This summer sees the release of a beautiful book of short stories set in Cornwall and inspired by the generations of strong women that have made this elemental peninsula their home. I spoke to the author Jackie Taylor about Strange Waters, what brought her to Cornwall and why she finds the area so inspiring.
Jackie Taylor is originally from London but moved to Cornwall with her husband, Peter, 25 years ago after a brief spell working in California. Their move was in part an escape from their stressful city lives but mostly because Cornwall had worked its magic, it held such fond memories from family holidays spent here (unusually) in mid-winter that they never really considered living anywhere else. Since moving here Jackie has been working several jobs and writes when she can, mainly short stories and poetry.
Strange Waters is a collection of interconnected stories that explore the lives of three generations of women. Some of the stories are set in the future, some in the past, some in the present day and there is a strong sense of time and of the tug of the tides that turn and return in communities and in our own lives. The reader becomes aware of the ever expanding ripples of tragedy and loss, of the mystical, of shared experience and inherited resilience that radiate through each woman’s life.
“Maritime disaster, coastal erosion and flooding take on a near mythical power as the short stories weave in and out of the recent past and near future, as lives and relationships ebb and flow with the tide.”
I thoroughly enjoyed dipping my toes into this delightful book. Despite the themes of grief and tragedy it explores these are also magical, powerful, thought-provoking tales that also touch upon important modern concerns such as climate change. And there is just a touch of whimsy that I recognise from the ‘tall tales’ that have always permeated the Cornish coast.
This is Jackie’s debut short story collection and I spoke to her via email about this beautiful book and how she came to write it.
· Why did you choose to write this collection of short stories with Cornwall specifically as the backdrop?
I’m not sure it was a choice! There is such a strong sense of place here – not just the land/seascapes, but the history, culture, mythology and people. And everyone has a story, so it’s a rich vein for a writer. But there are so many challenges for people here, and so many economic and social tensions too; I wanted to reflect some of that contemporary reality and explore how the different versions of Cornwall might intersect. There is a Cornwall that is romantic and gorgeous; there is a Cornwall that is hard, and gritty, and difficult. Both of these Cornwalls are true and real, and I suppose the challenge is to reflect both.
· There are so many really strong, distinct female voices in the book, for me they really invoked the strength and resilience of many women I grew up with. Are these characters based on people that you have come across during your time in Cornwall or an impression you have made of Cornish women, or perhaps just women as a whole?
Resilient, gutsy, determined, strong, creative – these are attributes of so many women I’m privileged to know who live and work in Cornwall. I see women working hard, supporting their children, caring for their parents, and – if that wasn’t enough – making substantial contributions to their communities. These attributes aren’t the sole preserve of women of course – but I see a lot of women doing amazing things, often in challenging circumstances. I hope I can reflect some essence of those women in my stories.
· This book also feels like a bit of an exploration through time, each story is given a date, we move through generations while staying roughly in the same place, you bring in real life past disasters and imagined future tragedies, all have a ripple effect. I just wondered where that idea came from, are the effects of a shared heritage something that particularly speaks to you?
When we first moved to Cornwall, we were told stories about the area we lived in. We were briefed, if you like, on characters, exploits, intrigues and feuds. Sometimes the details were vague, and almost always the timelines were indecipherable! But it felt as if we were being offered an invitation, and, even if we weren’t present at particular events, we can now take a part in the retelling of those stories (and even perhaps, in their embellishment!) So shared heritage comes from birth, that’s the bedrock if you like. But there is also something about this sort of sharing stories that ripple through time that builds and strengthens communities and seems to go to the heart of living here.
In terms of tragedies past, and those to come, I’ve been very interested in how ‘life goes on’ – it’s a cliché, but it does. In these stories, we have a catastrophic oil spill – but people still need haircuts. A girl tries to come to terms with grief and loss – but she still wants to find a boyfriend. It feels the same with climate crisis; we are facing an emergency, but we still need to earn a living, care for our families, and deal with our everyday problems and concerns. How we balance and reconcile these concerns, and avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the ‘big stuff’, is a huge challenge.
· Why do you feel that Cornwall inspires so many writers?
There’s something about being remote, at the edge of the land, that feels creatively exciting, to me at least! The proximity to the natural world is a factor too, I think. We feel the seasons, and a lot of us are connected to the land in some way. I hope that we’ll see more stories being published that reflect life in Cornwall ‘behind the postcards’, alongside the myth and romance. I think this is happening. This is a very exciting time to be writing in Cornwall.
Your own copy of Strange Waters
Short story collection, published by Arachne Press, 29 July 2021
Purchase a copy HERE
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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am not paid for my book reviews, although I may receive an advanced copy of the book, all opinions are my own.