Today I’m pleased to have Jack Croxall, author of Tethers, back here at The Silver Petticoat Review to discuss his new short story X.
Amber Topping: You’ve recently released your first book Tethers (which is doing well) and are now working on book two in the trilogy, Unwoven. So why X, why now?
Jack Croxall: That is a really good question, Amber! I must admit that I didn’t really have a plan for the timing of my releases until very recently. I was essentially working on X on the side of Tethers, and then, over the course of a particular week, I just got sucked into the story and ended up finishing it. I suddenly thought, Oh, I suppose I could release this now couldn’t I? And so I have!
Actually, another factor is that I find it exciting when authors I like to try something new. So I guess I copied them! (X is wildly different to Tethers) What are your thoughts on writers crossing in and out of genres, Amber?
AT: I agree, I think X is very different from Tethers, but it still reveals your ability as a writer to get inside the heads of teenagers without feeling like an adult condescending down to them. It’s still you. It’s still your voice.
So to answer your question, I personally don’t think a writer should feel they need to be only tied down to one thing. It’s like saying each person is allowed to only present one side of themselves to everyone around them for the rest of their lives; we all present different parts of ourselves to different people at different times. So if someone feels inspired to say something or write in a different way, then go for it! Just be who you are, say what you want to say. Write. Create. Be like “the artist of the beautiful” if you will.
That all said, how then would you describe X to previous fans as well as to new potential readers?
JC: As X is quite short, I spent a lot of time trying to sculpt a blurb which was both tempting enough to entice readers in, but not too revealing. The final blurb is just below – it’s up to readers to decide whether or not I was successful!
Fifteen-year-old X thinks she is going to die. Shacked up in the cellar of an old farmhouse, she starts a journal to document her last few days. Much less than a few days if the things outside manage to get in.
AT: Is this a story you’ve been working on for a while? Or something that has come to you more recently?
JC: I’ve been mulling X over in my mind for a very long time! The reason I suddenly veered forwards with the story was because I finally worked out the theme, and, with it, X’s real plight. Before that all I really had was a setting and a character; nothing to tie them together in any meaningful way.
AT: When did you know you were going to call the story X?
JC: There’s a line early on, “Well, my name is – actually, I think I’ll refer to myself as X.” When I got to writing that bit, the name X just appeared out of nowhere and I thought the anonymity of it was cool and, significantly, universal. Then X became the working title, and then I decided that I loved its simplicity, so I went for it!
AT: By calling the main girl X and then writing in “I” perspective through diary entries, it’s the perfect conduit for teenage girls (or anyone really) to see themselves as the main character in such an extraordinary situation. Was that a goal or intention?
JC: Yes, I think that’s the really great thing about first-person perspective. It makes it so much easier to open up and explore a character’s mindset. Eventually, and if a particular first-person book is good enough, readers often start to feel like the protagonist’s experiences are their own. In my story, X isn’t special; the things she’s done in life and the things she thinks about are hopefully recognisable to any teenager or former teenager. My real hope is that readers will think, I am, or was like, X – what would I do in her situation?
Did I manage that with you, Amber?!
AT: Definitely! I could (and did) envision how I would have reacted to X’s situation especially at 15. Would my experiences have been similar? Would I have made the same choices? I was also drawn to the relationship X had with her sister. In fact, I really loved the focus on sisterly love in the story. Being a twin, it’s something I could really understand. Why the decision to give it such a violent, apocalyptic backdrop?
JC: Yes, that’s the theme I was talking about – the thing that made the book work! Sisterly love is a beautiful yet complex thing. And, having gained a sister myself fairly recently, I’ve some idea of how it works. I wanted to investigate what would happen to that delicate relationship under extreme and horrific circumstances. After all, letting down a sibling feels worse than letting almost anyone else down. As a twin sister, would you agree with that sentiment, Amber?
AT: I would! I remember there was this memoir I read years ago called Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz. It tells the story of the teenage Rena who makes a promise to take care of her sister in the midst of the Holocaust and then goes to extremes to keep her sister safe. In a way, it helps her survive because she will do anything to not let her sister down. I may have never experienced something as horrific as the Holocaust but I think it’s true. We don’t want to let the people we love down, especially in the midst of horrific circumstances. I hope I could be as brave as Rena, as brave as X if I ever needed to be.
In the story, X is also very isolated. This teenage girl, as average as she once was with schoolgirl crushes and whatnot, is now stuck in a world that’s closing in on her. Would you say writing is her only release against the Uglies?
JC: I would say writing is X’s attempt to deal with everything that’s going on, a one-stop solution if you will. She’s lost everything and she thinks she’s on the way to being very dead, very soon. You’re absolutely right; the world is closing in on her. Writing is the only outlet she has left.
AT: It’s easy when you’re 15 to vent to a diary because you feel like you’re all alone in the world. So when “X” actually is a 15-year-old girl alone in the world it makes her journal entries all the more poignant. Personally, I think there’s something very powerful about opening up your deepest thoughts, worries, and grief to a journal. I’ve been writing in a journal since I was eight years old so I could really relate to the story. Are you yourself an avid journal writer?
JC: I’ve tried a few times – during rough patches – but I never seem to be able to carry a journal on through the better, and more boring (in a dramatic sense) times. I’m curious Amber, if you don’t mind me asking, do you tend to write more in your journal when things aren’t going so well? Do you find a journal helps you to deal with bad times, as I do?
AT: I have written through the boring times, but I mostly tend to write about extremes. Something amazing happens…I need to write about it. Something horrible happens…I have to write about it. I’m really angry…write. I can’t contain my feelings…write. I’m not sure because of that if my diaries are always a true reflection of myself. Or even a true reflection of the people I’m writing about. Sometimes it becomes a safe place to vent. But yes, keeping a journal has helped me personally get through hard times.
Changing the topic, I know you mentioned before that you have a brother who is a filmmaker. Any plans to turn this into a short film? I think it has all of the elements needed. A bit of a psychological piece if you will.
JC: I agree, I think it could work. Also, and this is very important, I imagine it would be relatively cheap to make! Maybe it could be done in the form of a video journal, or would you like to see some real-time scenes outside of X’s cellar perhaps?
AT: Very different approaches I think! Both would work. Maybe go the video journal route with a few flashes of her experiences.
So for everyone who is now dying to read X, where can they buy your short story?
JC: X is currently an Amazon eBook exclusive:
Amazon UK http://amzn.to/15BAqAJ
Amazon US http://amzn.to/15VsHSi
AT: What can fans expect next from you? Any other short stories on the horizon before the release of Unwoven?
JC: I don’t think I’ll release anything else before Unwoven, no. But, as I absolutely love this site, I will reveal that there are more stories to come from X’s world. And one of them will be called Wye. If you and your readers would have me, I’d love to come back and talk to you about one of them a bit further down the line!
AT: Of course we would love to have you! You’re always welcome.
You can find Jack Croxall on his author blog: www.jackcroxall.co.uk
Or follow him on Twitter: @JackCroxall
Read my review of Tethers by Jack Croxall.
Check out Jack’s interview with me as he discusses his background and book Tethers.