I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to interview the amazingly talented author Angela Jackson. Angela is the author of two novels - The Emergence of Judy Taylor, which won the Edinburgh International Book Festival's First Book Award and Waterstones Scottish Book Award. Her latest book, The Darlings, is also set in Edinburgh. If you haven't already read my reviews of these two titles then please click on the italicised book titles.
She is a former psychology lecturer who lives in Edinburgh.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Angela for being so generous with her time in providing me this interview.
Q Edinburgh features in both of your novels. Have you always lived there?
A I was born and grew up in the north of England, and I think that shows in my writing. My sensibilities originate there, my sense of humour was honed there. However, I love Edinburgh, having moved here in the nineties, and this is where I call home. Lockdown has meant I haven't been able to boomerang between the two places as much as I'm used to, but I'm looking forward to doing that safely again soon.
Q You were a psychology lecturer before taking up writing full time but have you always wanted to be a writer?
A Writing was the very first thing I was paid for. I remember being given a coin (I can't remember exactly how much) by my headmistress at primary school for a story I wrote, so she definitely planted the idea in me that it was something I could do and be paid for. Even so, I didn't come from a background where 'writer' was an actual career choice. As soon as I left school, I had to get a job to bring some money into the family home. Further education was not an option for me at that stage of my life. I managed to incorporate writing into most work, and I eventually returned to further and higher education. I wonder if if it was building up inside of me all that time, because my first novel just flowed out. The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a barely edited first draft.
Q Were you a keen reader as a child and who or what inspired your reading? Did you have a favourite book?
A As a toddler, I was passed from knee to knee peering at whatever my mum, her sisters and her parents were reading (probably magazines or newspapers), so I was able to read and write before I went to school. But I was a tree climber, a bike racer, a knocking-on-doors-and-running-away kid. Growing up, there were no books in our house and I ran fairly wild; the scars on my knees are testament to that. My first introduction to books, really, was in secondary school. Thankfully, I had the best English teacher - Mr Douglas - who knew how to calm me down, capture my attention and make me realise that there were other exciting worlds I could immerse myself in. All kids deserve a Mr Douglas.
Q I enjoyed reading The Emergence of Judy Taylor very much when it came out in 2013. Your writing in The Darlings feels more assured and mature and I couldn't put it down. What have you been doing during the years between the two books?
A Thank you! Yep, I left quite the gap. Thing is, When The Emergence of Judy Taylor did so well, it completely threw me. I just didn't feel qualified to call myself a writer, so I went into a tailspin. Instead of applying my efforts to produce a second novel, I enrolled to do an MSc in Creative Writing. Although I'm a huge advocate of Higher Education, and have worked in the sector for years, I lost what little confidence I had as a writer during that particular course, mainly because of the insidious message that commercial fiction - my genre - was not 'proper' writing, which is, of course, absolute nonsense. Anyway, I lost heart. Over the next few years, I worked on other projects and wrangled with (and attempted to conceal) pretty debilitating depression. I later completed an MA in Scriptwriting, which helped me sharpen my prose; screen time is far more expensive than book pages, so every syllable must count.
I don't find writing difficult at all - I love it, and it comes naturally to me - but my achilles heel is impostor syndrome. As I said, I was not a bookish kid, and already had an established life and career before I wrote The Emergence of Judy Taylor. The Darlings only exists as a novel today because of the faith and generosity of Scottish Book Trust, who awarded me the services of the brilliant Sophy Dale, who helped me complete the first draft, and to the insight and kindness of my editor, Scott Pack, who gently questioned me about the manuscript that was mothballed on an old MacBook. I dug it out, sent it to him, and he made me believe I could do what it would take to make this into my second novel.
I'm glad you found The Darlings a more assured read than my debut. I think it probably is. I feel much more confident about my writing these days. I guess it goes back to what Carl Rogers said - in order to thrive as writers, we need to feel accepted for who we are.
Q What have you been reading recently? Has anything really inspired you?
A I've been reading and recommending George Saunders' A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which is a rich and accessible book of essays based on his teaching of Russian short stories at Syracuse University. A great read in itself, but absolutely invaluable to writers. I also have Melissa Bank on an almost permanent audio book loop because I love her work - it's a multilayered and immersive, it flows and has a unique ease to it. She's also a wonderful narrator.
Q What are your future plans for both reading and writing?
A During lockdown, I enrolled on Southampton Writers Conference at Stony Brook University, USA, and was lucky enough to spend a week online with Melissa Bank. She was incredible. She made me feel like my own, unadulterated writing voice was of value, and gave me the impetus to start my third book. I feel very fortunate to have her as a champion of my work.
Q Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
A I think it's important to find people who make you feel good about your writing. You don't want to be patronised, of course, but positive and constructive feedback is really important. If you can find people who will give you that, people who will encourage you in your pursuit of doing what it takes to become a better writer - your own Sophy Dale, Scott Pack or Melissa Bank - you're well on the way to producing your best work. Join a supportive writing group. Find pockets of time to write - ten minute here, half an hour there. Listen to people in cafes and on buses talking and interacting - make notes! Be observant. Read widely. And give any sneerers the swerve.