The sixth of my Wednesday interviews with fellow Honno authors. And today we’re meeting the prolific and entertaining Jacqueline Jacques.
Quick Introduction: Who are you?
- I am a retired primary school teacher (latterly Special Needs) born on Anglesey in the war and brought up among the bomb ruins and privations of post-war London. I now live, fat and sleek, surrounded by greenery, on the edge of Epping Forest in Essex. My life revolves around writing and research, painting, reading, sharing cookery ‘experiments’ (sometimes successful) and gardening with my husband and seeing friends and family for meals, out and in. I love visiting the London Art Galleries, theatre, cinema and concert halls, but a relaxed evening in, playing board games with ex-colleagues or discussing books with other members of the local book club is often just as enjoyable. And you can’t beat a good drama on TV.
What first inspired you to start writing?
- I have always loved stories. As a small child I was often to be found curled up in a corner – Sally Suck-a-thumb, nose in a book – away with the fairies or, when playing with friends, acting out adventures of my own devising. All through school, writing stories was what I enjoyed the most. As I grew older, I fantasised about being an actress or a novelist but was persuaded that these were unrealistic dreams, not for the likes of a responsible working class girl who had to earn a living. So, with a degree in Sociology, I became a primary school teacher, specialising in Art and Clay-work! Don’t ask! I wear my ‘ology’ lightly, with equal amounts of guilt and amusement, my signing up for the course having been born of sheer desperation, a means of escape from a hated job in the Civil Service. As luck would have it, during Freshers’ week I met my lovely husband, Peter. During the next twenty-something years the only writing I did had to do with school reports and curriculum documents. It wasn’t until my children left home that I was properly able to indulge my life-long desire to write fiction. I swapped my kiln for an Amstrad word processor (not so different, perhaps, given the craft of moulding stories from words) and booked up for evening classes at the local college. After a few short stories my creative writing teacher said, ‘I don’t know what you do now but you must give it up and write.’ So I did.
Tell us about your new book.
- ‘Dangerous Images’ (working title) is a Victorian crime story, the second about police artist, Archie Price, (see ‘The Colours of Corruption’ ) whose strong suit is that he can draw a likeness from a victim’s description (like Photo-fit today). After being injured in a train disaster Archie finds himself billeted in the same house as his neighbour in Walthamstow: Polly Porter, a photographer. Archie grows fond of the girl, and together, using their separate skills, they track down a prisoner who escaped from the derailed train and the gang who wrecked it in order to free him. In helping the police Archie makes discoveries about himself and Polly that cause him to confront long-held prejudices. Music-hall artistes and hypnotists, peers of the realm and gypsies, ‘dirty’ postcards and radio masts all have a part to play in the plot. Honno will publish the book, probably in November.
What keeps you writing?
Curiosity drives me, I suppose. I’m a people watcher: I need to know how a character is motivated, how they develop and move a story along.
Regarding the Archie Price stories, I am really interested in the Victorian period and am constantly researching to find out what the places I knew as a child would have been like fifty or sixty years earlier. What were the people like − people I imagine my grandmother might have encountered as she was growing up? How did they manage without electricity, telephones, drugs and detergent, in long dresses and corsets, starched collars and high buttoned boots. Underneath it all were they really so different from people today?
Into that mix I drop a crime, criminals, some sort of catalyst to upset the equilibrium, and like a social scientist, I like to watch the ensuing developments. What changes? How do the protagonists react? Who survives, who grows stronger, who goes under and who makes the best of a bad situation? Why? Is there anything to be learned?
Archie Price is a police (forensic) artist, but he also paints on commission. I know a bit about the process of oil painting, but things were different then. From research I learned that you had to mix your own pigments, stretch your own canvas. How does Archie decide what to paint and in what style? Is he influenced by developments on the Continent?
Then, of course, it is interesting to examine the detection practices of those days, before fingerprinting and Photo-fit and sophisticated forensic science. Policemen were thin on the ground and detectives didn’t all have Sherlock Holmes’ powers of deduction (or induction, even). Were officers of the law up to the job? And, given the prejudices of the time, including those against women and immigrants and between the classes, what were the influences for change that one can see today?
Finally, having set myself a puzzle I need to solve it, come to conclusions. I can’t stop writing until I have tied up all the loose ends and pulled some sort of moral from the story.
Do you have a plan to write or are you constantly jotting down ideas and lines?
- When I start a chapter I seldom know where it is going. As I write and the character becomes clearer, as I work out how he would behave in the situation into which I have put him, ideas occur to me and I jot them down.
What do you think it takes to stand out from the crowd?
- A good author should be trying to show the reader something new and unexpected, to make him or her want to carry on reading to the very last page, and then to want to start again.
What is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve with your writing?
- To be read, enjoyed and remembered.
What is your favourite book?
- Most recently it is ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey. What a clever book! A tale told by a really unreliable narrator (with dementia), by an author who juggles past and present so skilfully as to keep the reader glued to the page. Flawless. Otherwise ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ had me hooked, but over a lifetime of reading good books it is very hard to choose.
What ‘s the least favourite book you’ve read?
- I generally don’t persevere beyond page 17 of any book that doesn’t grab me on page 1 and haul me in. But I recently read ‘Equilateral’ to the end, for my book-club, and felt it was time wasted. What was the point? Or the apex, perhaps?
Do you write one specific genre or are you multi-talented?
- I have had published a saga based on autobiography, three ‘psychic’/so-called historicals (post World War 2), a contemporary politico-science-fiction novel and, most recently, two Victorian crime stories. I have two finished psychological crime stories in my ‘bottom drawer’ which I hope to refine and get published. I don’t think that makes me multi-talented, just a writer. My dad used to play the piano ‘by ear’. ‘You hum it and I’ll play it,’ he would say. That’s more or less my attitude to writing.
How do you find the promotional aspect of being an author?
- Frustrating. Essentially a shy person I don’t like having to promote myself. I would rather be writing than selling my book. But if I don’t, who will?
- I have a website: jacquelinejacques.co.uk, Facebook and Twitter accounts plus an Author page on Amazon but rarely post on any of these. I am afraid of blogs, that I may say things that will get me into trouble. That’s why I’m not telling you any little-known facts about myself …
- My books, published by Honno Press, are: ‘Lottie’, ‘Skin Deep’, and ‘The Colours of Corruption’.
Jacqueline’s books are available from Amazon.co.uk:
And from Honno: