Five years ago Angela Jackson found herself in a hospital clinic, counting down the minutes until she would hear the news that would change her life, one way or another.
Angela, 45, who lives in Inverleith with her husband and son, had recently found a lump in her breast and was waiting for the results of a mammogram.
“I just kept looking around at all the other women in the waiting room who, for the moment at least, were all in the same boat as me,” she said. “But some of us were going to leave with a massive weight lifted off our shoulders, and some of us were going to get the worst news of our lives. I just remember thinking, this is the kind of thing I should be writing about – these moments in our lives which everything hinges on, where it can all change forever.”
Angela was one of the lucky ones that day – the lump she had found proved to be only a cyst. But the moment in the waiting room stayed with her, and she decided there still really wasn’t a moment to lose.
And as Scotland prepares to celebrate its rich literary resources with Scottish Book Week, running from November 15 to December 1, Angela has been remembering just what a spur that moment was for her.
“My appointment was in the morning, but I had taken the whole day off work just in case,” she said. “That afternoon I started writing what three years later became my first book, The Emergence of Judy Taylor.”
The novel, which was published in Spring last year, tells the tale of “a woman who decides to stop taking the path of least resistance and starts making choices about her life”. It’s proved a big hit with the public, topping the English-speaking Kindle charts in Germany and France, while taking the number two spot in the UK, and also taking home the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award last month.
Angela said: “I’d always loved writing, but I’d really gotten out of the habit of it after I left school. I was and still am a teacher, lecturing in psychology and education, so I would generally do that all day, and then marking or lesson planning in the evening. But once I got started ‘Judy Taylor’, there was no stopping me, and it mainly got written between the hours of midnight and 3am. For me, that’s actually a great time to work.
“There’s far fewer distractions like phone calls and emails, and I’m a bit of a night owl anyway. I owe a great debt to my husband and son though, I couldn’t have done it without their support.”
The paperback version of the book was launched on Thursday at The Jazz Bar on Chambers Street, where Angela used to sing and perform with friend Jess Abrams.
“We’re hoping to start performing together again soon,” she says.
However, she’ll also be taking part in a special, slightly belated Book Week event next month at The Edinburgh Larder, which, like The Jazz Bar, gets a special mention in her novel.
“We had hoped to get something during Book Week, but it just didn’t work out. So we’ll be having a reading and Q&A session on December 4th. I’m really looking forward to it. I truly believe that encouraging people to read is a way of setting them free – we can escape into stories, and they can also teach us more about the world around us. Education is the key to freedom. Having events like this in places people may not immediately associate with reading can hopefully hook in some new converts.”
Eleanor Cunningham, 35, who owns The Edinburgh Larder, said they were thrilled when they discovered they’d gotten a mention.
She said: “Angela Jackson comes in here quite a lot, but it was actually a friend of mine who told me she’d put us in the book. One of the characters advises a friend to come and try our scones, but to get in early because they go quickly! We were delighted of course, so when the idea of having a reading here came up we immediately jumped at it.
“We’re not usually open in the evenings, so maybe events like these could be a more regular thing. Plus, it’s all in a good cause.”
Tickets for the event cost £12, with 30 per cent of the proceeds going to the Sick Kids Hospital.
The official Book Week Scotland kicks off next week, with many author events being held around the city, including Edinburgh crime writer Lin Anderson discussing the latest in her series of DI Rhona MacLeod stories, ‘Blood Red Roses’ on Monday in Oxgangs Library.
Novelist, blogger and poet Tracey S Rosenberg will be heading to Leith Library later that day to talk about her novel ‘The Girl in the Bunker’, while Tuesday sees award-winning novelist, poet and playwright Chris Dolan regale Portobello Library with a discussion about his newest book ‘Redlegs’.
On Wednesday award-winning Scottish author James Robertson will be talking about his new book ‘The Professor of Truth’ at Blackhall Library and crime writer Karen Campbell will be at Corstorphine Library to talk about her latest venture ‘This is Where I Am.’
Tartan-noirist Tony Black can be found at Ratho Library on Thursday and Lesley Riddoch will be stopping in at Oxgangs Library on Saturday as part of her ‘Blossom’ book tour.
And as for Angela, she’s busy with book number two, while studying for an MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh, which she hopes will help her inspire others.
“One thing a lot of people say to me about Judy Taylor is that they found it very accessible but also felt it really spoke to them. I loved hearing that because I tried to write it the way I teach. I’m generally in a room full of students who would probably rather be doing absolutely anything other than listening to me talk about Freud. It’s how to present ideas in a way that makes them powerful and engaging. That’s the power of writing.”