Writer | Psychologist | Mythologist
Dr. Sharon Blackie is an award-winning writer and internationally recognised teacher whose work sits at the interface of psychology, mythology and ecology.
Her highly acclaimed books, courses, lectures and workshops are focused on the development of the mythic imagination, and on the relevance of our native myths, fairy tales and folk traditions to the personal, social and environmental problems we face today.
As well as writing four books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestselling If Women Rose Rooted, her writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Irish Times, the Scotsman and more, and she has been interviewed by the BBC and other major broadcasters on her areas of expertise.
WRITING, TEACHING & CONNECTING WITH THE LAND
Sharon’s unique approach to working with the mythic imagination, fairy tales and folklore highlights the insights these traditions can offer us into authentic and meaningful ways of being which are founded on a grounding in the native wisdom traditions of the West, and above all on cultivating deep and enduring relationships to the places we inhabit.
Read on for the official biography and Sharon’s personal story.
ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
BA (1st Class Hons) Psychology, University of Liverpool, 1982.
PhD in psychology and neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine, University of London, 1985. Thesis subject: the behavioural and brain mechanisms underlying anxiety and panic. 46 publications in peer-reviewed journals (Brain Research, Neuroscience Letters, Behavioural Brain Research, Neuropsychobiology and many more) and academic books.
Recipient of Wellcome Trust Travel Fellowship (l’Hôpital Pitié-Salpétrière, Paris) and Mental Health Foundation Research Fellowship (Institute of Neurology, National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London), 1985-6
Practitioner Diploma, Clinical Hypnotherapy, London College of Clinical Hypnosis, 2003.
Chartered Psychologist with Practicing Certificate awarded by the British Psychological Society, 2003 – 2007. Continuing Professional Development training in various therapeutic modalities including Transpersonal Psychology, CBT and EMDR. Tutor in narrative psychology for clinical psychologists and other health professionals, via the Association for Psychological Therapies (UK).
MA Creative Writing (fiction route), Manchester Metropolitan University, 2007. Specialisation in developing a sense of place in fiction, and the use of myth and fairy tale to express personal transformation.
MA Celtic Studies, University of Wales, 2019, with a focus on Irish and Welsh literature, myth, and folklore. Dissertation: ‘The Cailleach in Gaelic Myth and Folklore: An Ecopsychological Analysis’. Winner of the Rev. Thomas Jones Creaton Prize in Welsh.
Sharon is the author of The Long Delirious Burning Blue, a novel which the Independent on Sunday called ‘hugely potent. A tribute to the art of storytelling that is itself an affecting and inspiring story’, and which The Scotsman called ‘powerful (reminiscent of The English Patient), filmic, and achieving the kind of symmetry that novels often aspire to, but rarely reach.’
Her word-of-mouth bestselling nonfiction book If Women Rose Rooted offers up a new Eco-heroine’s Journey for this challenging age of social and ecological crisis, and was described by novelist Manda Scott as ‘mind-blowing in the most profound and exhilarating sense … an anthem for all we could be … an essential book for this, the most critical of recent times.’ If Women Rose Rooted was a 2016 Nautilus Book Award winner.
Her latest nonfiction book, The Enchanted Life, was published in February 2018. A collection of original and reimagined fairy tales about shapeshifting women, Foxfire, Wolfskin, was published in September 2019, and Hagitude, a nonfiction book about reimagining the second half of life, is scheduled for publication on September 1, 2022.
Sharon’s articles have been published in several national newspapers, including the Guardian, The Scotsman and The Irish Times, and in popular magazines and academic journals. In 2009, she was the recipient of a yearlong writer’s award from Creative Scotland.
From 2013 to 2017 Sharon was the founder and editor of EarthLines Magazine, described by Jay Griffiths as ‘a deeply intelligent publication’, by George Monbiot as ‘a rare combination and much needed’, and by Robert Macfarlane as ‘a real point of convergence for many thought-tributaries and philosophical paths’.
Sharon is represented by Kirsty McLachlan, at Morgan Green Creatives.
TEACHING AND SPEAKING
Sharon leads workshops at venues in Europe and North America (teaching at major retreat centres including the Esalen Institute, the Garrison Institute, and the Rowe Center), and has lectured and taught at institutions as diverse as the University of Glasgow, Trinity College Dublin, Pacifica Graduate Institute, the Philadelphia Jung Institute, the California Institute for Integral Studies, and the Holos Institute.
Sharon has performed at a number of cultural events and festivals, from the Edinburgh International Book Festival to the Dark Mountain Project’s ‘Uncivilisation’ Festival. Her TEDx talk on the mythic imagination can be found online here.
I was born in 1961, in the far north-east of England, to a Scottish father and a mother with English and Irish roots. Apart from the Irish bit, all of my ancestors come from Yr Hen Ogledd: the Brythonic ‘Old North’ – southern Scotland and the borderlands, Northumbria and Cumbria. Without exception, they were working class: agricultural and industrial labourers, domestic servants, seamstresses, seafarers and the occasional master mariner.
I was raised from an early age on an imaginatively rich diet of Scottish and Irish myth, poetry, music and history, in an impoverished household free of television but with a great respect for books. When my mother moved to the rural heartland of mid-north Wales in my late teens and married my stepfather, whose first (and only working) language was Welsh, another thread of that old Brythonic tradition began to emerge in my life. So I guess I’m something of an ‘insular Celtic’ mongrel. (‘Insular Celts’ is the name scholars give to the pre-Roman peoples of Ireland and the British Isles.)
My fascination with the mythology of these islands started young; at the age of ten I was making copious lists comparing the names of the Knights of the Round Table in Sir Thomas Mallory’s work to their ‘equivalents’ in The Mabinogion and the wider British, French and German Arthurian literature. I didn’t ever complete the mapping exercise, but it’s an obsession that never left me, and although I’ve explored and researched mythological systems from all around the world over the years, it’s my ancestral British, Irish and other Northern European traditions that have always drawn me more, and on which I now exclusively focus.
Although I had originally wanted to study literature, my first degree was in psychology, and I then spent several years as an academic neuroscientist/ psychologist specialising in the field of anxiety and panic, with research fellowships at l’Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris, and the Institute of Neurology at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London.
After a few twists and turns, including some unwise years advising a tobacco company on smoking and health and safer cigarettes, some unforgettable years in Connemara, and a six-year-long profoundly transformative dislocation to America, at the age of 42 I moved to a coastal croft in the north-west Highlands of Scotland. There I returned to my roots, in practice as a therapist and teacher of narrative psychology, as well as working extensively with other creative/active imagination techniques aimed at psychospiritual transformation. Today, my work is rooted predominantly in transpersonal and depth psychology.
More recently, I deepened my lifelong work with myth still further by completing a Master’s degree in Celtic Studies at the University of Wales. I’m immersed in the latest thinking about our ancient native myth, folklore and belief systems, and loving every minute of it.
AN INTENSE CONNECTION TO THE LAND
My husband David Knowles and I founded independent literary publisher Two Ravens Press (now under new ownership) in 2006; we were soon described in the national media as ‘a quiet publishing revolution’ and ‘the most talked-about publisher in Scotland’. In 2012 we launched EarthLines Magazine, the UK’s first full-colour print publication for writing about nature and place. These days, after many years nurturing the voices of others, my focus is firmly back on my own writing.
All of my work – writing and teaching – springs from an intense connection to the land, which is rooted as much in the mything and storying of place as it is in a detailed knowledge of the physical environment. These are acts of creative place-making; acts of radical belonging. For twelve years I was a crofter, both in the far north-west Highlands of Scotland and on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, sandwiched between mountains and sea in one of the wildest and most remote places in the country. (On a clear day, we could see St Kilda from our kitchen window.)
We produced a large proportion of our own food, keeping sheep, cows, pigs and a miscellany of poultry; a large thriving polytunnel, and a herb garden which allowed me to indulge in my love of ‘weedwifery‘: the amateur practice of herbal medicine. That long, hard work, which required us to be outside in all weathers tending other living things, as well as a continuing daily need for long walks to explore rocky shoreline, bog and mountain, has given me a deep and nourishing sense of connectedness to the spirit of place that I feel drawn to share with others.
A MISCELLANY OF ASSORTED FACTS
In 2014 we moved from the Hebrides and embarked on another migration westwards, returning to Ireland – first to Donegal, and then to Connemara – where I had lived in the 1990s. It was a rich and beautiful journey, during which (as well as having Scottish Gaelic) David mastered two dialects of modern Irish, then Old & Middle Irish. But in early 2020 we relocated back to Britain – to David’s native Wales, a place which was first a home and then a second home to me during the several decades my mother lived here. For me, this part of the journey is about coming full circle – reclaiming the neglected parts of my heritage, and trying to understand the sudden pull of the Old North and its traditions, at this late stage in my life.
We now live in an old house which began life in the 1700s as a tiny nonconformist chapel, on a small farm at an altitude of 1000 feet in the Cambrian mountains. We’re blessed with the company of many remarkable old trees, several of them yews. I’m also the proud guardian of a well here. We share our lives with four border collie dogs (two of them working sheepdogs) and Maeve, a tabby kitten also known as The Kitten of the Apocalypse. We tend a small flock of pedigree Hebridean sheep (along with a handful of Breton Ouessants and Welsh Balwens, to keep the Celtic theme going) and an assortment of hens.
A miscellany of assorted facts? Once upon a time in the deserts of New Mexico (one of my favourite places on the planet), I learned to fly to overcome a fear of flying (and navigate a midlife crisis), and obtained my pilot’s license. I speak French and some Spanish, back in the day also learned German and Latin, and have a very small smattering of Scottish Gaelic and Irish. I’m currently (very slowly) learning Welsh. I could sing you anything from a vast repertoire of the old Irish rebel songs on which I was raised. I love the Pre-Raphaelites. I have a deep and undying love of all things canine. My favourite fictional character is Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax, an old mountain witch in whose image I plan to model my old age. When in doubt, I ask myself, ‘What would Granny do?’
Favourite writers of fiction: so very many, but those that stand out include Janette Turner Hospital, Alice Thomas Ellis, Doris Lessing, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood. Nonfiction: harder; probably Gretel Ehrlich, Rebecca Solnit, Terry Tempest Williams, Deborah Levy. Poetry: W.B. Yeats, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Linda Hogan, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Burnside and many, many more.
Major inspirations and influences – an often unlikely and eclectic list. At various times of my life, they’ve included D.H. Lawrence, Emily Brontë, Leonard Cohen, W.B. Yeats, Jacques Brel, Hildegard of Bingen, Rumi, James Hillman, Cormac McCarthy, Anaïs Nin, C.G. Jung, Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Macy. But mostly, for ever and always, Granny Weatherwax.
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