To Spain in a powerchair! An interview with writer Lynne Blackwood


I’ve known Lynne Blackwood since we were at school together, but then there was a big, big gap – from when she moved away from Salisbury in 1968 to her return to England about 35 years later.  In between, she’d had three children and travelled the world, gathering experiences she’s more recently put into words through short stories, poetry and her novel, Rings of Chalk.  And now she’s off to Spain – but not before I got her to answer a few questions!

Tell me a bit about your life story so far

Where do I start?  Many tragedies, ups and downs, but I always forged ahead despite them, thanks to my Anglo-Indian father and the wonderful upbringing he gave me.  I’ve spent 25 years in France and I’ve worked in the former Soviet Union.  Yet despite two broken marriages, and being limited by four walls and a wheelchair, I still have an unquenchable thirst for adventure.  I have so much more to do and say – enough to fill six memoirs of my life so far!

Losing my career and falling ill several years ago was a blessing in disguise, tough as it was, because it gave me time to start writing again.  I’m still curious about everything, and I’m passionate about most things – especially justice for the disadvantaged.  I can identify with people – that’s why I can get into the heads of my characters to transcribe their emotions in my writing.  My brain is like a hard drive, storing everything – so I’ve many more stories to tell when I have time to!

Through grants from the Arts Council, I’ve been able to work with some great mentors, and attended events and master classes.  I’m now part of the INSCRIBE national programme, and preparing some of my poetry for publication.

A collection of my short stories is going through its final edit, and my crime novel, Rings of Chalk, is currently with an agent – fingers crossed!  Three years of hard work is paying off – commitment, dedication, sweat and tears – oh, and pots of coffee and the odd glass of wine!

The main character in your novel Rings of Chalk is a Georgian detective called Lali – and she’s an unconventional heroine.  What inspired her creation?

That’s a funny story because I never thought she’d end up on the last page of a novel!  The idea came four years ago when I was chatting with my husband, who’s Georgian.  I’d just attended my first creative writing workshop and my brain was on fire!  He said I should write about Georgia and it just went on from there – even though I didn’t think I had the skills to write a full novel.  The plot came quickly and ‘Lali’ appeared, influenced by my work with women who’d fled Russian soldiers and mercenaries when Georgia tried to break away from the then-Soviet Russia.

It was a horrific time, and I’d seen the aftermath, the psychological impact on Georgians.  My husband helped with names – Lali comes from Abkhazia so her name had to reflect the Russian-occupied region.  She appeared, in my head and on paper, like a film going through my brain.  I wanted her to be disabled and damaged by her experiences because I wanted her to be a fighter, a brave woman in a man’s world, the cultural and social context adding depth to her character.

Your writing’s very varied – short stories, poetry, novels – do you have a preference?

Actually, no.  I love writing in these different forms.  Writing short stories, for instance, is like a quick-fix breath of fresh air between the more intense work of writing poetry and novels.  At the moment, I’m in poetry-writing mode because I’ve spent so much time on my collection, but I also have lots of ideas for other genres of novel.  I’ve begun one that’s magical realism and one that’s a mystery thriller.  Needless to say, the plots are all mapped out with characters.  And Lali’s next adventure is in the plotting stage – just in case (wild hope!) I get a three-book deal!

Have any writers influenced your own work?

I have some favourites but honestly I don’t think they’ve influenced me.  After 25 years in France, in a bit of a cultural void, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do – my eclectic tastes range from Jesse Burton’s The Miniaturist to Kevin Powers’ The yellow birds. As long as it’s well written and tells the story of an interesting character, I’m open to anything.

Recently, I’ve been reading crime writers such as Finland’s Kati Hiekkapelto – a very strong social commentary underlies her books – and Iceland’s Ragnar Jonasson, who creates extraordinary atmosphere.  Another favourite is Henning Mankell.  I need books that I’ll remember for a long time afterwards.

And your latest project is Powerchair Flamenco!  That sounds like a real challenge!

Oh it is!  The major challenge is organizing the complicated logistics of travelling with a wheelchair – and funding the horrendous additional costs involved.

I’m very lucky that my friend, PR guru and fellow writer Amy Solis just happened to be available to support me.  She’ll be filming me as well as helping with my blogs and vlogs – which is quite wonderful.  I’ve always loved flamenco dance and song, so this is a dream come true.  We’ll be going to Jerez de la Frontera for eleven nights, then to Seville for two nights before returning home.  This ‘writing retreat’ has developed into an important project which will help me secure more funding to achieve my goals next year – if I can increase my followers.  I’m hoping other creative people with disabilities will be inspired by what I’m doing.  So, sign up to my website for regular updates, and/or follow me on Twitter @leblackwood #PowerchairWriter.

What’s in the pipeline?

I need to complete the final editing of my short story collection, then submissions.  Publication in magazines – I’m waiting to hear from the St Petersburg Review and Sable Litmag. I’ll have a go at some competitions – put on hold this year! – and continue to raise the bar for my poetry.  I hope to find time to finish my magical realism novel, set in Paris, but I may be very, very busy!

On the back of the #PowerchairWriter trip, I’m hoping to develop more podcasts and video readings of my work, to put onto the website.  As for next year – I’m hoping to find funding to go to Iceland to work on a saga/storytelling collaboration.  I’d also love to go back to Jerez for a longer period, and work with a local organisation on a performance piece.  The spirit of adventure is certainly not dampened, despite my disability!

Thank you! 

Further info: Lynne’s posts on the Peepal Tree Press website, and all about Closure, the short story anthology in which her work features.  And of course her own website at






Getting published – at last!

“Thanks but no thanks…” Coping with rejection – or not

My crime novel, The Shame of Innocence, was pretty much finished at the start of this year, and I approached agents with the usual submission of the first few hundred words and a synopsis. The responses were disappointing: in a nutshell, they didn’t feel confident about finding a publisher for it at the present time.  Yet I wasn’t ready to consign my novel to a drawer and forget about it.

Silver Crow takes off

Timing is everything – and just when I needed a bit of support, Frome Writers’ Collective set up a book brand, Silver Crow, to be launched officially later this year, offering writers an assessment of their manuscripts.  I submitted The Shame of Innocence to Silver Crow’s trained readers, and waited with trepidation for their feedback.

Within a matter of weeks, I received a critique that suggested a few improvements but was generally very positive.   It didn’t take long to put things right and resubmit the manuscript.   Once I knew Silver Crow had approved it, I was ready to take the next step.

And now…

Now, nearly four years after I started writing The Shame of Innocence, I’m talking to a publisher and looking forward to seeing the book in print later this year.  For now, I’m agonizing over a blurb for the back cover – how can it take so long to write 150 words? – and a bit about myself that doesn’t sound either conceited or downright dull.  Oh, and I’m also hard at work on the next Jeff Lincoln story.  Just can’t let him go…


Those “Sliding Doors” moments – how different life might have been

Remember that Gwyneth Paltrow film ‘Sliding Doors’?  It’s a classic ‘if only’ story.  Helen, played by Paltrow, hurries to catch her Underground train – only to find boyfriend Gerry in bed with someone else when she gets home.  If only she’d arrived on the platform a split second too late for that train!  Writer Peter Howitt explores this alternative scenario too – Helen misses the train and gets back after the girlfriend has gone, so she has no idea Gerry has been unfaithful.

Catching that train, or missing it, was a turning point in both versions of Helen’s life.

Do you have a Sliding Doors moment, when you look back and say, “If only I hadn’t…made that phone call, missed that plane, driven down that street?”

My moment happened on a chilly Saturday evening in November 1967.  I was nearly 15.  I’d fought with Mum and Dad all week.  I wanted to go to the church youth club in Salisbury, but they didn’t approve.  How else was I ever going to meet people? (‘People’ as in ‘boys’.)

“Jennie’s allowed to go,” I grumbled.  “It’s not fair.”  Eventually, they gave in.

Pop music boomed out of the church hall as Jen and I walked up the hill from the bus stop.  Troggs?  Traffic?  Whistling Jack Smith?  I was nervous, wearing my new brown and white dress.  I’d bought it from Impact, Salisbury’s first boutique.  “That fabric’s so thin, you could shoot peas through it,” Mum said, but I didn’t care.  The dress wasn’t quite big enough, but I covered the gaping front with a scarf from Jaeger, the entire ensemble swamped by my new black cape.

“Let’s have a ciggie before we go in,” Jen suggested, digging a squashed packet of Number Six out of her bag.  So instead of going into the youth club, we walked round the block and smoked our cigarettes, turning round when a couple of boys about our age, or a year or two older, caught up with us and started chatting us up.

Sliding Doors.  We could’ve let them walk past us.  We could’ve chucked our cigarettes into the gutter and strutted nonchalantly into the youth club.  But we didn’t.

It was all pretty innocent, really.  Graham paired off with Jen, and Dave paired off with me.  We walked, we talked, we snogged under the streetlights.  We met up again the next day and the following Saturday, but then the thought of telling my parents I’d got a boyfriend put the fear of God into me.  Next time the four of us were meant to meet up, I got Jennie to tell Dave I couldn’t go out with him anymore – I knew I couldn’t have told him myself.  (Such a coward!)

As soon as I’d dumped Dave, I knew I’d made a mistake.  So began an obsession that lasted until I left school.  I didn’t stalk him, I didn’t phone him up in the middle of the night, I didn’t write him letters.  I simply knew I’d thrown away my only chance of everlasting love.  Dave and I were made for each other, I was sure.

I daydreamed my way through school, skimping on homework and revision.  The headmistress called me into her office.  I’d taken eight mock O-Levels and completely blown three of them – including Latin, which I thought I’d need to do an English degree.  “You showed such promise,” she lamented, as I gazed out across the playing fields, for once wishing I was out there too, lacrosse stick at the ready.  “But what are you going to be studying now?  Four subjects – and art.”

So I scraped through five O-Levels (including Art) – still in love with this boy I’d dated THREE TIMES.  I didn’t want to go to university, didn’t want to teach.  “You like reading, don’t you?” the careers teacher said.  “Why not be a librarian?”

I needed O-Level Maths or a science for most library schools.  After failing Maths on my second attempt, my options were strictly limited.  I applied to North London Poly, and to Birmingham.  North London Poly liked my ‘philosophical approach to things’, and Birmingham didn’t get back to me.  So North London Poly and Islington it was, where I met my soul mate and began my career.  No regrets.

See, if it hadn’t been for that quick Number Six outside the youth club, November 1967…

As for Sliding Doors – Helen catching that train meant she discovered Gerry’s infidelity – but then she walked out on him and into a much better life.  It only takes a moment.

Making progress – at last

I haven’t worked on this blog for ages.  Long story short – the domain name expired and it took quite a little while to prove that although I wasn’t the original registrant, I was indeed married to him.  There was an almost-amusing chat with some online techies who misunderstood  the situation and thought that my husband had expired, rather than, thankfully, simply the email address with which he originally registered two years ago. However, once that was all cleared that up…

Since my last blog over 12 months ago, I’ve been busy completing my crime novel The Shame of Innocence.   I’m hoping it’ll meet with the approval of Silver Crow, the book brand set up by Frome Writers’ Collective.   Fingers crossed, I’ll see Detective Inspector Jeff Lincoln in print before too long!  Watch this space!

“Oh, but you’ll love it there!” Leaving that beloved childhood home.

New Year’s Day, 1959. It wasn’t a Bank Holiday in those days, just an ordinary day like any other – except that particular January 1st was the first day in our new home.

 I’d lived in the Midlands for the first 6 years of my life, but my grandparents in Somerset weren’t well, so Mum and Dad decided it was time to move south.
Mum had spent childhood holidays near Salisbury and attended teacher training college in the city, so she was thrilled when Dad landed a teaching job not far from there.
Even more thrilling: a house came with the job! Our 1930s Worcestershire semi was sold – I think for about £3,000 – and we looked forward to moving into the new house in Wiltshire. It was rented, a council house no less , but we could look for something to buy once we’d moved.

“I don’t want to move,” I said, stubbornly.  “I like it here.”  And indeed, Dad and I always retained a love for the Midlands that my sister and Mum didn’t share.  It was where I’d grown up – well, I’d lived there for the first six years of my life, a long time when you’re that age!

Mum showed me a big print of Salisbury Cathedral.  “Oh, but you’ll love it down in Wiltshire!” she assured me.  “All that countryside!”  “But I’ve got countryside here!” I wanted to shout at her.  Heather-covered Tacky Hill and the farm track overhung with brambles that we called the Rabbit Hole were favourite walks for Dad and me – although even then, the fields around our road were steadily disappearing under new estates, where I’d walk the tightrope along the white kerbstones, before the new pavements got filled in with tarmac.

So, goodbye to Stourbridge and the Corbett Hospital, whose windows I could see from my bedroom as they caught the sun.  Goodbye to Stourbridge Library, where a model of a steam engine on the counter made library visits as much fun as going to Dudley Zoo – well, almost.  Goodbye to Mary Stevens Park, and Stewponey and the canal, to Kinver Edge and Kingswinford.

Hello, Wiltshire.  Our house was pink.  Pink fibreglass walls held together with strips of metal flashing painted pink.  A Reema house, a form of prefabricated construction deemed these days ‘non-conventional’.  The flat roof of the porch was held up with two shiny aluminium poles,  and instead of painted wood, the windows were framed in custard-coloured metal.  Inside, the floors were black and shiny, and our Worcestershire carpets didn’t quite fit because this house, as well as being pinker than our old house, was bigger.

My first impression of our pink house, that first day of 1959, was of a dimly-lit living room full of bedding on clothes-horses, drying out after – I suppose – being in storage during the move.  It was all a bit of a let-down.

In daylight, we explored the sloping garden at the back, empty of the sort of shrubs and flowers Mum had cultivated on the fertile and sandy soil of Worcestershire.  Here there were flints and chalk and not much else.  The whole estate had once been fields farmed by A G Street, in those days a renowned writer and broadcaster.  The gardens betrayed their origins as rough farmland.

In daylight, indeed, I expect Mum felt the move had been a mistake, that after our brick-and-pebbledash semi near Stourbridge this pink cardboard house was a bit of a comedown.

51 Gerald Road Wollaston 1956Dinah and Biddy 1958


Me, I was six and loved having stables down the road and a view across water meadows to not one but TWO busy railway lines – and this was still in the days of steam!  And as long as there were cats around – and there were – I would feel at home.

‘Oh, but you’ll love it there!’ Mum had promised when she announced our move to Wiltshire, and in time, I certainly would.  But for Mum, I think it took a little longer.

A first time for everything

“I’m a writer, that’s what I do. I write.  I DON’T give talks, I DON’T go on the radio, I DON’T do interviews!”

Think again. If you’re a self-published author,  you can’t give up on your book the minute it’s on Amazon.  Promotion is entirely down to you, the author. If you’re too shy to promote yourself, think instead of promoting your book, getting your words out there, introducing readers to your characters, your plot, your literary baby.

This was a message that came across over and over again when the Frome Writers’ Collective was launched earlier this year.  ‘Sell your book one copy at a time’, the speakers told a crowded room, ‘don’t be shy’, ‘if you don’t believe in your work, why should anyone else?’

So when I was asked if I’d like to lead a workshop on crime writing at Frome Word, FWC’s inaugural writing festival the first weekend in September, I hesitated – but not for long!

September 6th loomed.  Nervous?  Of course I was, but I’d taken time to prepare my talk, and printed a list of links and useful publications for workshoppers to take away with them.  I’d thought about what I would want to know if I got the chance to listen to someone who writes crime.

And then, on the very morning of the talk, I hit on a way of making the workshop even more interactive.   Our delegates formed a perfect ‘closed community’ – one of the key ingredients of the best crime stories.   Between us, it took only a few minutes to map out “Murder By Chocolate”.  Who among us had poisoned the tray of sweets I’d handed round at the start of the session?  Mary may have keeled over within minutes of unwrapping a coffee cream, but was she really the intended victim?  And how much had Jan really seen when she spotted someone re-arranging the goodies before the delegates arrived?  And if Mary wasn’t the intended victim, then who WAS the real target?

Before long, we’d put together a pretty plausible plot, complete with obligatory red herrings, a long-standing rivalry between two novelists, and a secret family feud.  (All fictitious, of course, but you get the idea!)

Next day, David Lassman invited me to join him on WriteOn, his FromeFM radio show devoted to writing – with some great music thrown in.   We talked about crime writing in general – David is co-author, with Terence James, of The Regency Detective, and I revealed the inspiration behind my Jeff Lincoln murder mystery, The Price of Silence.  My second Jeff Lincoln book, The Shame of Innocence, should be finished by the New Year.

One weekend, two firsts!  It would have been so easy to say ‘Workshop? Radio? Oh no, I couldn’t do anything like that!’ but I took a chance – and enjoyed every minute! So, if you’ve published a book, don’t sit back and wait for people to notice it.  Promote it through your local library, reading groups, writing groups.  Look out for opportunities to join a panel discussion – local literary festivals are often casting around for writers who are prepared to participate.  Take a chance or two, and have fun doing it!

The girt cheese of West Pennard – a Somerset gem

West Pennard cheese

I love old ephemera, all those bits of paper stuff that people throw away.  I don’t go round picking up litter and hoarding it, but I’m drawn to flea markets and junk shops like iron filings to a magnet.  I seek out battered suitcases and gaping box-files of old paperwork, relishing a few minutes plundering the contents, dipping into the history of a person, a family, a place.

At a flea market in Glastonbury Town Hall a few days ago, I came across a battered copy of The Somerset Yearbook for 1928, published by the Society of Somerset Folk.

Within this slim annual’s orange paper covers lie several articles written in dialect (‘Thick Motor-cycle Zhow’ begins: Taint offen the missus an’ oi goes to Lunnun; but Martha wur zaying as how zhe wernt vury wull up in the vashons…’)  – and plenty of other gems written in English.

These include a history of Stuckey’s Bank, the text of a Lantern Lecture on North Somerset, and the tale of The Wonderful Cheese of West Pennard.

West Pennard straddles the road between Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet, not far from Pilton and the site of the Glastonbury Festival.  In 1839, over a century before Michael Eavis put that particular part of Somerset on the map, the farmers of West Pennard got together to produce a gigantic cheese to present to Queen Victoria.

An octagonal ‘follower’ or mould was made from Spanish mahogany five inches thick, with the Royal arms, encircled by a wreath of oak and laurel leaves, impressed into it.

On June 28th, 1839, seven of the largest cheese-tubs in West Pennard were borrowed, and the best dairymaid in the parish was selected to make the cheese at the farm of Mr George Naish.  The milk of 700 cows went into the making of a cheese designed to astound the young Queen.

The pressing of the cheese began, amid the ringing of the village bells and the firing of cannon.  For days, the whole village waited with baited breath for the giant to be ready.

But oh dear!  When it was time to take the cheese from the mould, it stuck to the mahogany and wouldn’t come out.  Broken up, the cheese was treated again, rubbed with dry cloths, and returned to the mould.

The second time, it worked, and the West Pennard cheese was turned out of its eight-sided mould:  over 37 inches across and 22 inches high, it weighed half a ton.

A deputation of local farmers accompanied it to Buckingham Palace, but Queen Victoria declared she preferred her cheese old, not new, and sent them away.  Could they bring it back when it had matured a little longer?

While they waited for the giant cheese to age sufficiently, the farmers put it on show at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly – which got them into trouble.   The Vice-Chancellor complained that it was meant as a present for Her Majesty, not as a way of raising income for the little party of farmers looking after it!  A costly law suit followed, and the West Pennard delegation headed home in disgrace.

Exhibited throughout Somerset on its journey back, the cheese might have earned its guardians a lot from ticket sales – if they hadn’t squandered most of the money before they got home.

After its ignominious return, the giant cheese was kept at a farm at Sticklinch, near Pilton, eventually ending up at the Old Down Inn,  a pub that’s still in business to this day.

Did the Giant Cheese of West Pennard taste any good?  Apparently not.  “Its greatest friends,” says the author of the article, “after tasting it, could not conscientiously pronounce it to be first rate.  It went the way of all giants, leviathans, mammoths and nine-days’ wonders…it was given to the pigs.”

How are the mighty fallen!  Now, if I hadn’t wandered into Glastonbury Town Hall last week and found that year book, I wouldn’t have known any of that!  And neither would you!

Criminal activities in Frome

I’ve been so preoccupied with The Shame of Innocence lately, I haven’t spent any time on this blog. I’ve also been busy preparing a workshop on crime writing, as part of Frome Writers’ Collective’s Frome Word literary festival, running from 5th to 7th September.

There is huge interest in writing in Frome – a town of some 28,000 souls.

The Collective has organised a series of events over three days, including script readings (in fancy dress!), a day of workshops at Frome Library, and a poetry slam at The Archangel.

Frome Word wraps up with storytelling workshops, and presentations of stories written ‘live’ in Cheap Street’s shops and coffee shops.

A pretty ambitious programme for a collective that launched only 3 months ago!

Writer’s block

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block!”
Is that what you’ve been told? Every aspiring writer runs into Writer’s Block at some point, because they’ve run out of ideas or steam or confidence – or all three.
Even the most famous writers have suffered from it, some so badly that it’s taken them – as in the case of American novelist Henry Roth – a very long time to produce that Difficult Second Novel. (In Roth’s case, about 60 years!)

When you start out on a new novel, you’re fired up, full of enthusiasm. The plot is a green field of possibilities, the characters eager and willing to be knocked into shape by your confident pen.
And then you take a break, take stock, look back – and you hate most of what you’ve written so far.

Who will ever want to READ this, let alone PUBLISH it? With any luck, before you press the Delete key, you’ll take your work-in-progress along to a writers’ group, or a friend who isn’t afraid to tell you that the plot stinks and the characters are not only implausible but also boring. Let’s hope your fellow writers and your friend (if you’re still speaking to each other) can offer you constructive criticism to make things better.

You get your second wind, and off you go again, full of ambition once more, working towards that goal of a climax, a setback a few chapters from the end and then resolution. The End.

Except it’s rarely that easy. And once more you grind to a halt…

Some writers prefer to move away from their work-in-progress and tackle Something Completely Different. I have a different strategy which I’ve found helpful over the last couple of years, while I’ve been writing my crime novel, “The Shame of Innocence”.

If you’ve run out of steam, choose one of your characters – preferably one with a reasonably-sized role in your novel – and find out more about them. Let’s say your main character Jake has a sister called Jan who makes a few brief appearances. What was she up to the day before your novel begins? Or the week before? Suppose she went to call on Jake but he was out? Or he was there with another friend, George, and all three went out for coffee. What did they talk about? What are you learning about Jake that you didn’t already know? You’ll probably never meet George again (and neither will your readers) but what light does he throw on Jake’s relationship with Jan? How does Jake behave towards him?

And no, treating your characters to a latte a week before your story opens isn’t necessarily going to solve that tricky plot poser you discovered when you were checking your novel’s timeline.

BUT you are getting to know Jake better, you’re staying IN your novel, and you’re exercising your writing brain. Something George said as they were all tucking into blueberry muffins may even have given you an idea for a chapter you hadn’t even thought about yet.

Good luck!