18 Sep 2017
Sixty-eight year-old grandmother Carolyn Wyrsch has dreamed of being a children’s author for as long as she can remember. There was just one thing standing in her way – she struggled with literacy. Now she’s proving it’s never too late to follow your dreams, recently completing 12 months of study at TAFE Queensland’s Gympie campus.
“It wasn’t that I couldn’t be taught, it’s just that I never knew it. When I was at school, they never really taught grammar as a subject,” said Carolyn.
“I’ve always wanted to write, but in order to be taken seriously I knew I would need to master the English language first. I heard somewhere that publishers receive around 3000 manuscripts a year and only publish three or four a year. If it wasn’t perfect I knew they’d never even look at it.”
Carolyn put her dream on the backburner while she raised her two sons. But it was eventually revived when she retired and visited New York, where she met a number of published writers.
Yet after returning to Australia and moving to Gympie, she still lacked the confidence and writing knowledge to take the leap herself.
“I wanted to enrol in an online creative writing course but I couldn’t understand what they were referring to when it came to sentence structures and grammatical elements.
“Then one day I was driving down the highway and I saw a sign for TAFE Queensland next to the road where I needed to turn off. I decided to give them a go and see if they could help,” she said.
Carolyn met TAFE Queensland’s teacher Libby Salmon, who devised a program that would teach Carolyn everything she needed to know. Ms Salmon teaches Essential Skills courses at the Gympie campus, helping Skills for Education and Employment students, Vocational Learning Support Students, and members of the community looking to improve their literacy like Carolyn, develop their reading, writing and speech abilities.
“That woman was brilliant,” said Carolyn.
“I can’t praise the whole team at TAFE enough – they specifically put together a plan that suited my needs. They didn’t treat me as if I was stupid for not knowing this stuff already. They genuinely cared whether I succeeded and whether I understood.
“I learned everything from basic grammar, punctuation and sentence structure to narrative perspectives, phrasing and tenses. But what the experience really gave me was confidence. I’m now even picking up errors in other people’s writing!”
Ms Salmon said she was stoked to see her student doing so well in the pursuit of her goals.
“We aim to create a learning environment that is non-threatening, welcoming and relaxed. Many students are anxious about returning to study after a long gap or may not have had positive learning experiences in the past,” she said of the Essential Skills courses.
“We see many positive outcomes in our students as a result of this program, from building self-confidence and forming friendships, through to enrolling in further study, returning to complete their high school education, beginning an apprenticeship or traineeship, and finding employment.”
While Carolyn has now completed her study at TAFE Queensland’s Gympie campus, her story is far from over. The aspiring author is now halfway through an online creative writing course, through which she has earned two high distinctions and three distinctions. She is now feverishly producing stories she is proud to share.
“I recently went to a workshop with children’s author Libby Gleeson and I asked her to read one of my stories. She was so impressed and supportive that I just sent it off to a publisher this week!” said Carolyn.
“I’ve also started writing two novels and another picture book and I’m feeling really good about them. I’m just absolutely thrilled to bits with where my new skills have taken me.”
But she hasn’t forgotten the role TAFE Queensland played in igniting her passion.
“I’ll always have fond memories of my time at TAFE and the comradery and companionship. I miss being a part of that. When I get my first book published I’ll be straight back to show them all,” said Carolyn.