Welcome, Jackie Griffiths…
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I have a BSc in Psychology and Computing and an MA in Psychoanalytic Studies, and have been writing fiction and non-fiction material for twenty years. In 2003 I founded an online copywriting business providing content for websites, print, and digital media, before deciding to sell up in 2010 to concentrate on writing novels and short stories. I am now working on my third novel – a philosophical exploration about marriage, friendships, and what it’s like to be a woman living with modern dilemmas.
What was the first story you wrote?
I started writing when I was very young, still at junior school. I wrote stories in my spare time, and dreamed of the day I would become a writer when I grew up. My best subject at school was English – a class in which I was once told that I had too much imagination (is this possible?). I started a detailed daily diary at the age of sixteen and continued this for a decade. It’s fascinating to read back on now. A true insight into the workings of a young teen mind and the problems, worries, hopes and desires that occupied me nearly thirty years ago. In the first year of senior school I wrote a prize-winning short story. I was eleven at the time. It was about twin babies inside the womb, written from their perspective as if they could think and communicate intelligently. One dies and the other is left to live on alone until birth (which is when the story ends). I won a brand new pack of colouring pens for my efforts, and was extremely proud. I have no idea what on earth inspired me to write such a morbid story at such a young age, having never experienced death or tragedy, nor had a twin brother or sister. And yet… at the age of thirty-nine I went on to have twin babies myself.
Were you inspired by someone or something?
Several years ago an older friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, and told me that he would have to undergo chemotherapy for three months. Due to the fact that several hundred miles separated us physically and I had my family depending on me, I could not travel to be with him in person. Instead I vowed to write an email every single day in order to keep him company, and to ‘be there’ for him as best I could. The emails gradually evolved into fairly long stories to keep him distracted and entertained, which he admitted he greatly enjoyed, looking forward to receiving them every day. He couldn’t leave the house for long periods of time due to being immunocompromised, and he was completely on his own without wife, family, or partner. At one point during this trying time he suggested I had a real talent for writing and should consider making a career in the field. I then remembered that I had wanted to write a book twenty years ago, and had even formed the perfect idea… That very same evening I sat down and started writing a novel. Six months later it became my first published book: ‘Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage.’
Why do you write?
I write because it’s the only occupation I want to have, the only way I want to earn a living, and something I greatly enjoy. Books have played a very significant part in my life and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to actually write myself, and maybe have an equivalent positive effect on others’ lives.
Can you tell us about your newest book and how it came about?
‘Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage’ is a fictional adventure based on the Chinese philosophical classic, ‘The Ten Ox Herding Pictures’: a set of ten pictures that depict the journey to enlightenment through ten distinct and progressive stages of spiritual development. The story unfolds in the form of a fantastical, Carrollesque adventure told from the point of view of Jae, who, like Alice, one day crosses over from reality into a strange dream-like world, where, perhaps unlike Alice, she progresses from confusion to a state of profound wisdom.
The pilgrimage begins with an average person in everyday life dissatisfied, troubled, plagued with metaphysical and spiritual questions, to which there appear to be no answers or obvious way forward. These questions rapidly come to dominate Jae’s thinking, compelling her to focus on them completely and seek tirelessly for answers in every way she can.
Thus commences the circular journey to enlightenment, with the seeker passing through each of the ten stages to arrive, finally, back at the tenth, a place very similar, if not exactly the same, as the original stage, but with one vital difference: a fundamental change has taken place in her way of being and thinking. The burning questions have vanished; the yearned-for answers have vanished; in their place there is only awareness, freedom, love.
On the path through the stages, the main character, Jae, experiences some extraordinary adventures in a strange world where unusual people offer her tempting theories about the meaning of life. Her task is to find her way back home by deciding which of the theories makes the most sense, which way of living is the key to the gate that lets her back to her real life.
Thirty years ago, when I was just a teenager, I had a crucial discussion with him about the meaning of life. He gave me a set of the ‘Ten Ox Herding Pictures’ and asked what I thought they were, and whereabouts I thought I might be on the path. I did my best to answer, but from that moment the pictures went into my psyche and stayed there simmering under the surface. “One day,” I thought, “I will write a book with ten chapters to describe the journey a young person makes in her search for meaning and purpose. One day I will know how to write it and what the content should be.” For twenty years the concept seeped from my mind through my soul into the marrow of my bones, and then suddenly last year I was ready. I sat down at my computer to write the chapter structure, which came out onto the screen almost without effort. Six months later the book was written and edited. ‘Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage,’ describes a journey to find… that which has never been lost.
What genre best fits for the book?
This is a book that could fit a variety of genres. Perhaps literary fiction, perhaps adventure, perhaps spiritual or philosophical fiction.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
Yes, I am currently working on my third novel which has been given the working title of ‘Breaking the Chrysalis.’ In it I address issues that concern the modern woman living in a world still dominated by the male gaze. Through lively conversation, exciting events and close friendships and relationships, the main character, Susanna, grapples with such questions as what to do if your husband desires you but the physical attraction you felt for him has long since dried up. How it feels to be groped by a respectable doctor or consultant and what to do about it. What it’s like to live with a pervy neighbour who insists on reminding you that he’s seen you naked, etc. But the book isn’t complaining and depressive, it’s really an exploration about how it feels to live in today’s world and emerge positive, triumphal, and successful. It’s a piece of fiction, a novel, and the main character will have many choices and decisions to make – but I can’t vouch that she will necessarily make all the right ones! We’re all human after all, and even main characters don’t have flawless vision.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Yes. The best writing advice anyone ever gave me was, “a writer writes.” It sounds simple, but if you’re not actually writing, or in the process of writing, are you, in fact, a writer? It was meant as an encouragement to get me writing and keep me at it, and it worked! I wanted to be a writer and realised that if I aspired to refer to myself by such a title then I really had to be writing.
What is your writing routine?
I write when the children are at school. It’s the only time I can get things done, knowing that I won’t be interrupted by someone wanting help in the bathroom or needing a sandwich or requested to play a game of Connect 4.
Where can people go to read your work?
Link to Book on Amazon.co.uk:
Smashwords (for many types of eReaders):
Google Books/Google Play):
Where can people find you on the internet?
My website [coming soon]
Society of Authors:
Thank you Jackie for taking the time out to be interviewed and good luck with your writing. Suzan