NewnhamWrites … Coming of Age 2.0
‘What’s the point of me?’ asked Barbara Lorna Hudson (NC1958) shortly after retirement. She was single too and dived into the world of internet dating. What started out as a memoir on her not-so-quiet life, morphed into a fictional story of looking for love and friendship as a sixty-something woman. Timed Out is a second coming of age story, one that pits despair against happiness; honesty against the trivialities of life.
Barbara Lorna Hudson grew up on a Cornish farm, read Russian and German at Cambridge, became a psychiatric social worker and a sex therapist, ultimately becoming a University Lecturer in Social Studies and a Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford.
As part of her job as an academic she published books and articles on social work, psychiatry and psychology. Since taking early retirement, she has published a short memoir and twenty-one short stories and has been shortlisted in six short story competitions. Her first novel Timed Out (Driven Press, 2016) was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize and won the Writers Billboard First Chapter Competition and the Writers Village Novel Competition. Her second novel, Makeover, is due out this year.
She is a regular performer at a story telling club, and is a member of Writers in Oxford and the Society of Authors.
How did you get into writing? Have you always written?
In my teens I wrote a sentimental and self-righteous diary, some comic poems making fun of teachers, and half a novel about a beautiful girl whose dream was be a vicar’s wife when she grew up (very 1950s!). Then nothing till my thirties, when I began writing non-fiction – magazine pieces, academic articles and books, textbooks – in the fields of social work, psychology and psychiatry.
But I’ve always loved reading fiction, especially the classics and particularly the Russian novels I studied at Cambridge. After I graduated I became an eager reader of modern novels as well, though I have never developed a taste for genre novels such as crime fiction or traditional romantic fiction.
You worked as a social worker and then as an academic in social work and psychiatric care. Has your experience informed your writing at all?
When I took up fiction-writing after I retired, I hoped that my professional knowledge and experience would enrich my work, give me insights to offer as well as stories to tell. I have been able to write confidently about Alzheimer’s, care homes and sex problems in Timed Out and about domestic violence, refuges, and group therapy in my second novel Makeover.
Your novel, Timed Out is a different coming-of-age story, about a recently retired career woman who embarks on a quest for love. How did the idea come about?
No sooner had I retired than I began to wonder ‘what is the point of me?’ and Timed Out began as a memoir – I thought people might be interested in my experience of being single and retired. And, yes, I did quite a lot of internet dating, which was a very new thing at that time. But I soon decided my material would be better as fiction. The memoir version threatened to become soppy and possibly also libellous. I invented characters; added a parallel sub-plot; gave the main protagonists discernible motivation; wrote in clues and events that foreshadowed the story; gave the whole a shape with recurring motifs, and – in short – made into a novel. It is a novel about Internet dating, but also about aging, different kinds of love and the search for a meaningful life.
You’ve said you enjoy short story writing – what is it about that form that you like so much?
I began with short stories. Some twenty got published – fifty percent of them self-published. I put some dating stories in a little collection titled Click to Click. I have tried several different genres – ghost, traditional romantic/feelgood, comic, crime – and for a year or two I was almost addicted. I liked the challenges of the short form, and the fun of entering competitions and getting my work out into the world. But a novel seemed even more of a challenge. And I have to confess that though I love writing them, I do not usually enjoy reading short stories unless they are really very long, such a Tolstoy’s or Chekhov’s – I prefer being immersed in a novel.
What are you working on at the moment?
Marketing Timed Out (my publisher is a small independent based in Australia, so I have to do much of it myself).
Final editing of Makeover
A third novel with no working title and as yet no satisfactory plot – but some interesting characters.
What are you reading at the moment? What authors are your favourites?
Have just finished Kent Haruf’s exquisite, simple and moving Our Souls at Night and am wondering which of his other novels to read next. My favourite present-day writers are Adam Foulds (especially The Quickening Maze) and Elizabeth Strout (especially Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys); I wish these two would hurry up and publish some more.
Why did you apply to Newnham?
I grew up in Cornwall and did not know anyone who had been to Oxbridge, but the teachers at my Grammar School encouraged me. The friendly interviewers, the enthusiastic students who hosted me, and the stunning buildings and gardens, caused me to choose it over Oxford.
What’s your most defining memory of the place?
Being served sherry by our German supervisor Miss Morris in her beautiful room.
What word springs to mind when you think of the following:
Career Woman: Choice