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Tributes & MessagesLisa Matthews

Julia and I first met, I think, about 15 years ago. I can’t remember how long exactly but I know I had bleached hair cut in a lovely tennis ball design and was wearing cerise court shoes. All I can remember of her that day was her lovely smile. She was the first woman I’d met who wasn’t like all the other women in our street. I reckoned she might be a lesbian but I knew she was a writer and back then that was the only thing going on in my own private stratosphere. She was the first person I ever showed my poems to. She was kind, professional, warm and encouraging. Not too pushy either, she made me feel I hadn’t done a mad thing by bringing her poems about electricians, plumb-lines and dove-tail joints. What a blessing for me that she should wander through Kenton that year. What a blessing for us all that she wandered north-wards in the first place. I’m not sure what I’d be doing now if it weren’t for that life defining moment. I haven’t told anyone this, ever, but I remember secretly watching her walking up Hazelwood Avenue after that first meeting and thinking, "I have to change the way I live my life". And that’s her all over.

I’ve loved working with her on proudWORDS, playing mad songs with The Tulips, her vision and support to me, writer-to-writer, all the work she sent my way and all the lovely smiley cups of coffee and chance-meetings in corridors and on stairs. She and Ellen published my first collection and validated years of piled up bits of paper beneath my bed.

There is a big Julia-sized hole in Newcastle now and to say I will miss her friendship terribly is the most stupidly-inaccurate thing I’ve ever written. I wish we’d holidayed together on the Isle of Wight but I’ll think of her now every time I’m on the Downs. In every grain of sand on Alum Bay, in all the stitches in Tennyson cape, in every ice cream and wayward OAP on the pier. I’m sure you’re having a ball and have already got a writing workshop together wherever you are now and if you happen to bump into my granny tell her that I now know that painting your NHS glasses with bright pink nail varnish is an amazing thing to do. I never got the chance. You helped me open my eyes. It’s been a long journey, we’ve lost an awful lot of writers and friends in the last few years and there’s so much still to learn and do, but in a way you’ve helped me be less afraid. I hope there’s wheelie bins in heaven, I’ll be watching for you putting yours out…

Lisa Matthews