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Writer who put pen to paper late in life wins national short story competition

A small but mighty community of writers in Wales is celebrating after one of their number became the latest in the group to win a top award.  

The four women from Gilwern u3a’s Creative Writing group, in Monmouthshire, only got together in 2020 but have won a slew of local and national awards between them.  

The u3a movement is a made up of a nationwide collection of groups that run local, national and online member-led learning for those no longer in full-time work who are looking to make new friendships.  

Harriet Hall joined u3a in 2016 and her entry to the organisation’s 2022 UK-wide short story competition, Cinderella – What Happened Next, stole the show and won first place. 

This follows the successes of group leader Kay Blackwell and group member Lynda O’Keefe in the 2021 Wales u3a short story competition. Both had stories shortlisted, and Lynda’s won third prize. 

They are joined in the group by Bev Woodman who inspires them at every meeting.  

Prior to her win, Harriet overcame a life-threatening illness which left her in a coma and she ended up losing fingers and thumbs on both hands.  

Her accomplishments are made even greater by the fact that she did not go to school and was, by her own admission, only ‘haphazardly’ educated at home.  

She says: “I could not be more surprised and delighted. I was initially thrilled to be short-listed and had not expected to go further. When I listened to the stories that came second and third, I was convinced that my story would be considered far too frivolous”

Harriet says her success in winning first prize is down to the Gilwern u3a’s Creative Writing group which was formed during the pandemic, initially via Zoom. None of the members knew each other but have become wonderful friends who share a love of writing. 

“Our meetings are informal and supportive”, says Harriet. “We are all woman of a certain age and can struggle with medical issues for ourselves and our loved ones” says Harriet.  

“But Kay never allows us to forget the main focus of our meetings and though we do not criticise each other’s work, we all feel that our writing has improved enormously over the past two years. I know mine has.” 

The popularity of the u3a’s short story competition proves how passionate the members are about creative writing. It’s just one of the fantastic u3a events the movement’s 400,000 vibrant and engaged volunteers take part in each year.  

There are interest groups to suit every taste – from Genealogy to Geology. To find a group near you, visit www.u3a.org.uk