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Going Places with Michelle Jackson

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Women’s Fiction

By Julie Murphy

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Most successful authors will tell you the key to success is to write what you know and Michelle Jackson is no exception. Jackson however is in the enviable position of writing about the exotic and interesting places to which she has travelled. It is a simple yet clever notion that has enabled Jackson to bring her readers to places they may never get a chance to visit. Her latest offering which is out right now is entitled One Kiss in Havana and due out in October, her fourth novel will be 4am in Las Vegas both of which are sure to follow the vibrant page turning formula that Jackson’s previous novels have encapsulated.

With the summer holidays starting and many thinking about holiday reads, what could be better than a great book set in a distant location?

The theme of her writing and idea for her titles – ‘Two Days in Biarritz’, ‘Three Nights in New York’ and ‘One Kiss in Havana’ – came about almost by accident as she explains that during a meeting with Paula Campbell of Poolbeg a few days before a trip to New York she made a flippant remark about calling her next book “Three Nights in New York”. Campbell loved this idea and so the theme fell into place – and travelling and writing inevitably stroll hand in hand. Jackson enthuses, “the fact that I really enjoy travel and it gives me a chance to research different places is a bonus!”

Jackson’s past career path lies in visual arts and fashion in particular and as she explains “many people who work in the creative arts like to cross over and try different mediums…it is refreshing to change process.”

A background in the visual arts and a love of travel provide the aesthetic descriptions of places that give Jackson’s stories an almost tangible vibrancy. As with all authors, the responsibility that goes along with writing something that is intended for the general public to read ensures that research is crucial to her work.Visiting the places she writes about is key.

Although the characters in Jackson’s books are essentially tourists in their particular destination she explains that she is not content with merely a tourist’s perspective. Jackson reveals that she tries to be authentic with her characters and “give them the means to convey their own personal experience of a place” but in order to do this she conducts detailed interviews and researches real life experiences with the locals who live there. Describing herself not only as a very visual person but also as a very spiritual person Jackson tells me how she likes to “read literature, look at art and watch films” set in the places that she is writing about.

It is not only Jackson’s holiday plans that determine the location of her novels as she explains that “I like to reflect what is going on in society in my writing and if people start to travel less then I may just set one in Ireland.” With her home town of Howth showing up in many of her novels so far, should we maybe look out for this beautiful little seaside village becoming the holiday setting for a future bestseller?

Blessed by the beautiful view over Howth Harbour and Ireland’s Eye from her bedroom, Jackson told me that this as the only place she can draft up a novel. Having said this, she does say that if an idea comes to her while out and about she will just jot it down in the notes on her iPhone. In her bedroom – which Jackson admits is a mess – she surrounds herself by photos, maps and information leaflets concerning the destination that she is researching in order to help the writing process.

Describing that process as an organic one, Jackson explains how character names change and although they tend to come to her before plot the characters themselves chop and change as the plot progresses.

Starting off with a basic storyline and structure, Jackson then allows the plot to “flow in whatever direction the characters take as the book writes itself.” She emphasises the importance of drawing from real life experiences and people you know and then to “trust your characters and their voices as you write.”

Jackson reluctantly names Kate (from Two Days in Biarritz) as her favourite character creation although she does admit that it is difficult to choose as it is “so personal”. She reveals how many people tell her that they love to hate Sophie who she describes as a “very wicked character” in One Kiss in Havana. She says that “in many ways the naughty characters are even more important than the characters that are easy to like – it is encouraging to rise emotion in a reader.”

Inspired to write by the birth of her daughter, Jackson describes her little girl as her muse. Following a series of coincidences surrounding the birth of her daughter Jackson picked up the pen and despite admitting that the idea of being an author had never entered her head before this, she is now embarking on her second three book deal with Poolbeg. Jackson is also the proud co-author, along with Juliet Bressan, of What Women Know and explains how the experience of writing a non-fiction book has given her a new perspective on writing and has given her the incentive to “tackle other genres in the future.”

Jackson’s best piece of advice to all aspiring writers is to be real – “don’t try to force your voice by being too clever or contrived.” She also recommends finding support with other writers as much as possible because it is a great way to get feedback and advice. To those of us who dream of being published as she herself once did, Jackson urges us not to give up; she explains the importance of following guidelines and getting an editor to look at your work before you submit to a publisher ensuring that that publisher prints your genre of novel. While admitting that it is a lot of hard work, Jackson maintains that “when you enjoy doing something so much it is worth it.”


About the author

(c) Julie Murphy June 2011

Michelle Jackson is an Irish author of contemporary women’s fiction. Her novels are entitled ‘One Kiss in Havana’, ‘Two Days in Biarritz’ and ‘ Three Nights in New York’. 2011 will see the first translation of her novels into foreign languages and she has secured a deal with a Dutch, German and Norwegian publishers.

Michelle studied Textile design in the National college of Art and Design in the 1980′s and kicked off her career as a sock designer. She took up teaching art, craft and design in secondary schools in the 1990′s and lectured in the history and appreciation of Fashion from 1998-1999. She still teaches part-time and is currently working on her fourth novel which will be called ’4am in Las Vegas’ and will be published in October 2011. This year she published her first non-fiction book called ‘What Women Know’ which is a collaboration of women’s wisdom with Dr Juliet Bressan.

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