Jo Jackson, author of Beyond the Margin, has been a fantastic supporter of Linda’s Book Bag over the years, sharing my posts and being incredibly generous and it suddenly occurred to me that I had never actually invited Jo onto the blog. With Jo’s latest book, Beyond the Margin, on my TBR pile and sounding fantastic, now seems be a good time to ask Jo to tell me her thoughts about the power of fiction, especially as we’re living in times when escaping with a good book is more beneficial than ever.
Beyond the Margin
Is living on the edge of society a choice? Or is choice a luxury of thefortunate?
Joe, fighting drug addiction, runs until the sea halts his progress. His is a faltering search for meaningful relationships.
‘Let luck be a friend,’Nuala is told but it had never felt that way. Abandoned at five years old, survival means learning not to care. Her only hope is to take control of her own destiny.
The intertwining of their lives makes a compelling story of darkness and light, trauma, loss and second chances.
The Power of Fiction
A Guest Post by Jo Jackson
My latest book Beyond the Margin follows the lives of two people who live on the edge of society, one through choice, the other, a child, through circumstance. I have been struck by the profound impact it has had on readers. I quote, ‘I couldn’t put it down. I’ve had tears, smiles, bits I’ve struggled with because of the unbelievable sadness – full rollercoaster of emotions. It’s not an easy read but a brilliant one.’
It has made me think about my emotions whilst writing it and of the power of fiction. As a family psychotherapist I worked with young people in care. Stories such as those found in my novel were not unusual. Do those who work in the caring professions become immune to what they hear? From experience I know that is not true, but they do develop internal mechanisms which help them to cope. Over time nothing surprises them.
Harrowing is a word that has been used to describe my recent book. I didn’t find it harrowing to write because I was simply telling how it is for many young people. What I hadn’t stopped to appreciate was that the events would be out of the immediate experience of many readers who would find it uncomfortable and disturbing though ultimately uplifting.
Do we read fiction to be entertained, or to escape, or to explore and explain aspects of life beyond our own experience in order to develop empathy and understanding? Do we want to read about different lives, or do we choose books that mirror our own? Where a novel reflects difference does it help those people to feel understood and included? Of course there is a range of answers, no one more right than another.
But what about authors? What is their responsibility? Might there be unintended consequences of what they write? Should they have a purpose other than to write a bestseller? To educate, to shock, to fantasize, to soothe, to amuse. I never sat down and thought about my books in that way. They were vague ideas that I allowed the characters to write. I trusted them to take me on their journey and they did.
Crime novels and psychological thrillers have been popular amongst readers for a long time and consequently amongst agents and publishers. A circle of supply and demand. These books often describe violent acts, in graphic detail, including sexual violence. The television series with the highest ratings reflect the same genre and, in my opinion have become ever more violent. The soaps display conflict, argument, betrayal. The recent trailer of one champions, ‘Family is everything’. That’s not about kindness and love but about fighting to the death. What happens when your ‘family’ is a gang, an ethnic or a religious group or one that holds extreme views, right or left?
What is the effect on readers or viewers? I worry that many young people are growing up thinking conflict and violence in relationships is the norm. I can offer no evidence of this, other than anecdotal. Beliefs are influenced by what we see and read, and behaviours are learned through a slow process of absorption. By the same means I was writing what I knew, about situations that had become familiar to me and then was surprised when readers described my book as harrowing.
It may be a false perception but recently I have become aware of what appears to be a growing popularity for romantic novels. More being written, more being read. There may be a gender bias here or an age demographic. I wonder if it is a reaction to the challenging world we live in and an ever greater need to find something more gentle where love and happy endings provide joy. An interesting PhD for a literature student perhaps.
I describe my books as contemporary literary novels because they don’t fit into any specific genre. It’s also what I like to read. I love stories about other cultures. I prefer character driven narratives rather than fast moving plots. Amongst my favourite authors are Marilynne Robinson and Gerbrand Backer. My favourite book is ‘God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy. All are writers who paint pictures with words.
What’s important is that everyone likes something different but it’s good to occasionally stop, reflect and ask why.
Thank you so much Jo, for such a thought provoking guest post. In the difficult times we find ourselves in I suspect many of us will be turning more and more to books for company of all kinds.
About Jo Jackson
Jo Jackson reads books and writes them too. Having worked with some of the most vulnerable people in society she has a unique voice apparent in her second novel Beyond the Margin.
She was a nurse, midwife and family psychotherapist and now lives in rural Shropshire with her husband. She loves travelling and walking as well as gardening, philosophy and art.
Her first novel Too Loud a Silence is set in Egypt where Jo lived for a few years with her husband and three children. Events there were the inspiration for her book which she describes as ‘a story she had to write’.