Born in London, 1948, only child of the poet Thomas Blackburn and the painter Rosalie de Meric.
Lives in Suffolk and sometimes in northern Italy. Two children and this year, two grandchildren.
Married the Dutch sculptor Herman Makkink in 1999. www.hermanmakkink.eu
In the late 1950s, the jazz singer Billie Holiday was asked in a radio interview what the blues meant to her. There are two kinds of blues she says, her voice as crackly as a scratched record, happy blues and sad blues, I donít ever sing the same song twice and I donít ever sing the same tempo; one night itís a little bit slower, next night itís a little bit faster, depending how I feel.
Everything I have written has been part of my life in one way or another and I sometimes wonder how much faster or slower, happier or sadder, each book would have been, if I had written it at a different time, according to a different mood or circumstance.
When I started writing I tried to make fiction , but its wide and un-signposted landscape made me nervous and I quickly lost my way. So I stepped into research and the more solid structures it seems to offer. I am not and never have been an historian or a specialist in any particular field, but I am fascinated by the way that one can get closer to an understanding of a stranger, just by talking to others, by reading letters, diaries, or written accounts and by entering what Henry James called the visitable past: the places that still hold echoes of what once was.
My work has been a series of studies of people whose predicaments interested me: Napoleon stripped of his empire; Goya waking up to find himself deaf; a woman living on her own in the Australian desert; Billie Holiday hemmed in by racism; myself as a child within a complex family. Looking back I realize that every book I have done - even the two novels - has allowed me to think about my own understanding of life and death , fame and anonymity, time and coincidence. That, combined with the pleasure of describing the natural world and its inhabitants.
I had thought that after completing a memoir about my very bohemian family background, The Three Of Us (2008), I would perhaps be ready to cut loose from the subjective voice that has always steered me, but I haven’t done that and now I suppose I never will.
In April of this year, I will be publishing Murmurations of Love, Grief and Starlings (Full Circle Editions) and Threads, The Delicate Life of John Craske (Cape).
Murmurations of Love, Grief and Starlings is available to buy at Full Circle Editions - click here
I am still working on Angels Dancing On A Pin, a collection of stories which give a sideways look at my haphazard approach to research: the arranged or accidental encounters with strangers, the journeys and where they took me or failed to take me and the way that each book evolved, often leaving me tagging along behind its progress.