Monday, 30 July 2012

An Interview With John Blackburn

It is my great pleasure to invite John Blackburn to this blog, Author of the highly amusing and encouraging book Keeping Your Sense Of Tumour. Diagnosed with Myeloma, a cancer of the blood in 2008, this is the story of how a positive attitude and a loving family can help in the most extreme and trying circumstances.

His book is available through Amazon and directly through the author himself. All profits of this amazing book are going directly to various charity organisations.

John, for anyone who hasn't read your book can you describe it in a nutshell?

It’s the story of how my life was turned completely upside down when, having made the decision to retire early and enjoy some quality leisure time, I was rushed into hospital and diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. For someone who had never been able to face even the slightest medical procedure before it should have signalled the end of the world for me, and I would fully have expected me to seek out a corner in which to crawl and just curl up and wait for the inevitable end but I didn’t – despite my worst fears, I have actually somehow managed to cope with it. It occurred to me that there must be a lot of people out there who might think that they couldn’t cope either with a similar scenario, and I felt that telling my story might help them too. I have also tried to ensure that the story has been well and truly injected as much as I have throughout but with humour, not drugs, as there have been a number of amusing incidents along the way in the midst of all the difficulties, and that just happens to be my style of writing.

What inspired you to write the book and where did the idea come from?

I had always intended to write as part of my retirement ‘plan’ and while the subjects I had in mind had nothing to do with medical matters, suddenly the material for my debut book was there right in front of me!

Did you make a plan for the book or did you just write it as you went along?

This particular book didn’t need much in the way of advance planning as it was written chronologically. Certain incidents from hospital as related in the book were already in my mind before I started to write and once I’d made the decision to begin I just had to make a note of anything which happened in advance of my getting to that part of the story.

Being diagnosed with Myeloma is such a life changing event and reading your book it is obvious that it has been a rollercoaster ride for you and your family. What keeps you going and what advice would you give to others who find themselves in a similar situation? I don't think I could be as brave or as courageous as you have been.

Yes I can’t deny that it has been as you say ‘a rollercoaster ride’ but you also said ‘for you and your family’ and the concept of a problem shared is a problem halved has a lot of merit in a situation like this. Had I been forced to face it all on my own I honestly don’t think I would have had either the motivation or any of the other qualities of character that would have been necessary to put up with all that was involved. However, I vividly recall seeing the sadness etched in the faces of my immediate family right at the beginning and I knew that I had to do whatever I could to survive as much for their sake as for my own. As for you or anyone else doubting whether they possess sufficient bravery or courage to face such an ordeal, you can never know until it comes your way! Given the level of support that I had, I promise you that if I can come through it then it is possible for anyone else to do so too. The other simple guideline I would recommend is to face each day on its own merits. One bad day doesn’t mean the next one will be too, likewise though with the better days. Some days are very difficult, others relatively easy, and that is as true for me now as it was when I was first diagnosed more than three and a half years ago!

What do you hope to achieve with the book, I know you are hoping to make some money for charity?

The charity side of it was the third element of my aims for the book and the one that can actually be measured. Before that, though, comes the hope that at least one person who thought they couldn’t face a similar situation will hopefully read the book and possibly find that they can cope after all. Also I wanted to publicly thank all who had helped to make it possible for me to come through everything – family, friends, everyone at the hospital and nursing-home, etc. etc. Quite a list!

What is your favourite book (or books), that you have read as an adult or when you were younger?

I was very keen on Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle as a teenager and this progressed into an interest in other crime whodunits later. Eventually, though, my interest in fiction waned and sporting and entertainment biographies and autobiographies took over. One book which has remained a favourite over the last ten to fifteen years, but which will need an explanation as to why, is a novel - “Sucking Sherbet Lemons” by Michael Carson. My latest genre of reading matter is the correct use of language books – “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss and “Between you and I” – I hate the modern misuse of punctuation (especially apostrophe’s – like that, grrr!) and basic grammatical errors, so I suppose I’m a bit of a pain where that sort of thing is concerned – LOL!!!

What was life like growing up for you as a child and what are your fondest memories?

I am the youngest of four children (though my sister is only five minutes older than I!) brought up in the relatively poor part of Chorley. It was the time of rationing in the postwar era, though we wouldn’t have been aware of it being any different from any other time. I’ve no particularly sad memories of my early life but our parents were quite religious and we certainly knew what a genuine Catholic upbringing was like, and the guilt complex so often associated with it. All this will hopefully be illustrated should I ever manage to complete the book which I thought would have been the first one to appear during my retirement. I started to write this more than twenty years ago and have returned to it at regular intervals since. It covers my life from the age of thirteen to seventeen and tells how I left mainstream schooling in order to join the religious order which taught at our school and put the fear of God up us all! Anyone who has ever known me since finds it rather incredible that someone such as I might have ever considered a lifestyle such as that, but I did! That book is about 75% complete and hopefully will one day see the light of day in its own right. What it has in common with “Keeping Your Sense Of Tumour” is that they are both basically serious subjects but as anyone who has read what I’ve written up to now the treatment which I give them is aimed to take the gravitas out of them and put a few smiles in there instead! One section of the novel I referred to, Sucking Sherbet Lemons, covers the same subject as my proposed book and, more than that, its setting is the same and so are some of the characters! It may be a novel, but it is an autobiographical one. The author was a contemporary of mine writing under a nom de plume and it’s fair to say that our approach to the subject is rather different and so is the way that both our lives have turned out. Suffice to say that I found Michael’s book to be well-written and very entertaining and having been able to contact him since via Friends Reunited I have to thank him for being very encouraging and supportive of my own efforts.

What do you like to do in your spare time, have you got any interesting hobbies and are you considering writing any more books?

It seems to follow then that I would have to list writing as one of my main hobbies, as it has taken up a large part of my free time over the years. As a result, my loft and, latterly, my PC, have become storehouses for a whole variety of complete, part-written books and ideas. Other than already mentioned, I wrote a shortish book about jogging back in the eighties when I did quite a lot of that activity, culminating in actually running a full marathon just before my fortieth birthday – hard to believe that now, eh? I made a start on a book about the long road from deciding to start a family before having to endure tests and culminating with adopting children – what a long and eventful time that was! Also in my loft is a huge collection of misprints and unfortunate headlines and stories from newspapers collected over the years – anything which has made me smile over the years has probably found its way up there and one day I’d love to get that organised and who knows…? I used to write comic poems for all occasions too which always seemed to be well received, and they are all up there too – it’s a wonder the bedroom ceiling hasn’t collapsed under all the weight!! Nor should I omit telling you of my other book which is on Amazon, if you haven’t already become aware of it. It’s a mini-book, only about eleven pages long so I didn’t bother trying to publish it in hard copy but just to use it as a practice to see of I could actually write and upload something suitable to then be downloaded for Kindles. It’s called “Ave Maria” with the sub-title “the first few steps on the way to becoming a Latin lover - maybe!!!” and is intended as a simple guide to the very basics of the Latin language using the hymn/prayer/hymn to illustrate it but as usuall in a light-hearted way. I priced it as low as possible just as an experiment and it’s actually sold quite well, so the proceeds from that have gone alongside those from my other book for our charities. Perhaps I should also mention that I’ve written a shedload of articles for the Chorley F.C. programme over the last ten years or more and for a few years prior to my illness I used to write all the football reports on Chorley’s matches for the Lancashire Evening Post and sometimes for the Chorley Guardian too. Other than the writing, then, I suppose my main hobbies stem back to my childhood and can be directly attributable to having two older brothers – from one I learned to love music (mainly popular but classical too provided it’s not too heavy) and the other one shared his interest in sport with me. In the last couple of years before I retired my wife Su and I started to get very interested in bird-watching as well. We had planned to do a lot of that in our retirement but have obviously been restricted so far. There may be some scope for us to indulge at some stage in the future, but in the meantime we have become avid watchers of nature programmes such as anything involving David Attenborough. The photography in this type of programmes nowadays is amazing!

If you could be any fictional character from the world of books or movies, who would you choose to be and why? You can't be Doctor Who.( I have already taken that one!)

I’ve never given this a thought in my life but I can guarantee one thing – I certainly wouldn’t be arguing with you about the Dr.Who role! Anything remotely to do with Sci-fi leaves me totally cold so you can be him and I hope you’ll be very happy! It’s a pity that I’m a bit too old to be James Bond – I may be younger than at least two of the actors who have taken the part but I’ve never seen myself as a suitable candidate for the role and I’m pretty sure that if I had auditioned for it I would have failed the medical! I wouldn’t have been happy with it in principle anyway – while I am a great believer in the philosophy that growing old may be compulsory but growing up isn’t, I can’t abide the sight of men lusting after girls who are at the very least old enough to be their daughters (and grand-daughters too in some cases!) – how degrading! To be honest I think I’d rather just remain being me – I’m not perfect, far from it, but at least I know myself quite well after all these years, and I don’t expect ever to be suddenly taken by surprise by unexpected negative qualities!

Finally I know you are a big fan of my local football team, Chorley F.C. What do you regard as their finest moment in history and do you think they will ever make it into the football league? And more importantly, are their pies any good?

I don’t think many would dispute that the highlight in our history was knocking Wolves out of the F.A.Cup in 1986 after three memorable matches with them. There was a lot of media coverage to accompany it which prior to that would have been very rare for a non-league club to get.. We have had other memorable times too, though – we were very prominent and successful at county level when I first started watching back in the fifties. We also knocked Bury out of the F.A.Cup in 1990, officially a better result than the Wolves one had been as they were higher in the league than Wolves had been, and in the mid-nineties we were only one step away from Wembley in the F.A.Trophy, the non-league equivalent of the F.A. Cup. We’ve had a dreadful time in the league, however, since we spent two seasons 1988-90 in the highest division outside the league proper, i.e. the Conference – until now! The appointment of Garry Flitcroft, the former Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers captain, however, as manager two years ago has sparked a massive revival both on and off the pitch. One promotion followed by a near miss has ensured that the interest is maintained and who knows what could lie ahead. A few years ago I would have replied to your question about getting into the league with a categorical ‘no way’ but with what we are doing now and looking at the example set by the likes of Morecambe and Accrington Stanley, who knows? It may still be unlikely, but you never know. In the meantime I understand that Morecambe’s pies are officially the best in the actual league (they sell them in Harrods, don’t you know?!!?), so maybe work could be needed in that regard too, especially now that Reuben Marsdens, for me the world’s best(!), are no more (at least not under that name!). Not that they ever catered for the football club anyway, I don’t think. One downside of my illness has been a gradual lack of interest in pies these last few years, something which I could never have envisaged ever happening to me. As a result, I fear that I’m no longer in a position to pass judgement on them. I think their current caterers are Halls and they seem to have been building up quite a good reputation in recent years, so maybe there’s still a chance for us after all!

John, thanks so much for letting me interview you. Just one more thing, how can anybody reading this get hold of a copy of your book?

That’s an easy one! There are many ways – the obvious one would be via the Internet as there don’t appear to be any copies available in High Street shops. Websites such as Amazon, W.H.Smiths, Waterstones, etc. all list it and of course there is the publisher – Upfront Publishing or Fast-Print Publishing. However, we stand to make the most commission for our charities by selling direct to the public and obviously I would be more than happy to sign any copies with a dedication if required as well. So, a simple email to me at and a payment of £7.99 rising to £9.40 if it is to include p&p, payable either by cheque or via Paypal.

I would recommend this encouraging and funny book to anybody reading this and all profits are going to worthy causes. Thanks John.

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