Monday 12 June 2017

Guest Post & Giveaway - Naked Chance by Jackie Buxton - Chances Fortnight

When I was given the task of writing a blog post about taking a chance, my head went automatically to the chances I'd taken with writing. I'd abandoned a first draft to write something else, foregoing 100,000 words and years of my life spent in the study, on the whim of a single idea which had wedged itself tight in the, 'You are Powerless to Ignore This', part of my brain. The result was my first published novel, Glass Houses. Tea & Chemo was a lucky break, too. I'd carefully prepared my submission to the potential publisher of Glass Houses, Urbane Publications, taking a good week dotting my 'I's and crossing my 'T's, only to then decide moments before pressing 'send' that I would also respond to the tiny note at the bottom of the submissions guidelines mentioning non-fiction. 'Particularly interested in self-help and memoire,' it said. 'Ideas only at this stage please.' I couldn’t ignore the idea I'd had for a book expanding on my blog posts about dealing with cancer, an idea which had been scratching away, only to be quashed by those voices which tell you that nobody, anywhere, is going to be interested in paying for a hard copy of your words. But Urbane Publications were interested and Tea & Chemo was the result this time. But far from me taking a chance, I decided my two titles were much more about the publisher taking a chance on me, rather than the other way around.

So then I thought about the biggest chance I'd taken in life and had to smile at the memory of Ilse, the totally bonkers, strong (for strong read, slightly terrifying), fluent in five languages except the one I needed, single mother to Andreas, who hailed from a German speaking colony of Rumania: Siebenbürgen. Ilse is the reason I learnt to speak German with a Romanian accent.

I was panicking about studying German and French at university following a woeful couple of years of A-level German teaching, which made no reference to the course syllabus, in which we read none of the set texts for the literature element and in which my fellow students and I concluded that just because you were a native of the country, it didn’t mean that you could teach the language, or indeed, have a decent grasp of the mechanics of it. Eventually, our teacher disappeared without explanation (this was the eighties, nobody said and nobody asked) leaving us all seriously lacking in confidence, not to mention knowledge of the language. I decided that even if I miraculously fluked my way into university, which I did (thanks only to the wonderful replacement teacher who spent her holidays cramming with us in her own home) I should take a Gap Year because all the other students there would be super human and certainly possess a much higher (we're talking stratospheres) level of German than I did.

I'd be an Au-Pair. That was the answer.

And so I arrived in Cologne, ever thereafter known as Köln, because for the first month, Ilse spoke not a word of English to me, determined as she was that I should be fluent in German by the time I left almost a year later. I know enough about languages now to know that it doesn't matter how much you study, there is no substitute for living and breathing – and eventually dreaming – the language with the natives. And when your grasp of the language is basic at best when you arrive, those natives may as well be speaking Klingon.

Seven year old Andreas didn't speak a word to me for the first hour or two but then giggled his way through my renditions of Paddington in German with my awful English accent, and little clue (there were a few pictures, thankfully) of what I was reading. Andreas' ability in English, I have to say, rivalled my own.

Andreas tucked up in bed, I settled down to my first evening of chat, steeling myself to communicate through pointing and charades and over-zealous smiling, and trying to push away the cloak of gloom as I realised I hadn't appreciated quite how hard a new country was going to be, and wasn’t that my 19th birthday winking at me from a week away, the very real prospect of exactly none, zilch, zero friends with whom to party.

Then I heard the word, 'Urlaub'.

Yes! A word I recognised! 'Majorca' I said. Ilse looked blank. So I fanned my face. She nodded and tilted her head upwards as it to catch the rays. And I jumped around a little, arms swaying in the air, to show 'Magalluf' (it was THAT holiday after leaving school) to which Ilse said, 'Ah, sexy Urlaub' and promptly left the room.

When she returned, she was carrying a pile of photo albums.

'Mein Urlaub,' she said, 'ist verschieden.' I could understand isolated vocab like this, from my tiny collection of abstract words which I'd learnt for use in essays about what we were going to do about Aids and whether communism was really dead - perfect for some light post-supper chat, even if I didn’t have the words to aptly express my gratitude for the meal.

Different. Yes, Ilse's holidays were a little different, certainly to what this 18 year old was used to, anyway. I realised this to my absolute horror with the very first turn of the page. This quirky, well-meaning, but fairly austere mother of a seven year old, who was older than my own mother, smiled at me from the photographs as she fried an egg on the rickety stove top, totally and utterly naked.

And as we flicked through pictures of Ilse and her friends playing tennis, sharing a bottle of wine, and - god forbid – dancing, all generally naked save for the odd mesh t-shirt barely skirting the belly button, a strange sense of calm came over me. I was to spend ten months living with this nudist camp enthusiast, who'd had this son, as I was told that first night through various waves of her hand and laborious leafing through the dictionary, with a soon-to-be-ex ('You're leaving?' I later learned was the conversation, 'then leave me with a baby.') She would also pay for me to take intensive German lessons, twenty hours a week – the best education I have ever had, bar none – and would eventually delight in my tales of all the other weird and generally wonderful friends I made in my time in Köln. I realised on that first evening that I had seen this woman with no clothes on and nothing could faze me now.

I took a chance taking a year out and it was the best decision I ever made. It's a cliché, but true. And much of that was thanks to Ilse. She is the most unusual woman I've ever met, before or since, but what an absolute treasure she turned out to be. 

Giveaway to Win 2 x Signed copies of Glass Houses (Open UK Only)
Jackie Buxton is very kindly giving my followers a chance to win 2 x signed copies of Glass Houses. 

Giveaway open to UK only, all options are voluntary, but please do what they ask, as I will be verifying the winner. Giveaway closes 23:59 26/06/2017. Winner will be announced on twitter and emailed, and they will need to reply within 7 days, or forfeit the prize, and I will re-draw for a new winner.  Good luck everyone.


Jackie Buxton is a writer, editor and teacher of creative writing, living in Yorkshire with her husband and two teenage daughters. Author of self-help memoire, Tea & Chemo (Urbane Publications, November 2015), Jackie's first novel, Glass Houses, was published in July 2016. It's about two women, their terrible mistakes, the repercussions and the silver linings. Jackie's short stories can also be found in three anthologies, as well as in Chase Magazine and on-line.

When not writing or reading, involved in domesticity or teenage taxi driving, Jackie can often be found running, cycling or tripping up though the beautiful Yorkshire countryside. Jackie's ambitions range from drinking more coffee with friends, to film deals and the big one: beating secondary breast cancer.  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Rachel. I've been very quiet with it as I was on holiday when it posted but I'm putting a link on my blog to it now. I hope it might generate some more traffic to your wonderful blog - although there are already lots of entries into this giveaway which is wonderful to see, thank you.


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