Lifestyle, Manchester, Review

Manchester Writing Welcomes Author Juliet Jacques

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By Jamie Ryder

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Manchester Writing series continued last week with guest writer Juliet Jacques discussing the concept of identity. The event took place at the Anthony Burgess Foundation and was hosted by the Manchester Writing School.

Manchester Writing is a series of events designed to explore the techniques authors use and to encourage debate about their work. Freelance writer Juliet Jacques is best known for her story ‘Transgender Journey’, which was published in The Guardian. The story was the first gender reassignment process serialised by a major British publication. Juliet also published her story as a memoir called Trans and was at the event to discuss the book and her experiences of writing as a transgender woman.

Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Joe Stretch began the evening by introducing two MA writing students: Ian Peek and Ann Worthington. Ian began by reading a flash fiction piece that he wrote for Mash Stories called ‘Taxation’. The concept behind the story involved being given the words “taxation, vinegar and carpenter” as a prompt. It depicted a funny conversation between a father and son who argued about carpentry and taxes. His second story was called ‘He Wept In His Sleep’.

Ann read an extract from the novel she’s working on about a troubled 15-year-old girl named Maggie who moves through a city at night. The language she used was melancholic and allowed the audience to connect with Maggie’s struggle.

Next, Joe introduced Juliet and asked what her first impression of Manchester was when she arrived as a student in the year 2000. Juliet said that she came to Manchester wanting to form a band as she had grown up listening to a lot of Manchester artists like Joy Division. At the time, she identified herself as a “gay man” and said that she came to Manchester in search of what she referred to as “queer culture” but that she didn’t find what she was looking for at that time. What she actually found was what she called “gay and lesbian activism”, adding that it was “not about gender” then.

Juliet then read an extract from her memoir about a time when she had arrived in Manchester and had gone out with her friend Sarah to buy records. She recalled how she had previously only been to cities that had “no identity” and described Manchester as being “proud of its past.” After she had finished reading, she spoke about how she had moved away from fiction writing and turned to life writing. She explained that she came out as transsexual in 2009 and that it had been “Joe’s idea” for her to pitch a blog to The Guardian.

Juliet felt strongly about writing the piece because she wanted to present a “transsexual narrative” from the point of view of someone who had been through the experience. She described The Guardian as being “ahead of the times” in terms of the attention it paid to issues surrounding transsexuality at the time. Also, the introduction of the blog provided a platform for transgender issues that print media did not and, when Juliet’s story was published, she received more offers to blog about the subject. Although Juliet had found a helpful underground trans culture, transgender issues at the time were often dismissed by the media as a joke with transgender people either being used as a punchline or dismissed as “too complicated”. As a reflection of how she felt about writing the article, Juliet decided to read another extract. She spoke about her complex feelings and whether she thought “she was doing the right thing” after publishing the story.

Following the extract, Joe invited the audience to ask Juliet questions. A transgender woman wondered how Juliet found the courage to write “trans narratives”. Juliet talked about how she’d returned to writing fiction with transgender protagonists, giving her more freedom. She admitted her memoir was targeted at a younger audience because she wanted to help teenagers with similar issues that she had faced.

Another woman asked which chapter of the book had taken the longest to write and which chapter took the least amount of time. Juliet said that it took her “two days” to write the opening chapter on the surgery as it was still fresh in her mind once she had recovered. Describing how she felt about writing for The Guardian took the longest to write.

The third question revolved around any book recommendations that accurately depicted a transgender person’s journey. Juliet recommended Whipping Girl by Julia Serano and Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest Of Us. Juliet was also asked whether she felt any pressure to write on transgender issues. She admitted that she had but the positive feedback from her readers made it all worth it. The night ended with a huge round of applause.

For more information about the Manchester Writing Series, see the Manchester Writing School website.

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