On September 9th 2015, at roughly 5pm, watched by my parents and by the love of my life, 'The Pirate', I received my master's degree from the chancellor of Falmouth University (Dawn French). It was a proud moment for me, having achieved an exceptionally high distinction for my troubles, and a moment which just a few short years earlier would have been beyond my wildest imaginings.
Six days later I turned 45. An age which just a few short years ago was also beyond my wildest imaginings!
At the beginning of 2012 I was 41. I had just recovered from major surgery after the second cancer scare of my life and my marriage had recently ended. I was living in North Yorkshire, cut adrift, lonely, directionless, afraid. I had no idea what to do with my life next, but a conversation with a friend who lived in Falmouth had got me thinking. And hoping.
'Years earlier - 18 to be exact - I had lived in Falmouth and completed an HND in commercial illustration, but for some reason 'The Future' had never really happened, and my creativity and love for storytelling had gotten lost in the struggle to survive 'life'.
I yearned to return to what I loved. The place, Falmouth, and the one thing I knew I was good at: Storytelling. But at 41 I feared I was too old for university life. Too old for academic study. Too old to begin again.
I was lucky enough to have the (tentative) support of my parents and a smattering of friends who encouraged me throughout the difficult winter of 2011/2012 as, whilst enduring both the surgery and a job as General Dogsbody in the cafe at Rievaulx Abbey, I cobbled together a portfolio of dreams and began to look nervously towards an uncertain future.
I was as amazed as anybody when my first day as a postgrad student rolled round and I found myself sitting in a room full of strangers on the Authorial Illustration MA at Falmouth University in October 2012. Amazed, and liberated, and terrified, and about as happy and excited as I thought it was possible for a human being to be.
I knew from the very first day that I had made the right decision. That the upheaval and the risk and the fear would all be worth it. That I was already so proud of myself for taking the leap, for putting myself on the line like that. For taking the risk of finding out, once and for all, if I really did have something inside me worth pursuing.
In October 2012, I couldn't have known where the next two years would take me. Couldn't know that I would meet and become friends with some of the most incredible people, of all ages and backgrounds and stories. Couldn't know how I would be pushed and pushed and encouraged by my incredible tutors to fulfil all that potential I'd had simmering beneath my skin for years. Couldn't know how I would open up my mind and my heart to let all the university experience envelop me. That I would work harder and more passionately than I had ever done before. That I would spend my days creating and my nights dancing. That I would go swimming in the sea in the moonlight. That I would spend the summer solstice drumming until dawn with my new friends. That I would fall in love with a gypsy pirate boy that lived on a boat. And that at the end of it all, I would surpass all expectations for myself and emerge with a distinction and a body of work that I could not have even imagined at the beginning.
What I learned during those two years, more than anything else, is that it is never too late to begin again. I wasn't the oldest person on that course, but even if I had been, I doubt it would have mattered. What I took to university was an attitude of openness. I wanted to meet people. I wanted to learn. I wanted to feel enchanted by life again. As a result, I became friends with 22 year olds as well as 62 year olds and everyone in between. I never, ever allowed myself to think that I couldn't do something because I was 'too old'. So, I went to parties. I drank a bit more than was strictly good for me. I walked home at dawn in inappropriate footwear.
One year after my MA exhibition, in my graduation regalia, I found myself reflecting on those two incredible years. It was a kind of closure, I suppose, to go up on to the stage and accept my Masters, to listen to the speeches and to find myself wondering, again, what the future might hold. Nothing is certain. Life goes on. But my two years as a mature postgrad student taught me that I can really do anything if I want it badly enough.
Life, it seems, can be a great adventure. As long as you let it.
I'm not sure I realised just how much the academic grade of my MA meant to me ... Until the time came to open the envelope!
I am a ...
... Teller of Tales. A Creator of Books. An Artist, Illustrator and A Boatbuilder. A Professional Daydreamer, Occasional Mermaid, and always The Eternal Optimist.