Interview with author Jackie Taylor

This month, we are thrilled to be chatting with author Jackie Taylor whose book, Strange Waters, is being released this week. Strange Waters is a collection of short stories set in Cornwall with themes of climate change, the Cornish landscape, and human relationships. All the short stories in this collection are linked by the book's characters and its vivid sense of place, which we couldn't wait to discover more about.

Join us as we chat with Jackie about why she decided to write this book, what inspires her writing, and her own advice for any other writers out there.

Your book, Strange Waters, is full of short stories exploring coastal erosion, landscape change, and the way this affects people’s lives. Can you tell us more about it and where your inspiration for the book came from?

It’s a collection of linked short stories set in Cornwall in the present, recent past, and near future. Characters’ lives intersect as they deal with everyday concerns and challenges whilst, in the background, the climate is changing and the land under their feet is literally being washed away.

For most of my characters, the grass is always greener, or the sea is always bluer … there is a theme of yearning for a different life. I hadn’t intended to include a mythological element but you can’t escape it here, so a selkie thread crept in almost against my will. I couldn’t resist the image of a selkie woman on a clifftop, desperate to return to the freedom of her life under the waves, but tied to the land by her domestic responsibilities. 

Have you been affected by similar issues and themes which you write about in this book?

Every time you visit the coast in Cornwall, you can see evidence of land slips and erosion. We regularly experience torrential rain and flooding, and we say ‘it never used to be like this’, sounding like old-timers down the pub! But it really didn’t used to be like this. I look out of my window in a downpour and see earth washing off the fields and flowing down the lane, not occasionally, but often, in all seasons. It’s hard to ignore the evidence of your own eyes. 

How much Cornish history and/or geographical research did you have to do before beginning to write this book? How important is a sense of place to all the stories?

Sense of place is hugely important to these stories. I think of Cornwall as the container which holds the physical locations, the people, the culture, the history from which these stories arise. It seems that everyone has a version of Cornwall in their imaginations, from their childhood holidays, from Poldark and Doc Martin, from TV travelogues - it’s not a neutral backdrop, and I guess the challenge is to try to portray a version of the reality of this place and the people who make their home here. There’s a constant tension between the physical beauty of our land/seascapes, and the lack of opportunity and employment and this was the starting point for this collection. 

Are there any other writers out there who you admire, or find inspiration from? 

I always love what I’m reading at the moment – which currently is Ali Smith’s seasons quartet. I saved them up until Summer was published this year so that I could sit down and read all four consecutively. I love her passion, humour and bravery, and how she doesn’t flinch from examining what’s happening in this country right now. On the subject of climate and the environment, I loved Ben Smith’s Doggerland, a sparse tale set in the North Sea windfarms, and I’ve just finished Lauren Groff’s short story collection ‘Florida’ which is just breathtaking. 

What would you say are the key ingredients to a successful story set in Cornwall?

Looking behind the postcard! 

Do you have any advice for writers just starting out, or hoping to get published in the future?

Don’t be afraid to write really, really, really dreadful first drafts. Or second drafts, or however many it takes. Play, experiment, mess around, find the gold. You can always clean up the writing later; don’t limit yourself before you start. Writing is a practice so don’t expect everything to come out fully formed and absolutely perfect. (But great if it does!)

 

Jackie Taylor is originally from London but has lived and worked in Cornwall for the past 25 years. Her stories have been published most recently in Mslexia and the Arachne Press anthologies No Spiders Harmed in the Making of the Book, and Tymes Goe by Turnes. You can keep up to date with Jackie and her work by visiting her website.

Strange Waters is released on 29th July 2021 and published by Arachne Press.

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