PART OF THE Spotlight on the South-West ISSUE
‘The Bookshop was exactly like it had been in my dream. At least the front room was – but everything else, the house above, Shaun, our friends, Wigtown, the community – were beyond my expectations.’
Three Things You Should Know About Rockets
By Jessica Fox
Published by Short Books
Firstly, how are you doing? How have you been adapting to our current circumstances?
Oh goodness, begin with the hard question first! How are you doing? I mean, is anyone doing ok right now? Instead of making films currently, i’m making online videos. Instead of having a wedding, we got our deposits back and may travel around the US when we can. Instead of seeing my family (god I miss them), we’re collaborating on a podcast. My friend shared a wonderful saying about this strange, scary, full of change Covid time: “we’re all in the same storm, just different boats.” Overall, i’m infinitely hopeful about human innovation and science to rise to this challenge…and I hope our collective capacity for solidarity and compassion makes the journey in each of our boats less of an individual struggle.
You grew up in Boston, then moved to Los Angeles for work, both iconic, busy cities. How did you end up in a fairly remote, small Scottish town?
While working in Los Angeles, I had a vision that kept on appearing: a girl, working behind a long wooden counter in a bookshop somewhere in Scotland. She snuggled into her thick wool jumper as it rained outside, and I could even see the shop had a small golden bell hanging above the door. I thought that this was a screenplay I was destined to write, but the more I explored the vision I soon realised that the young girl was not a character but me. I kept on seeing myself behind that counter in the bookshop. So late one night I typed in “used bookshop” + “Scotland” into google, and Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town appeared. There were so many bookshops to choose from so I went for the largest, “The Bookshop”, determined that they might let me do a live/work holiday. After a couple of emails with the owner of The Bookshop, I was on a plane, traveling half way across the world to follow my vision.
It’s amazing that your subconscious led you to Wigtown before you knew it existed. Why do you think the image of a small-town bookshop beside the sea worm its way into your head?
Perhaps the heat of Los Angeles made me crave a place just the opposite: cold, full of ancient buildings, away from traffic and screens, and full of books. Perhaps, as an impressionable filmmaker, I had watched too many romantic comedies. Or perhaps, visions come to you for a deep mythic reason and if you’re brave enough to listen, they will connect you to people, a place and a journey that’s gives you meaning and a sense of being truly alive.
What was your first impression of Wigtown and the bookshop? Did it live up to your dream?
Yes. The Bookshop was exactly like it had been in my dream. At least the front room was – but everything else, the house above, Shaun, our friends, Wigtown, the community – were beyond my expectations. The best thing about dreaming is that it’s just the white rabbit leading you down the rabbit hole. Everything else is the journey – everything you didn’t anticipate – that’s the true gift.
Was it easy to adapt to the cultural differences?
Ha, no. I love Scotland and all things Scottish, but I wouldn’t pretend that I’ve completely adapted…even 14 years on. Wigtown has been incredibly generous towards and accepting of my Americanness.
In LA, you worked for NASA, while trying to build your film portfolio, so your pace of life obviously changed with your move to Wigtown. What did the journey teach you about your relationship with ambition?
Perhaps you have to let go of something to decide whether it’s a vital part of who you are. For me, ambition means believing in your own talents and finding or creating opportunities to express them. The adventure actually bright me closer to my inner ambition. It is an essential part of what makes me feel alive.
When did you know you would write a book about your experiences?
It took a lot of coaxing by a wonderful editor then at Short Books, Vanessa Beaumont. I only realised I could write a book when she encouraged me to, and gave me insightful and supportive feedback.
And you’re still here! What has kept you in Scotland?
My parents would like to know that too! After I got divorced there was a moment where I moved back to Los Angeles. But something in me kept on being called to Wigtown and Scotland. So I returned, co-created The Open Book and still felt connected and at home here. What keeps me in Scotland now is my partner Ash and my work.
If you wanted to encourage someone to visit the South West, how would you recommend the area?
To get there is a bit like finding Neverland, second star to the right and straight on till morning. It is not on the way to anywhere but that’s what makes it such a special place to be. The sense of community is so strong, and so kind. There is so much to explore from ancient history to the arts to nature. Galloway is like mini-Scotland rolled into one: farmland, hills, sea, ancient forests, ruins and ancient sites, towns, lowlands, snow capped highlands – all on your doorstep – and breathtakingly gorgeous.
What are your favourite Scottish books?
James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Stevenson’s Treasure Island, anything by Nan Shepard and Shaun Bythell’s Diary of a Bookseller because it captures a very special time in Wigtown.
You still have a great interest in space. What are your thoughts on the current expedition to the International Space Station?
Recent NASA missions are some of the most admirable and successful examples of international team work and partnership. I wish more human endeavors were done as collaboratively across oceans and boarders. This current expedition is exciting because both the private sector and public sector have their own strengths and in tandem in terms of R&D, efficiency, research, they tend to compliment each other well. The future of space exploration will take both public and private partnership. It’s great to see that it works.
What’s next for you?
Lots of possibilities. Currently, I directed a film headed to festivals, my next book is almost done and i’m co-developing a couple of tv shows. So, rather than the sky, imaginations the limit.
Three Things You Should Know About Rockets by Jessica Fox is published by Short Books, priced £8.99.
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