When Lynne E Blackwood was diagnosed with a serious illness life could not get any worse. But, as she tells SHANNON JOHNSON, it marked a turning point.
When it comes to a fascinating story, Portsmouth based author Lynne E Blackwood has a corker of a tale to tell – one that contains all the twists, turns and emotion you’d expect to find in any good narrative.
But unlike her fictional plays, poems and stories, this particular tale of Lynne’s is not fiction.
In fact Lynne’s life story is so gripping it has the potential to rival any Booker Prize-winning novel.
Listening to Lynne, it’s clear how passionate she is about her writing.
A natural storyteller, she possesses a quality of captivation you’d associate with an experienced author, so it’s hard to believe the 63-year-old is still considered a newbie on the writing scene.
Now I feel physically sick if I do not write. It’s my life. It’s not just words on a page, but a part of me is on that page too.Lynne E Blackwood
She only started in 2012, after being diagnosed with a degenerative spinal condition which left her unable to work.
She took up writing each day and now has several offers from publishers for her poetry, short stories, novels and plays.
Lynne, who lives at Landport, says: ‘I’ve worked so hard to get this far. I’ve worked my socks off.
‘Working is not just sitting here and writing it’s about getting out there to learn, to improve, to listen to what’s going on, to see what the industry is about.
‘Most importantly it’s about striving to constantly get better and better at what I do. So I am proud of myself and what I have achieved.’
Her latest work is featured in Closure – an anthology of short stories which showcases the diversity of literature by British writers of African and Asian descent.
Tonight she will be reading her pieces in a literary showcase which is part of Portsmouth Bookfest.
Lynne, who has Anglo-Indian roots, cites her father as her main inspiration and her heritage plays a prominent part in her writing.
She says: ‘My cultural background is very important to me. My father is Persian/Indian and this is very strong in me. He was an exceptionally wise person. He taught me how to survive and my greatest tribute to him is through my writing.
‘Even though I’ve had quite a difficult life, I’ve always pulled through and that’s because of him.
‘Growing up, whenever I came home moaning about something he’d always say “sticks and stones” and “it’s just water off a duck’s back”.
‘He brought me up to be proud of who I am but also to respect others very deeply and I think that is something that serves in my writing.’
Born in Wales, Lynne spent her childhood in Singapore then Salisbury, Wiltshire, and then lived in France for 25 years, before returning to England 15 years ago.
On her return she enjoyed a successful career as a community project development consultant working with women asylum seekers and ethnic minorities.
Lynne suffers from an autoimmune syndrome which affects every part of her body and in 2008 her condition forced her to stop working and give up the job she loved.
‘I do miss doing that job. I am someone who has always advocated for others so it was hard for me to stop working. The illness hit me hard and at the time it was difficult to live with.
‘Before, I was very active and used to go rock climbing and horse riding. When I became ill, it was as if I had turned 360 degrees. It was very difficult and still is.
‘You have to learn to manage and find coping mechanisms. It’s not easy at times, but now I’m learning to deal with it better.
‘But it never stopped me from wanting to retain my dignity and to still be someone who contributed to society.’
It was four years later when Lynne accidentally fell into writing and discovered she could use her literary talents to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives again.
‘I had to get out of the house one day, so I decided to attend a writing workshop in Havant. We had to write a creative writing piece and I hadn’t written for a very long time and thought “I’m way out of my depth here’’.
‘I read my piece aloud and there was this deathly silence. I will never forget it, and all I thought was “they must think my writing is terrible”. Then I looked up and the workshop leader said: “Lynne, this is brilliant. You must continue writing”.’ So she did.
‘Suddenly, all I did was write. I would go home and just write and write and write.
‘As a child, I’d always loved writing but I never considered it as a career.’
But it’s lucky she did, because Lynne’s literary success has gone from strength to strength. She has received two grants from the Arts Council, been longlisted for a national poetry competition and commended in several categories at Winchester Writing Festival.
Her poems and short stories have been published in literary magazines, and she has pieces in the Portsmouth Fairy Tale anthology as well as the current Closure anthology, pictured.
Her work has also been adapted into a play which was performed at the Groundlings Theatre, Portsmouth.
‘It just all blew out of proportion. Now I think “that’s it – I’m on my way, I’m on my way.” It’s exciting, but it’s been extremely hard to get to this point.’
So did Lynne ever picture her life turning out like this?
‘I believe you are the sum of everything that’s gone before you,’ she says. ‘Becoming ill was, in my opinion, my fate and has shaped who I am today. Who knows where I would be if I hadn’t become ill. I may have been earning a lot more money, but now I feel physically sick if I do not write. It’s my life. It’s not just words on a page, but a part of me is on that page too.
‘In my old job I was making a positive difference to people’s lives. But when people told me they were touched by my writing, I stepped back and realised this was another way I could influence people.’
Lynne is currently editing her novel and has many aspirations for developing her writing career. She knows it won’t be easy.
‘Nose to the ground, head down and just crack on really,’ she laughs. ‘I would love to get a literary agent and a book deal.
‘My ultimate ambition is to travel to southern India and investigate my family history. I want to experience the memories my father shared with me about his childhood there and eventually write these big sagas based on my Indian heritage. That will be my greatest homage,’ says Lynne.
The next chapter in Lynne’s life could just be about to start.
Portsmouth Bookfest is an annual celebration of literature organised by Portsmouth City Council and The Hayling Island Bookshop.
This year’s festival features a range of events including a panel with Lynne E Blackwood and other short story authors, an audience with The News sports writer Neil Allen and talks from leading authors and publishers as part of its varied programme.
Lynne E Blackwood will be reading from her Closer contribution alongside some of the book’s other writers and will then take part in a question and answer session with Jacob Ross of the book’s publisher Peepal Tree.
The event is at the Menuhin Theatre, Central Library, Guildhall Square, Portsmouth, at 7pm today.