By Roz Kay
Elizabeth Jackson’s second novel, Kicking Over The Traces, takes the reader through a dramatic year in the life of her gypsy heroine, Florence.
When her mother dies, leaving Florence nothing but a red coat, she gives up the gypsy life and settles in a small cottage on the North Yorkshire moors. Set between the two World Wars, the story weaves its way between the gypsies and the “settled” folk.
“My mother was a gypsy,” Elizabeth says. “My father wasn’t. I’m half gypsy.
“So I’m fortunate, it’s all there. I’ve got it in my blood, even though I’ve always been in the settled community. I’ve had family members who called in, not now so much but when I was younger.
“My mother missed it terribly, when she settled down.”
There’s always going to be a culture clash
Elizabeth’s gypsy relatives had property and travelled during the summer with a bow-top wagon and horses, selling linen door to door. Elizabeth’s mother was raised by aunts after her mother died when she was eight years old. She became an outcast when she ran away at the age of twenty-seven to get married, although eventually her gypsy relatives accepted her choice.
Perhaps because of the way Elizabeth’s mother left the gypsy life to join the settled people, the differences between the two communities form a permanent theme in her books.
“There’s always going to be the gypsy and the non-gypsy thing,” Elizabeth says. “There’s always going to be a culture clash in my stories.”
A gypsy approach to the story?
You could say that Elizabeth’s approach to writing is born of her gypsy blood. She starts with the characters and then writes by travelling through her story, without knowing what’s coming next, much as her ancestors travelled day to day in their bow-top wagon, stopping somewhere new every night.
“I don’t plan a chapter,” Elizabeth says. “I don’t plan anything.
“I write down my characters. I give them a name, a description, traits. I do this with the five main characters of my book. And then I give them a setting.”
The setting is always Elizabeth’s beloved moors of North Yorkshire.
“And then it takes off,” she says. “I just write. I sit down and I think what are you going to do next? Where is it going to take me, this chapter? That’s so liberating.”
The moors are not just the setting for her stories. They provide Elizabeth with inspiration too. On one occasion, she was driving with her husband across them.
“It was a really bleak, awful day,” she says. “It was desolate. I saw this tumbledown building, and I said, I’ve got to go and have a look. And it was magnificent.
“It was so wild, and there was nothing there. I thought, wonderful. This is going to be my scene. This is my setting on the moors.”
The tumbledown shack and its wild and beautiful surroundings became Florence’s home in Kicking Over The Traces.
But writing wasn’t always so easy.
A hundred words a day
From the age of ten or eleven, Elizabeth imagined herself as a novelist. She even picked out a title at that age, Language of Thieves, a phrase she stored away on learning it was one of the meanings of the word “cant.”
And finally, fifty years after she picked out the title, her first novel was published, and sure enough it’s titled Language of Thieves.
As Elizabeth started on her second novel, she planned her characters and wrote the first chapter. And then life intervened. Her husband became very ill (he has since recovered) and she nursed him for a year; they moved, and for a while lived with their son as they waited for the building of their current home.
After putting her book on hold for more than a year, Elizabeth found it very hard to get back into writing again.
“I didn’t think I’d ever finish the book,” Elizabeth says. “I thought I’d never get into these characters again. I’d forgotten what it was about when I’d left it for a year.”
It was the encouragement of her friend Barbara Bos (who runs the blog Women Writers, Women’s Books) that got Elizabeth going and kept her going.
“I couldn’t have written it without her,” Elizabeth says. “She said, write every day, just a hundred words even. And she did that until I was really back into it. She was absolutely wonderful.”
Back in the saddle
Now, Elizabeth is working on her third novel, a sequel to Kicking Over The Traces.
“I love living my characters, I love living in my head, which is terrifying!” she says, and laughs.
“I would be very happy to never have a book launch, and never talk to anybody about it. I’d be very happy to stay in the background and never promote my book. But to actually see it in print, that was wonderful. And I think, did I actually write that?”
It’s early days yet as she gets going on the sequel, and Elizabeth thinks she may take the story to the next generation. But what matters to her is that she’s writing.
“I was sixty when my first book was published,” she says. “And I think if I can be published at sixty, anybody can.
“Write it, because we’ve all got a book in us. And be true to yourself while you’re doing it. Don’t try and emulate anybody. Just be you.”
© Roz DeKett
All photos © Elizabeth Jackson.
About the author
Elizabeth Jackson is a writer and psychotherapist. She is married with two sons and has lived in North Yorkshire, England, all her life. Kicking Over The Traces is her second novel, published by Robert Hale in October 2015. Her first novel, Language of Thieves, was published by Robert Hale in 2011.
Both books are available on Amazon.com (in the US) and Amazon.co.uk (in the UK).