Greetings from the River Elbe in Hamburg to Achill Island.

For the past three months Achill has constantly occupied the minds of our group. We have been busy inventing virtual sceneries, characters and stories on the computer. In less than a month we will finally have the chance to go from virtual to real. Achill, here we come! Let us briefly tell us about our learning experience and about the adventure to be part of this thrilling project.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Take our group, for example. It consists of nine participants, six women and three men. We are not yet "over the hill" but definitely all much older than the student groups from Sweden, Brighton or Bonn. When we are not busy inventing fictitious stories some of us work as art therapist, lawyer, or school administrator. Some of us are even retired! None of our group members is a writing or computer specialist. Yet we do share a certain curiosity for the different uses of the internet.

What brought us together was our love for story writing, for communication, and for team work. And last but not least, of course, we were looking forward to combining and comparing fiction with reality: meeting other story writers, travelling to Achill and exploring the part of Ireland that we wrote about in our stories.

Nearly everything in this project was different from a regular adult education class, say in English or Creative Writing. This project involved more than one group, it involved using the computer, and it required a lot of coordination efforts. Everything was new and had to be worked out just for this occasion: How to write in such a setting and to work with so-called 'hypertext structures', how to react to ideas of other writers, how to tie together all the different characters and stories, how to find the balance between fantasy and plausibility, how to use internet and e-mail, how to learn to think in sequences... It was and is a real mental training in creativity, flexibility and communication, a challenge for every participant - young or old!

We had eight meetings, three hours each, from the beginning of November until now. Two more than originally planned. During our meetings we mostly clarified questions, discussed ideas, made agreements, or combined episodes. At home we then continued to write our stories according to the ideas we had collected in the meetings. We had a lot of fun together developing our stories and characters and laughed a lot about silly ideas and funny inspirations.

The work is done now: all our characters are will arrive on Achill Island soon. There's Herbert Miller, the retired teacher, Charlotte Adekom, who burned all bridges behind her, Lisa, an absent-minded young woman, Peter Mint, the music and English teacher on sabbatical, Judith Kölln, the lady with a coat too colourful for her age who is planning to marry Hans-Gunther Sallowski, another passenger. There are Steven Schiff, who will turn 39 on the 4th of February, the day we arrive on Achill, and Wilma Wesselhöft, a charming 62 year old lady.

They all come with very different purposes and motives. What is going to happen? What lies behind the mystery of Brian O'Donnell, the painter and famous son of Achill Island whom we created? Is he dead or still alive? Is he a swindler? We are looking forward to meeting you and to disclose the secret on Achill. So, can you teach "old dogs" like us new tricks? Yes, you can!

Hans-Hermann Groppe
Kerstin Otto

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