WHEN the owners of a Morecambe retirement home wanted to breathe new life into it - not to mention raise much-needed funds - they hit upon a plan.

Open up the spare rooms to students, decide twins Barry and Garry Grange, so that’s what they do, bringing together the old and the young under one roof.

That’s how Jenny, Ringo, Ling and Bo come to move into Sunset Promenade to share their lives with Edna Grey, ‘Ibiza’ Joe, Mr Robinson, Mrs Cantle and Mrs Slaithwaite.

The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert, Aged 19 Going on 91, is a gently humorous look at the interactions of the generations. Warm and uplifting, it opens up the joys and sorrows of past lives and explores the uncertainties and mysteries of present ones.

Bradford author and former T&A journalist David Barnett hit upon the idea from a real-life project in Holland. “A nursing home opened its doors to students as a social experiment, that seemed to go quite well. It doesn’t run quite as smoothly in the book as it did in real life, though,” he laughs.

Hoping to reinvent what she sees as her dull image, Jenny enrolls on a film studies course at North Lancashire University and gives herself a Lauren Bacall makeover.

Her passion for movies form the Golden Age forms a central thread in the novel and are reflected in the titles of films as chapter headings, including Whispering City, The Dark Mirror and Ice in My Heart (directed by Jenny’s own grandfather, an absent but vital character in the book).

David, who penned the bestselling Calling Major Tom, is a movie buff himself. “I do love an old black-and-white film, or Hob Nob Special as I like to call them, because they’re best watched with a nice big cup of tea and a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs.

“I’m particularly fond of The Third Man, and I love Humphrey Bogart movies such as The Big Sleep and the Maltese Falcon. But some of the old B-movies that you sometimes catch on TV in the daytime, which you’ve never heard of before, are brilliant.”

He knew he wanted to set the novel in the north. “I needed to have a location that was at the same time quite remote but also close to a decent sized town. Also, Morecambe Bay is notorious for its shifting sands and treacherous landscape, which served the plot very well. I had a lot of day trips out to Morecambe when I was younger and the area fit the bill for the story perfectly.”

Jenny’s love interest is Liverpudlian John-Paul George, aka Ringo. It’s a slow burn, but once it sparks, their relationship takes off. Yet it is not without its hiccups.

Young and old are sharply observed, with insightful prose as to how each sees the other, how assumptions are made and - in most cases - revised. “I think there’s always going to be clashes between generations, and that’s only natural,” comments David. “Younger people don’t want to do things the same way as older people did and that’s to be expected, and it’s healthy for societies to evolve.

“At the same time, we shouldn’t disregard the experiences older people have had, and there’s a lot that different generations can learn from each other if they can overcome their prejudices.”

The novel also reveals how the characters view their peer group: there are gripes-aplenty between the old folk, and Jenny doesn’t exactly gel with the students on her course.

“The book is not only about attitudes between the old and the young. Mr Robinson actively dislikes Florin but revises his opinion after he saves his life,” says David.

He adds: “The book is about challenging your own prejudices and realising that although you might not agree on everything with someone else, you can find common ground and work from there.”

David doesn’t base his characters on real people. “It’s more that I take aspects of personalities that have stuck with me and mash them up for the initial character development. But as the characters proceed through the story, they tend to take on a life of their own,” he says.

It’s a balance to tell the stories of the younger and older characters at the same time and make their stories appeal to all age groups, he says. “But human experience is pretty universal, whatever generation you’re from.”

Had David, in his youth, been offered the chance to move into a retirement home, he would probably not have accepted. “Certainly not Sunset Promenade, knowing now what I know about it,” he laughs. “But I did speak to some of the young people in Holland who did it for real, and they got a great deal out of it.”

*The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert Aged 19 Going on 91 by David M. Barnett is published by Trapeze, priced £8.99.