened that my friend came over from Canada, where she was in their parents to start her speech language pathology course. So we lived in Swiss Cottage shared an apartment there. And when she was doing that, I started thinking about health care. And I got into occupational therapy, then I went back to school to get my grades up. And so I started occupational therapy. So I was 26 when I started that, which was considered a mature student in the day. Yeah. And after I after three years, I eventually through one thing another, I emigrated to Canada. Okay, yeah, cuz you've mentioned that you're in Canada now, which is why it's a bit earlier. When we made the meeting, and when we met previously, you were back in the UK, and you're visiting your daughter in Canada now. So I'm very sorry for having to. I have no idea. I mean, people say to me about time zones, and I said, I have no idea. You know, I've lived with so many different times. So there's five time zones in Canada. So you're used to shopping and changing times anyway. And then between the UK and Canada when I was even phoning mum had to think what time was it there was fine. I mean, I can be up anytime a day or night. It doesn't matter. So why did you choose Canada? And why did you settle in Canada? Well, I, as I said, I had a friend in Canada, schoolfriend, and I came over to visit and I met my to be husband on a blind date after about my third visit to Canada. And I finished training and I thought, well, you know, what, why don't I go to Canada? I can. So I've got my licence approved in Canada. And I moved over to St. John's, Newfoundland, which is on the east coast of Canada. And I was in healthcare for 30 years, I was an occupational therapist for about four or five years, and I was a manager. And then I was an organisational change manager of my last three years in an IT setting within healthcare. Yeah, it's been great. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I like stimulation, I like to do things different. I like to experience different things. So yeah, and always have my whole life. Yeah. So how did the writing come into things? You've mentioned that it's a book about family history, the first book that you've written? Because you've mentioned, you might be doing another one? How did that all come about? And why and when, if a series of events really, I guess, being not in the country at the time, I'm living back in the UK now, but not being in the country at that time, we tend to sort of think and reminisce, and I've retired. So I had a lot of time on my hands. And I was a little bored, really hadn't really planned my return that terribly well. And then the other thing that was happening, the only time I was visiting the UK was because some other poor relatives have passed away. And I thought, Oh, this is terrible, you know. And I realised as I was, I was chatting to my uncle, actually, three months later, when I was in the UK, three months it passed on. And I thought, wow, that's somebody else. And I really saw those stories that because every time you meet your aunts and uncles, they talk about the old days, and the weddings and the other relatives, and you reminisce, basically, you're reminiscing. And I thought well, that there's going to be nobody there to reminisce with. And then in addition to that, my dad about my father about how that five years ago was having memory problems. And in the end, he died of Alzheimer's. And I thought memorising it maybe I'm going to get to the point where I won't remember anything. And I thought, well, maybe I'll just write the stories down. But I didn't have the ideas of writing a book that was too grandiose, like other people did that our family didn't do that sort of thing. But I guess the other thing is that Claire, and my daughter was into writing, and characters and that sort of thing. So because of that, because she had this interest and dry to write and this need to write, to write things down. I thought, well, maybe I need to start thinking about this. I started pull a few stories together, about when I was younger, and going swimming. That was that was a really cute one. There was a school swimming programme. So we used to walk 20 minutes to the swimming bars, it was Manor place, which is down by the New Castle. And the way we learned to swim was there were no flotation devices. So you could think any time and the way we learn to swim was the swim instructor who never got in the water. She never ever got her feet wet, she had clothes on shoes the whole bit, she would walk down by the side of the swimming pool. And she would hold a broom handle in front of you by about six inches. And as you were swimming along, if she thought you were sinking, she'd bring the broom handle closest, so you could hold on to it. So you didn't drown. And she thought you're doing fine should keep it further away, Sue's kept reaching for it. And about half of us learned how to swim that way. There's no swimming technique, nothing. So those sort of cute little stories, I thought, because I was talking to Claire about and it's like, she couldn't believe how different it was I thought, well, we're going to gain some lose or that we're going to lose all those those different ways things were and I thought it was important for me anyway that people these days do say Oh, well, you know, we've got all these problems today. And we do and that life is difficult. But life is difficult in different ways back in the day. So I wanted those stories to be to be captured I guess, which is where it started. I had no idea about writing a book. I just wanted the stories written down which is what I started with. Yeah. Which I think happens quite a lot. People want to keep those stories alive. Creativity is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity found experience. Go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. You're writing the story down. And how does that become a book? Well, I had all these stories, and only had about half the ones I ended up with, but I was getting there. And then it was, like I said, when I visited uncle, he said, I'd like to write a book about my war exploits. That's what my uncle said, because he was in World War Two crossing the Atlantic, the Atlantic crossings, he was in the merchant navy. So he saw a lot of action during the war, and is only at 17 and 18. And then poor uncle died, he was one of my favourite uncles. And I thought, you know, but it would be so nice if some of those stories were actually written down. And then I thought, well, I've got family stories as well. And then luckily for us, myself, my brother, my uncle left his his flat to us when he passed on. So we had a small inheritance from there. And I thought, you know, I should at least take a percentage of that, and get some help. So I can turn these stories into a book. So I got a book writing coach, because I had not a sweet clue where to start. And I read up on the internet as you would, and they said that you can, yes, you can do it by yourself. No, you don't need any help. But if you have somebody as in all things to guide you through, it's much quicker. And you learn an awful lot, just by having somebody who's done it before, you don't make all those mistakes, and go down all those dark alleyways and have to come back up again. And I thought we know I'm not getting any younger, I really don't want to waste time. And so that's what I did. For me, that was the right way to go. Because I had no literary background other than having written a thesis, which isn't literary. It's just facts, really. And I had no blood family that our friends that I knew that were doing that that type of thing, anything other than Clara, then that's what I did. And for me, it worked out really well, because I can still remember the one thing he said to me, he said, he said two things. Really first one he said was you have to have romance in the broadcast or you're joking romance me. And it's a voice that where would the Titanic be? You know, the movie, the Titanic, if it wasn't for the romance, he said, the ship was the setting. And you got to see all of the ship because you were following the romance story all the way through the movie. And I thought that is so true. So said, you have to have some romance in it to help tie the stories together. So he said to me, he said, so is there any romance? Or can you make something? I'm not a writer, and I'm just putting these stories together. And I said, Well, I did have a boyfriend at the time. So that's what he said. You can write all about that your boyfriend, what was his name? His name was Anthony. And so Okay, so I'm sitting there with my glass of wine Sunday thing. So I'm gonna write about romance. Anyways, it's in there. There's a Luckily, I was 10 years old. So it wasn't that complex in terms of romance. So that was good. And the other thing was, he said about, think of your favourite event of the year. And it was a year that I decided to write, you know, from 1962 to 1963. I said, Well, Christmas is my absolute favourite time. So that's why the last chapter in the book is about Christmas. He said, Well, I think you should book ended, I said, What do you mean book ended, he said, start with Christmas of one year, and then do a comparison of what it's like Christmas. So the second year, and I thought, That's a brilliant idea. So I did those two things. And that really helped me get some structure and some paste to the book as well. Because you know, I've never done this before, I had no idea what to expect. So I think for me, I learned a lot, which is what I wanted from this experience. So that's how I approached it. Yeah, I think that's very wise, you can get a lot of help and advice and actual support when you ask other people for that help. And they will see things differently as they're seeing you or what you're doing from the outside. And you may see things that you don't see while you're in the midst of whatever it is you're looking for support for. So that's a very good thing to do. So you've got this. You've got the structure, and you've got the advice. And you melding these stories together in a way that they're not disparate. Now, did you find a natural writing voice? I did. And that was a huge surprise to me, because I didn't think I would. But by the time I'd finished the book, there was a definite tone for this 10 year old voice. It was very practical for somebody who was observing what was going on around her. Most of the time, she understood what was going on, because things were fairly logical, except for where the romance piece came in, and the friendship romance, which was something she really didn't understand. But she knew it was something nice, but she didn't quite understand why it was nice. And that was really the tone for the whole book. It was an interesting personal experience because I realised that was how I viewed life and I was that age and I hadn't realised that before. And then when I, like I said earlier when mum said to me that, yes, I spoke for the cockney rhyming slang. But I also had a wider vocabulary than the rest of my family put it that way. So that sort of tied in the loose sense of me feeling something, I was a little different, but I didn't quite know how. And then when I wrote the book, I began to see myself through the eyes of me as a 10 year old. And it's sort of tied in with what mum had said that, yes, I was more of an observer. Everyone else was getting into the day to day stuff. And then yeah, I did that as well. But I tended to sit back and analyse a lot more and observe and try to piece the puzzle together and see patterns of behaviour and understand how this would work. And that would work, except in the area of the romance, which completely went against anything I really understood. And to be honest, going through my life, that's pretty much been the case as well. So the off by Roma, it's very puzzling. There's not much logic to it, so it completely throws Do you think though, that also, because you're in Canada, with your immediate family, but your home and family are in the UK? Do you think you felt more connected? By writing the stories then? I think it was as well, yeah, it was a need to have that familiar family around me. Because when you're writing a book, you think about it a lot. You're in that world all the time, I was missing that family connection. And what happens actually with with COVID, was I went over to see mom for two months, and then COVID hit. And it hadn't been back in Canada for two and a half years, and it couldn't travel really for two years. But yeah, it's so yeah, I had that real need, I think to connect with family, I think once you have more time on your hands, because I wasn't working and doing the day to day stuff, I had time to sort of think about more of these emotional needs, I guess is what it is because you're not into the oh, well, I've got to do this now about meeting here in a meeting there. You don't have the same sort of structure to your day. So yeah, I think that was part of it as well. Yeah. And are there other ways? Do you think that having written and published this book now, are there other ways that that has affected you, personally, in your everyday life? Oh, it's changed my life completely. I have no idea what I was doing. Okay, so you're finished writing your book? And then you have to decide, okay, what's the cover of the book going to be? And then that's when it's this little thing in your head says, Really, I'm going to have a cover to my book, and then you start going through like wh Smiths and places like that and thinking my book could be on the bookshelves. Yes, that changes your perspective of yourself. And people treat you differently. There's a little neighbourhood where women used to live. And people coming up to me and saying, oh, have you written a book? And I'm thinking, yeah, now I've done lots of other things. I was 30 years in healthcare, but no, no, you've written the book, because that is a big thing. You know, I've got my thesis, I've got my master's degree, you haven't you've written the book. So people are very excited about the fact they've met an author. And I think I'd only been in Canada about three days, and I was out getting some coffee or something. And, you know, just chatting to people, you know, the person who asked me for coffee, and I said, Oh, yeah, you have something came up. And so I've written the board, really written a book, and what is it and and can I buy a copy in? And will you sign it, and it's really choking. So that piece is really, really surprised that people are very supportive. And they're very interested in what you've done. And a lot of people do want to read your story. And I thought, when I'd written this, this, the stories down that if I had one family member raising, I'd have been thrilled to death. I didn't really imagine that complete strangers would be paying money on Amazon, to to buy a copy of my book, and I'd get nice reviews from them as well. So that has been a huge change. And it changes how you see yourself because other people see you differently. So it fits in as I think you mentioned earlier about motivation and doing whatever you want to anytime in your life. This really makes you realise that you can change your life. And it's full of surprises. And it's really exciting. It really is. Because you never know what's around the corner. And I didn't expect any of this. I was just writing a few stories down. Yeah, big up the doing the thing you want to do whenever it means you're in some places you didn't realise, and you grow as a person. You change and I'm not sure if I hadn't written the book. I think I would have been more the person I was when I just finished work. But since I've written the book, I've continued to grow and change and look for more challenges and that's Even if you just write your story down for that reason, that is super, because you benefit as an individual so much. You're sitting there thinking, Oh, I wonder what's going to happen next. And maybe I should do something about my website. And yeah, so it might have been a website. Another big thing. I didn't think I'd ever have a website. I had to have a photo, shoot my photos, and all these little things are so exciting. Yeah. Oh, that's brilliant. So with all of those wonderful benefits and exciting things, would you recommend that other people who have an inkling to write a book whether for publishing or for themselves, that they give it a go? And what advice might you give that person? Okay, but I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is, don't think of yourself as writing a book. Just think of yourself as writing your stories down. Because if you think of yourself as a published author, writing your book, you're going to start thinking yourself as Shakespeare, like, oh, it's gonna be so good. And if it's not good enough, nobody's ever going to read it, what the reality is that you write your stories down, if you need help along the way, get it after the story was was set, and it was in book format, then you have an editor who will come to you and tell you if you need to make any massive changes. So the way the book system is set up, is that there are so many checks and balances along the way, you don't have to worry about the published offering at the end? Or is it going to be full of spelling mistakes? Or are there going to be plotline issues that I've missed out on? You know, like, the plot doesn't make sense? No, because that's what editors do. So the only thing you have to do really is be creative and work on that piece. Don't listen to the voice in your head telling you that you can never write a book, you can write a book. And if you need help go and get it as my suggestion. That is brilliant advice. Thank you. Yeah, don't let that stop your flow. Because that could hold you back, couldn't it? If you were concerned about the end result? I think to begin with, you want to just get it out there and just write Yes, it because the unique part about your book and your story is the story you're telling. It's not about the punctuation. It's not about how we put the pieces together to a certain extent is but it's that's not what it's all about. The unique part about what you offer your creative content is really your story. And that you already know. So that's the easy part. So could do other jobs for other people to deal with. Yeah, quite right. Oh, it's been absolutely fabulous. speaking with you today, Jill, how can people connect with you? Well, I have a website, www dot A J M A phillips And the reason I couldn't go with Jill Phillips is that she'll Phillips is a Christian country singer. So I'm Jay M Phillips as in June. So JM Phillips And on there, there's a link to my Facebook author page where I have some my blogs as well listen, my blogs are on my website as well. And also my website, you'll see some of the family photographs. So the characters or the the family members that are mentioned in the book. I have photographs of those on there with a little blurb next to it to explain who they are and a little bit about their background. So it gives them a bit of context for the stories as well. And a photograph of landless street. That's fabulous jail. Thanks again. It's been a really really lovely chat. Oh, no more than welcome. It's been a pleasure for me as well. Thanks so much for listening to creativity found. If your podcast app has the facility, please leave a rating and review to help other people find us on Instagram and Facebook follow at creativity found podcast and on Pinterest look for at creativity found. And finally, don't forget to check out creativity found dot code at UK. The website connecting adults who wants to find a creative outlet with the artists and crafters who can help them tap into their creativity.

How Jill Phillips expresses herself currently
What life was like growing up in the 60s and 70s in London
Writing helps me focus on what is important
Why did you decide to move to Canada
How personal writings become a book
Finding your voice as an author
How writing a book can change your life
What advice would you give to others thinking about writing a book?

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