Interview with SPOTLIGHT author Jacqueline Haskell

January 28, 2020

In this interview, the second in a series of interviews with SPOTLIGHT authors, we speak to Jacqueline Haskell, whose poetry collection Stroking Cerberus is published by Myriad Editions.

Spotlight Books is a collaboration between Creative Future, New Writing South and Myriad Editions to discover, guide and support writers who are under-represented due to mental or physical health issues, disability, race, class, gender identity or social circumstance.

See all interviews in this series.

What are the challenges of your own life experiences, and do these present in your writing, as concerns, themes, ways of thinking about writing?

My own deafness and physical disabilities do have a practical impact on my writing – it is doubtful I would ever have been brave enough to give up the ‘day job’ in favour of writing if ill-health had not forced my hand! The enforced isolation of deafness intersects with the isolation experienced by many writers, in both positive and negative ways.

One of my first short stories was called ‘Songbird’, featuring a deaf protagonist living in Hong Kong, although this was more a metaphor for finding one’s true identity than exploring disability. My debut novel is set in a location known to attract those marginalised by society (a small island off the north-west coast of Africa). 

But more than anything else, my writing comes from my unconscious, and I would not class myself as a writer setting out to discuss issues of disability per se. I see myself as being on the outside looking in, an observer of all life, and I believe this is an essential quality for successful writers, deaf and hearing.

I have always been a writer – aged 3 (well before my disabilities kicked in) my mother discovered me scribbling nonsense on her best writing paper: What are you doing? She exclaimed. I’m writing a book, was the reply.

Is there a writer you particularly admire, and what about their work is powerful to you?

Jeremy Page, and in particular his novel, The Wake. As with so many things, timing is everything, and I just happened to read this at a pivotal point in writing my debut novel. Without giving too much away, it was his handling of fugue states and alternative realities that struck a chord, together with his vision of a man alone and – literally and figuratively – at sea, that heavily influenced the early drafts of The Auspice (subsequently a finalist in the 2018 Bath Novel Award).

What are you working on now?

A hybrid / narrative poetry collection called The Short Shelf Life of Hearts (working title, as it is a bit of a tongue-twister!) which follows the journey of a transplanted heart and its recipient. A sequence from this collection was recently shortlisted for the Cinnamon Press Literature Prize 2019. I am also editing my first novel The Auspice, prior to sending it out to agents, and developing the synopsis for my second, Keeper.

What made you apply for the Spotlight Books project and how has it had an impact on you?

Interestingly, I nearly didn’t apply! I was recovering from an operation and feeling particularly grim when my partner (also deaf) brought it to my attention and pestered me to get out of bed, dust myself down and brush up my collection. I am a competition fanatic and must have entered hundreds over the years, with mixed results – including an empty bank account! So I was encouraged by the fact that this was free and I do hope it can remain so. I also wanted to support a very worthy cause, regardless of the personal outcome.

The main impact is that it has got me where I wanted to go in that I now have a tick against the next step in my poetic journey – to get a chapbook or collection published. Over the last 18 months I have had a few shortlisting’s and other near misses, so this absolutely delivered, and I aim to build on Spotlight and the excellent reputation of the organisations involved.

See all interviews in this series.

Jacqueline Haskell is a deaf poet and novelist. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, and her debut novel, The Auspice, was a finalist in the 2018 Bath Novel Award. Her short fiction has been listed in many competitions, including the Bridport Prize and the Asham Award.