Sylvia Kent - A Prestigious Woman
Written by
Lisa Horner
February 2020
Written by
Lisa Horner
February 2020

IF you want something done ask a busy person! 

This certainly applies to Sylvia Kent, a freelance writer and author with 12 published books, including her latest one ‘Brentwood in 50 Buildings’.  She has also contributed to seven anthologies and has had more than 4,000 features published, many as part of her columns for Essex Life, and other magazines and newspapers, specialising in history, gardening, winemaking and folklore. 

As well as being vice-president for the Brentwood Writers’ Circle she is a founding member of the Billericay Reading Group and has a monthly Book Club spot on Michelle Ward’s ‘Eat My Brunch’ at Phoenix FM. 

Sylvia is patron for the Essex Book Festival and a Trustee of the John Baron Fun Walk which raises money for local charities.

Sylvia is one of five sisters and was brought up in Dagenham.  When she left school it was assumed that she would go to work in a factory but she refused.  She missed getting through the 11 plus by two points so she didn’t get into grammar school.  Well she certainly made up for it!

Before venturing into writing she had worked at Hansard in the UK Parliament at Westminster for 26 years. 

Sylvia tells me. : “I joined Westminster in 1979 at the time of Margaret Thatcher and worked in the Hansard office – typing the parliamentary debates - a fascinating job where my shorthand and verbatim typing had to be kept up to speed.  The debating hours were odd in the English Parliament.  In those days, the typists kept going, usually until the debate finished – often working until midnight. We were usually transported back home in taxis.”

In 1990 she worked for Lord Henry Plumb in London’s European Parliament building part-week; splitting the week between the peer’s work and carrying out her Hansard work.  Lord Plumb, now retired, has been the only British President of the European Parliament. 

Sylvia remembers him fondly. : “He is a lovely man and I obviously learnt a lot about the European Parliament which then only had 12 participating countries.” 

In 1992 Sylvia helped start the Brentwood University of the Third Age (U3A) an international movement whose aims are to educate and stimulate retired and semi-retired people.   It is also run by members, so if they have a skill they could teach it.  Sylvia enjoyed gardening, she said. : “I like gardening so I ran a gardening group from my Brentwood home.  This was followed by groups making home-made wine and then a memoir-writing course. Here I met a journalist who had worked for The Times who helped some of us to get into writing.  She suggested we should “write what we know” which sounds like a cliché but I knew how to make wine so I sent an article to The Lady magazine which described how to make a gallon of apple wine. This was published and led to other freelance work for other journals.”

Sylvia became a member of the Essex Winemaking Society and enjoyed exhibiting and winning prizes.  She used her hobby as the theme of her articles for a variety of different magazines and became a columnist writing about local history for the Brentwood Weekly News; later also for the Billericay version.  

In 1995 she approached the Essex Countryside magazine, now Essex Life.  She was a prize-winning gardener so they asked her if she could write a monthly column on gardening and interview people that had a love of something to do with gardening.

“So I’d go all over Essex interviewing people about their favourite plants.  One man was crazy about fuchsias, he wouldn’t grow anything but fuchsias and he even had fuchsia wallpaper. Amazing! ”

Sylvia’s first book Brentwood Voices was published in 2001 by Tempus Publications.  Billericay Voices was part of her two-book deal.  She then worked for Francis Frith Publishing who supplied old photographs and she provided the historical background stories, followed by other books over the next fifteen years, plus articles and regular radio broadcasting.

How does she do everything?

“I keep a careful diary and try to record what I have been working on during the day, people I’ve met and checking details for my current work. It’s an interesting job.  You can choose what you want to do.  The downside is if you’re not well and you’ve got a deadline to meet you’ve got to keep going.  Sometimes I’ve worked through the night in order to finish my current work.”

She laughs then says. : “It makes me sound manic, but I’ve always used yoga to help me relax and remain flexible, bearing in mind I spend hours at the keyboard.”

Sylvia had recently written a memoir and won the John Walter Silver Salver for Journalism.  It was about meeting the spy George Blake in 1961.  She was young and worked for an agency at the time.  The meeting took place in a solicitor’s office in Great Marlborough Street.  This year she won again with a short story with a twist-ending.

Sylvia is currently a vice-president and archivist for the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) and was recently offered a Fellowship. 

She wrote The Woman Writer for which she researched the history of the SWWJ.  Sylvia recounts. : “Joyce Grenfell, who was our President during the ‘60s and ‘70s, attracted many famous women writers to our society. Writing the book meant brushing with royalty, as I was asked to interview Joyce Grenfell’s sister-in-law who was Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen.”

Sylvia also enjoyed writing the Folklore of Essex. : “It took me all over the county.  Information from that book contributed to Channel 5’s film ‘County Secrets’.

Amongst Sylvia’s countless achievements she has won the Sir Harry Brittain Scholarship for Journalism in 2008 and 4 other silver cups from the SWWJ for non-fiction features, alongside Freelance Journalist of the Year competition organised by the Writing Magazine in 1998, followed by the writing Magazine’s Community Award Cup in 2004.

I ask Sylvia if she still finds time to make wine anymore.

“No, there’s not enough time for wine making anymore, although I still make the odd gallon when I’m given lots of fruit in the summer. I also manage to mow the lawns and do a bit of gardening, but most of my time is spent writing at the keyboard.”    

Check my article on my blog for all the photographs which I had difficulty loading on here.





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