Words used to come easily for talented young Birmingham poet Jodi Ann Bickley.
A promising career built on her free-flowing prose led to awards and a meeting with former Prime Minister Tony Blair by the time she was just 21.
And up until three months ago, Jodi was hosting regular Speak Up music and poetry nights, welcoming established performers such as Ed Sheeran, Musa Okwonga and Scroobius Pip.
The 23-year-old from Kings Heath was also showing off her own hip hop-tinged skills with poems such as I Think My Phone Just Vibrated and Come Look For Me displaying her take on everyday life – all delivered with an unashamedly Brummie twang.
But then Jodi was bitten by a tick while performing at a summer festival and words failed her. She was one of the unlucky one-in-200,000 for whom such a bite develops into encephalitis and within three weeks she was struck down with headaches and vertigo.
Jodi soon collapsed and the illness is believed to have been the trigger for a stroke that left her partially paralysed down her right hand side.
The former Solihull College sixth former was eventually sent home from Solihull Hospital after ten days with a Zimmer frame, the stroke having left her unable to walk properly. Or write.
“It was horrendous not being able to write and the nurses took my pen off me because they knew how it would make me feel not being able to even hold the pen properly,” said Jodi, a former pupil at Hall Green Secondary and York Mead Primary.
“I was still getting the urge to write and wanted to get things down on paper. I never realised the significance of simply writing – I could have typed with a laptop, but I wanted to write. It’s how I express my outlook and it wasn’t there anymore.
“It felt like I lost my voice. Even though I had so much support, I might as well have been locked in a room. The doctors didn’t diagnose the loneliness and frustration I felt.”
But she refused to let failing health stem the creative flow and, in secret, learned to write all over again.
“I didn’t tell anybody I was trying to write again because they knew it would make me feel frustrated,” said Jodi. “I even did laps of my room to improve my walking, but was always falling over.
“It’s been an experience I’ll be using in my writing in the future – that’s the worst form of silver lining. It’s been an awful experience but it’s also given me so much inspiration – I’ve got so much more to speak about.”
Health problems are nothing new to Jodi, though. She collapsed in 2005 during an English A-level exam having been ill off and on for four years. She has also had her gall bladder removed instead of her appendix.
Although Jodi can write again, she still suffers headaches and has been signed off from her bar job at the Hare & Hounds, in Kings Heath, until next month.
She also has an appointment with a neurologist just days after her next Speak Up session, at the Hare & Hounds on Wednesday, December 14.
“People love it when they’ve been. Loads are like ‘eeuurgh, poetry,’ before, but then they’ll take something away from the night,” said Jodi.
“Most of the Speak-Ups have been rammed, but one night there was just around 25 people and I felt a bit disappointed. But then I realised it’s still 25 people and as long as one of them feels something because of what they hear then the numbers don’t matter.
“But I do panic that nobody’s going to come. You can’t talk to me for an hour before. I was a nervous performer, but not so much now, although I come across quite timid on stage – there’s no bravado, front or act.”
She added: “All my poems are real. There isn’t one that hasn’t happened to me. I’m basically telling people about my life and reliving it for them. It’s not sugar-coated, so performing can be emotional, but I’d never not perform one of them.
“It’s just talking. I never read poetry at school. I couldn’t tell you something Wordsworth wrote, or Blake. Even now I struggle with them and I find it hard to connect with lots of it – it’s almost preachy.
“I’m not saying I’m better, not at all, but this is the only way I know how to do it and for me to do it any other way would be insincere. I just like writing and the rhythm makes it a bit more interesting.”
*For tickets to Jodi’s Speak Up – Christmas Comeback, visit www.theticketsellers.co.uk