Lynne Bryan’s first book was a collection of short stories, Envy At The Cheese Handout (Faber & Faber 1995), which was followed by two novels, Gorgeous (Sceptre 1999) and Like Rabbits (Sceptre 2002). Here, she describes the experience of being ‘ambushed’ by the idea for her new memoir Iron Man — a candid and insightful memoir about disability, the vulnerability of the body and mind, and the frailty and strength of our corporeality.
My memoir Iron Man was published by Salt in November 2021. A significant moment for me, not just because it’s hard for an older author with a ‘quiet’ career to get published these days but because the book was not the book I had expected to write; it ambushed me and I couldn’t shake it off.
I have always seen myself as a fiction writer. I prefer reading fiction to non-fiction, and I teach the subject too: I know, for example, what skills are required to create plausible characters, how important point-of-view is to story-making, how novels and short stories play differently with time. I feel secure in this world, and I say this despite the fact that for well over a decade, following the publication of my last novel Like Rabbits, I was unable to complete any stories. A writer’s block: I can testify that they do exist!
I’ve never written a book so fast or in such a state of panic
Iron Man addresses this block, as it addresses my relationship with my disabled father – the two, I have come to realise, are intertwined. The book began in 2015, at my father’s hospital bedside as he lay dying. I listened to what his visitors said about him, their memories of what happened when he first became paralysed after contracting polio while swimming in the local canal and I noted every detail. A boy of fifteen, able-bodied then suddenly not, confined to a life of dragging himself around using a leg-iron and crutches, a life that exposed him to humiliation and unfairness, that saw him get paid less than able-bodied men, that saw him fire up an extraordinary will to survive. My notes became a diary. Then I dug out another diary that I’d started at art school and began to make connections between my artworks and references to his leg-iron, which resulted in my making connections with another diary which I’d written when pregnant. On and on.
Iron Man came quickly after that. It sped out of those diaries through the keyboard and onto the computer screen. I’ve never written a book so fast or in such a state of panic. The panic was about exposure – how dare I write about my immediate family – and about it being a work of non-fiction – I couldn’t hide behind the characters. Now, I am calmer. It is done. It is out of my hands and in the bookshops. I am hopeful that Iron Man will encourage conversations about disability and caring and creativity. I am hopeful, too, that my block has passed.
Lynne Bryan received her MA in Creative Writing in 1985. Her first book was a collection of short stories, Envy At The Cheese Handout (Faber & Faber 1995), which was followed by two novels, Gorgeous (Sceptre 1999) and Like Rabbits (Sceptre 2002). She has co-edited six anthologies of short prose, and her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and her story – ‘A Regular Thing’ – was made into an award-winning Danish short film.
Lynne is a regular tutor on our Start Writing Fiction 12-week online writing course, developed in partnership with the University of East Anglia. Find out more →