Monday 5 November 2018

A Conversation With Jackie Buxton

Jackie Buxton is a writer, editor and teacher of creative writing, living in Yorkshire with her husband and two teenage daughters. Jackie is the author of self-help memoir, Tea & Chemo, voted Live Better With's 'Best Cancer Book, 2017', and her first novel, a 'domestic 'noir' and popular book group read, Glass Houses(both Urbane Publications, November 2015, July 2016). Her short stories can also be found in three anthologies, as well as in Chase Magazine and on-line. 
When not writing or reading, involved in domesticity or teenage taxi driving, Jackie can often be found running, cycling or tripping up though the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. Jackie's ambitions range from drinking more coffee with friends, to film deals to secret twenty-eight hour days.
Glass Housesby Jackie Buxton
'When she sent that text, all our lives changed for ever...' 51 year old Tori Williams' life implodes when she sends a text while driving on the M62 motorway and allegedly causes the horrific crash in which three people die. Public and press are baying for her blood, but Tori is no wallflower and refuses to buckle under their pressure or be a pariah in society. Instead, she sets about saving the nation. But can she save Etta, the woman who saved her life? Or will Etta's secret be her downfall? This incredibly topical and contemporary morality tale appeals across generations and will find favour with fans of authors such as Liane Moriarty, Marian Keyes and Kathryn Croft.

Tell us of your journey as a writer

I was your classic diary scribbling teen, chronicling the ups and downs of love and life, until my diary took on a more serious tone when my first love was tragically killed as he fell from Ben Nevis at the tiny age of 17. I was devastated but my diary played a big part in eventually getting me back on track. I think this is when I first appreciated the power of words, not least in the writing of them. Add to this my English Language O-level curriculum, specifically, the go-ahead to write twelve assignments, or, rather, stories – a qualification just for spending an evening indulging your creative juices? Well, it was studying Utopia – and the writing itch had been planted.
However, it was to be years before I considered writing as a potential career choice as opposed to a hobby, and a few more before I could find the time, and funds, to do this writing thing. Redundancy from my career in charity PR and fundraising shortly before getting married gave me that opportunity, or the push, to set myself up in freelance copywriting: time between projects being when I would write fiction. I scribbled down an idea for my first novel on serviettes (back then I didn't carry a notebook) on the flight back from honeymoon when everybody, including the new hubbie, was asleep. I was hooked and so began a new phase in my life of constantly searching for pockets of time to scribble a few hundred words.
Fast forward to 2013, the first novel was stashed in the ‘back of a drawer’ – great learning experience - I’d had some success in short story competitions, was having fun with my blog and more often than not, was receiving requests for the final manuscript of my second novel, Glass Houses, from publishers and agents. Even when rejected I was receiving fantastically useful feedback which filled me with enthusiasm for a re-write. However, the euphoria at being asked for the full manuscript waned when I’d reached double figures of requests but still hadn’t made that leap to an agent or publishing deal. Something needed to change. I signed up to the most wonderful online course in 'Self-Editing', run by the fabulous Debi Alper and Emma Darwin (formally of The Writers' Workshop, now relaunched as Jericho Writers) which gave me the tools and confidence to turn around the latest re-write. The next time I submitted, Glass Houseswas picked up by Urbane Publications as well as a second book, Tea & Chemo, a self-help memoir, which was still very much in the embryonic stage.
Meanwhile, in 2012, one of those, ‘right place, right time’ opportunities had presented itself to me when the local adult education network was looking for a teacher of creative writing. Even though I was terrifically insecure about my lack of experience, I so desperately wanted to teach that I pushed myself forward and got the post. It was the start of a new career which spilled over into editing and now I’m lucky enough to be totally immersed in all things writing, where I enjoy the teaching and editing almost as much as I love writing itself.

How do you see your role as a writer?

I guess I see myself as a storyteller. I’m dreadful at remembering facts and names – you’ll only ever invite me to be on your quiz team once – but I can always remember a story in glorious detail and I love to share it. If something dreadful, amazing and, most usually, excruciatingly embarrassing happens, I can’t resist the urge to tell someone. 
And, even more than telling a story, I like to write it down because then I get the opportunity to edit myself. Brevity is not in my make-up.
My aim with fiction is to entertain and provoke discussion in equal measure. I’ve always been fascinated by what it is to be human, by our foibles and our inconsistencies, but the very loveliness of being human, too. My favourite stories to tell are those of people in dark places who through enormous personal endeavour, climb up to a better place, even if only metaphorically. If in the process my readers question, laugh and cry in equal measure, then I’ll have achieved what I set out to do.

What do you like most about it?

Please may I have two? (I told you brevity wasn’t my forte…) I like every aspect of the process of writing, from the first splurge of the idea, to re-writing and more re-writing and on to the final edit. I know some people feel the writing process loses its excitement beyond the first draft but I see it differently. I see the re-writes as the process of transforming the words that have spilled on to the page all in a rush, into the picture you have in your head, and I find that really exciting and fulfilling. 
Secondly, there's a moment when you're sitting at your desk, minding your own business, wading through emails and admin, praying your pc doesn't crash AGAIN, and an email pops up, or a review, which is basically thanking you for writing your book and explaining just what the book has meant to this particular reader. That's the second thing I love about being a writer. It makes every minute of all those hours cooped away absolutely worthwhile.

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

Hmmm. Empathise, perhaps not so much but sympathise, certainly. I love an unlikely hero and I’m as fascinated in life as much as fiction by the stuff and nonsense behind our less than perfect behaviour. I believe that there are very few people who, underneath it all, aren’t fundamentally decent but our environment, the rough edges of life, can play havoc with our relationships and actions. Even with Gerald, a deeply dislikable, narcissistic character in Glass Houses, I still wanted to grab him, shake him, tell him to let go whatever it was that had happened to him to make him so intent on ruining other people’s lives. The trouble is, he can't bear not to be the centre of attention and he'd rather be despised than ignored: narcissism at its core. Why is Gerald a narcissist? Why is anybody a narcissist? Did they choose to be? I don't think so… so yes, I sympathise with Gerald but please shoot me if I ever behave in that way.
If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

Apart from any café anywhere – I write prolifically when in cafes, when I switch off wifi and the rest of the world, take out my hearing aids (oh yes, it's a great silver lining) knowing that I'm unable to stop what I’m doing to ‘just’: just put the washing on, pay some bills or tidy my desk - my writing paradise would be Hanson Island, off Vancouver island, Canada.  
I was lucky enough to have the family trip of a lifetime last year when we travelled by boat to this remote island and from there kayaked every day to be amongst sea creatures, including orcas and sea lions. The experience on the water was pretty amazing in itself but I also remember sitting on the edge of the island, looking out to sea, sharing the sunset with my family and the rest of our group of holiday makers, as we listened to the sound and sight of dolphins, orcas and humpback whales, travelling past our island, only a few metres away. And I had an over-whelming desire to write. I mused about returning and spending all day, every day, on that island, the calls of the sea creatures, and the waves they created, the only sound - apart from my pen scratching madly on the paper, of course.

What is the one book you wish you had written?

There are so many! Anything by Maggie O’Farrell or Rachel Joyce would be the short answer as I think they are masterful at what they do: creating a multi-layered concept or observation in minimal words. I am also in awe of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, in fact, many writers of a future dystopia, where they predict a damaged world in breath-taking clarity – and yet we refuse to heed it. 
But one book I remember more vividly than all others, is the Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. It has everything. It's evocatively and poetically written with hugely engaging and appealing characters and a fast moving, heart-aching plot where from the depths of despair, people are constantly saved by the kindness of others. It’s based around a tormented boy who finds sanctuary in boxing. I hate boxing. That’s how good it is.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

I'm going to steal this from R.J. Ellory when he was speaking at the York Festival of Writers in 2013. In his key note speech he asked what the difference was between a published writer and an un-published writer, with the answer that the un-published writer gave up. In short: stick with it! There's nothing easy about writing a book or getting a book published but the joy, not to mention the life satisfaction in achieving this, is huge. Hard work and tenacity with a thick skin to shield the blows of rejection and yet a sensitive hyde to take on board the feedback which will ultimately make your book a better read, will propel you towards that publishing deal.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

I'm currently working on a story about four strangers (and their driver) who are forced to share a long taxi ride home when all trains from Birmingham station are cancelled. The passengers’ lives and pasts unfurl and connect and each one of them is changed by the most unexpected on the journey.
My next deadline is for the completed manuscript to go to my early draft readers at the end of October, with re-writes and further beta reads to follow, and the aim of submitting, 'This Remarkable of Days' to the publisher in spring. I'm on schedule so far…
Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

It’s Kizzy in the Diddakoi. I was fascinated by the nomadic life when I was a child, still am really, and I remember aching, physically aching for Kizzy as her beloved grandma died and before she could begin to come to terms with this, her home, her caravan, burnt down. Kizzy was forced to go and live a more traditional life with a new family and the painful trials of this were vividly described. I was fixated with Kizzy and her terrible plight in this awful village. Really, I think I wanted her to come and live with us. 

Follow Jackie on Twitter: @jaxbees

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