Angela Jackson – Author in the Spotlight

I read Angela Jackson’s book The Emergence of Judy Taylor before I started blogging and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can buy a copy online here: Judy Taylor It was lovely to meet her at our recent gathering of authors and bloggers in Edinburgh so I’m delighted to have her as a guest on the blog today. 

First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

I was a psychology lecturer, and I wrote a book in my spare time, which changed my life. I’m now a writer who occasionally teaches psychology and writing. I was born in the North of England and now live in Edinburgh with my family, two cats and as many moths as the kitten can catch and bring in.

What inspired you to start writing?

It was my favourite thing to do at school; I scribbled a constant stream of stories and monologues. My teachers got the neat writers to copy a few onto big sheets of sugar paper, and they were stuck on walls all over the school. It’s such a vivid memory, seeing my stuff along the corridors and in the school hall. I turned into this geeky writing kid and became fairly isolated; I used to get other kids to challenge me to write stories based on two or three words/phrases of their choosing – that was my only interaction with them, I guess. I spent most of my childhood escaping into happier imaginary worlds. It never occurred to me that I could go on to do it for a living; I assumed it would end when I grew up, which it did for a while.

Tell me about your journey to publication

Extremely long, or ridiculously short, depending on where you start counting! That taste of success at primary school was followed by inspiration from my old English teacher, Mr Douglas, who got me reading. I grew up in a house with no books, and in which no value was placed on reading or education, so he really opened a door for me. Then I had a long gap from my teens onwards during which I didn’t write at all – boys, career, marriage, family, everything a hundred miles an hour. One day, I found a lump in my breast, went for a mammogram and experienced a real moment of silence in the waiting room, as I’m sure many people do, where I asked myself what I was doing with my life. I knew that, whatever the result of the test (it all turned out to be absolutely fine), I would change things. I started writing The Emergence of Judy Taylor that day. I was encouraged by a friend who taught English Lit at Oxford – she read the first three chapters, passed it onto an agent she knew, the agent loved it, and the manuscript in its first draft format, apart from a bit of copyediting, was in the shops a year later. It won Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award, Amazon Rising Star recognition, reached number one in France and Germany in the English language Kindle charts, and number two in the UK. It got to number one in the Amazon Comedy Fiction chart in the UK, and was Edinburgh Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year. You know, the usual stuff one dreams of.

In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?

I got an easy start with my debut – the words flowed out as I put my hands on the keyboard. The second novel, which I’ve just handed over to my agent, has been much more difficult to birth. I had a crisis of confidence after the success of the first, and took a year out to do an MSc in Creative Writing, thinking that would help me develop as a writer (my background is in psychology, not literature). Ironically, it made me a far more hesitant and self-conscious writer, and I’ve struggled with the second novel in a way that is unrecognisable to me when it comes to writing. I sent the first draft to my agent who gave me a heap of feedback, including the strong advice to get back to my own voice, to loosen up. She was right, so I’ve spent the past few months undoing, rewriting and trying to relax back into what I could naturally do before I got myself into a neurotic twist about it. Once I let go of trying to write what was most valued in academia, and got back to writing in my own voice, it became a pleasure again. So, the forthcoming novel is called ‘The Darlings’, and it’s about infidelity. My protagonist, Mark, is coping with a mid-life crisis exacerbated by the pressures of IVF, a failing stand-up career, and a day job that sucks the life out of him. Then his crush from high school appears on the scene, and everything gets much more complicated.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

The Emergence of Judy Taylor was inspired by a book read on fractals (I know, I’m so rock’n’roll). Anyway, I came across the phenomenon of emergence – where individual components of a system behave in a way that causes dramatic change – and it seemed to sum up the theme of the novel. I still love that title.

For the second book, I have always loved the word ‘darling’, so I adopted it as a surname for my protagonist. It has a dual meaning in the book – The Darlings could mean the married couple, or the illicit lovers.

How do you plan to celebrate/did you celebrate publication day?

A sigh of relief and Afternoon Tea at Prestonfield. And a weekend stay if anyone buys the film rights!

[Great choice Angela – a beautiful place!]

Do you have a work in progress just now?

I might need to make final touches to ‘The Darlings’, depending on what my editor says. I’ll be reading from the manuscript at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh on Thursday 18th August (6.20pm) – there are other writers on the bill from 6pm onwards, and I’d highly recommend catching them, too.

I like to spend August taking in the festivals, seeing friends, etc, so it’s great to have a break. Come September, I’ll be ready to start writing again. I’ll be working on my third novel and a drama/comedy television script.

What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!

Hard to narrow it down, but I loved The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. A friend bought it for my birthday and I devoured it. Also, Ian Webster of Waterstones introduced me to the wonderful Dorothy Whipple, and I plan to immerse myself in more of her fabulous work.

What are you reading just now? (July 2016)

Come summer, my reading centres around authors who are appearing at the book festival. Once the programme is out, I start reading stuff by authors who are appearing. The one that’s currently on the coffee table is Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘This Must be the Place’.

Tell me about your reading habits:  book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?

Ideally a hardback, reclining on the sofa, with a pot of tea and violet creams within reach. It doesn’t happen often, so I could hardly call it a habit. Often, it’s twenty minutes here and there, sans violet creams. I also do the Kindle thing occasionally. I read whenever I have a spare moment, but never in bed (I usually go to bed when I’m absolutely exhausted – often 3am/4am, particularly now the nights are so light – and I fall asleep within moments). I listen to audiobooks, too, particularly when travelling.

How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?

@angelaj (I’m very sporadic, so don’t feel obliged!)

And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?

I would swoop into Jessie Kesson’s ‘The White Bird Passes’ (one of my all-time favourite books) and wave a magic wand to help Janie’s mother. Then I’d slip between the pages of a South of France guide book for a few months.

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