Don't Stop Me Now! (Cecilia Peartree)

I've always had the urge to learn new things, almost to the point where it might be diagnosed as an addiction. It doesn't appear to be going away as I get older. Learning new things does come in useful for a novelist, however. 
My usual reaction to wanting to know something is to look it up. In pre-internet times I would go to a book for the answer, but if I didn't have the appropriate book on my own shelves I would have had to go to the library and try to find it there, and perhaps to a larger better-stocked library, which is all right for someone living in a place with more than one library but not so useful for people in smaller towns and villages. I grew up in a village which only had a visit from a library van once a fortnight. My father and I quickly exhausted their supply of murder mysteries, and my father joined a book club and got one new book a month in the post to supplement the library's offerings.
The internet has opened up many and varied possibilities for learning. Of course some of the sources represented online can only be described as unreliable, if not deliberately misleading, so the first thing to learn is which of them you can trust. As a history graduate I prefer to learn from several different sources, since even primary material often reflects the point of view of the person who created it, and secondary material even more so. Sometimes I feel compelled to learn something online because I have a particular use for it in mind, and sometimes just because it seems interesting. 
In the past I've taken several Open University courses in my spare time, even when there was very little spare time to be found. Nowadays I find these too structured, with too many deadlines for my liking, although the quality is usually higher than anything comparable. About ten years ago I did manage to struggle through two OU French courses that resulted in a Diploma in French. I got quite a sense of achievement from this as I had felt I might be too old to study a language. Because the OU has existed for some time and has always operated to a large extent remotely, there are very good online facilities such as online 'classrooms' for practising languages. I must admit that at the end of a working day I often found it impossible to summon up enough spoken French to discuss anything sensible in the online rooms, but I think some of my fellow students felt the same. One subject I've never studied with the OU is creative writing, and I am honestly quite glad of this, although it might have been good for me to do so.
Since I started writing historical novels when I want a change from murder mysteries, I've taken to doing more specialised online courses via FutureLearn ( They have advantages over the more formal courses, as you can usually take your time over completing them. They often focus in on particular things, in the case of the history courses on very specific topics such as the Battle of Waterloo, or the Jacobites, or Early Modern Scottish Paleography.  At the moment I'm in the middle of a course about workers in the textile industries in Victorian times, but getting through it so slowly that I think almost everyone else has already finished. FutureLearn courses are usually presented by universities and I think are mostly extracts from longer courses. The material includes links to primary and other sources. The paleography course, for instance, provided links to an excellent site about Scottish handwriting which I've bookmarked for these moments when I have the urge to revisit my family history. The catalogue of courses isn't confined to history and languages but covers a very wide range of subjects, some of which may be used as part of vocational and professional training.

There are of course many even less formal ways of learning than FutureLearn available now, and I've found museums and art galleries and the National Archives as well as privately run organisations have used the opportunity of the pandemic and lockdown to present Zoom lectures and even whole conferences. Much though I've hated the pandemic and all the associated restrictions, this is a very welcome development and allows for a bit of interactivity in the form of question sessions.
I've even sampled Duolingo as a possible way of refreshing my French, though in the end I couldn't cope with the annoying green bird thing that kept nagging me to do something every day. I don't know about learning not exhausting the mind, but it can definitely take a toll on the patience.


Kirsten Bett said…
Hi Cecelia, same with me, always learning, I'm nearly 60 and have been a corporate journalist, studied no Western sociology, been a professional reflexologist, worked at call centres to support my authorship,picked tomatoes,been a web adviser, it keeps your mind active I think. But truly self publishing and marketing my own book is the toughest call yet. But Duolingo helps me relax - I am learning Swedish!
Sandra Horn said…
Wow! Hats off to you, Cecilia! Seriously impressive stuff. I'm humbled. I rarely get past good intentions, with which, I understand, the road to hell is paved.
Peter Leyland said…
Fascinating Cecilia. What an incredible list of subjects you have learned about. My greatest regret was that I never learned French at school. It was Spanish and Russian! I always had 'a thirst for knowledge' (much to the amusement of some) and have now gone from English Lit. to years of science and now back to literature again. Learning never stops, as an adult ed colleague one said. Great post.
Peter - I learned German and Russian at school but not French, and until I did the OU course I felt there was something missing. I think there was a trend to teach Russian at the time when I was at school. I'm sure it doesn't get into many schools in the UK now but I am glad I had the chance to learn it (not that I remember all that much!).
Thanks for comments all. I didn't write this so much to boast as to encourage other people to have a go too!

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