By Walker Zupp
I like to think of Waterstones in Lancaster as a kind of public living room. On 2nd October I walk in and see a friend of mine. I ask him why he came: ‘Because it’s a friendly atmosphere,’ he says. We all file in chatting to each other and take a seat. I chat to an IT technician. He’s enjoying the music from local singer and guitarist, Noni. Naomi Kruger and Yvonne Battle-Felton introduce the writers.
Sarah Jasmon is friendly and approachable. She’s just published her first novel, The Summer of Secrets but when I read it, it seems as though she’s been writing for ages. Experience, repetition, refinement; all of these things come to mind as I glance over the page.
I like to imagine her at work at home on her boat on the canal. I’m not making this up. Check it out for yourself. She writes late at night and early in the morning. I can see her desk, the low ceiling; another boat passing perhaps. Actually, that’s exactly what it feels like when you read her book. The world passing by as you sit and watch.
Kathleen Jones, the second Salon guest, is modest in character and style. She mentions her accomplished writing career as if she’s talking about her car at the garage. I admire this. She reads in a quiet, measured manner. You can hear a pin drop, even if there are a couple of latecomers shuffling in behind me.
Jones reads from her latest collection Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 and a couple of as yet unpublished poems about Haida Gwaii; a group of remote islands just off the coast of British Columbia where, the ‘First Nation people are fighting to preserve their art and literature from the cultural genocide that almost wiped them out in the twentieth century’. Jones says that the native people of Haida Gwaii don’t have a word for nature because they are so at one with it. There is a stillness in the room. Almost as if this idea is beyond our grasp. Jones was raised in Cumbria and has an earthy style. See what I mean? She has an acute understanding of nature. As she finishes she folds up her poems and sits back down as if nothing happened.
After the readings, there’s a quick Q & A. Jasmon starts to talk about her approach to writing. ‘Lots of dream and no action,’ she says. I’m not going to pretend for a second that there’s no ‘action’ in The Summer of Secrets, but I know what she means. An engaged listener pipes up and likens her style to living on a canal boat. Well-done sir! We’ve come full circle. Canal boats move slowly, but think for a moment of everything going on around you. You’re a fixed point in a changing world. You have time for reflection. That’s what I think at least.
A couple of years ago I was talking to my writer-friend Liz Jones (sorry, another Jones), about self-publishing. She blinked. ‘Walker,’ she grumbled, ‘don’t ever self-publish. Ever.’ Back in Waterstones though, it’s amazing how many people have actually done it. Kathleen Jones smiles and answers questions; hears a few stories. For multiple reasons she’s started an independent publishing house with her colleagues. On the other hand, Sarah Jasmon says she had quite a smooth experience with publisher, Transworld.
So there you go. We could discuss this for ages. I think it’s a combination of luck and determination. And now, I’m going to look for canal boats on Amazon.