Friday, 5 February 2016

Book Club: Jackie Griffiths, author of Ox Herding

 by Barbara Scott Emmett

I reviewed Jackie Griffiths’ prize-winning novel, Ox Herding for Bookmuse a little while ago. I was very much impressed by the way the metaphysical subject matter was tackled. 
Through a modern woman’s spiritual search, the novel explores a classic Chinese treatise and shows its relevance to a contemporary search for truth and meaning.

 Here Jackie talks about writing Ox Herding and winning the Quagga Prize:

“Too many judges turn straight to the front matter to examine the name of the publisher, read the reviews, and take on board what others have said about the book – but they don’t seem to care as much about the content itself.”

This was the passionate complaint of a judge in a recent indie book awards competition, and he was saying it in relation to my philosophical novel, ‘Ox Herding: A Secular Pilgrimage,’ which recently won the 2015 Quagga Prize for Genre Fiction. It was my first book as a professional writer – a career I had wanted to have since I was very young.

‘Ox Herding’ was a novel that I simply had to get out and onto paper before I could write anything else. It’s a subject close to my heart and was something I needed to complete before turning my mind to other things. The book is a philosophical novel about a secular pilgrimage, a fateful journey of self-discovery in which the main character struggles to escape her belief systems and eventually combats and transcends the power of her own ego.

My interest in this field was sparked by a life-changing discussion I had with a friend of the family when I was just fourteen. The friend later sent me a copy of The Ten Ox Herding Pictures, a Chinese philosophical classic depicting this journey to enlightenment, and which sparked my life-long interest in human metaphysics.

According to the Ten Ox Herding Pictures, the ox (or bull), represents the ego and its total power and total dominance over our thoughts and behaviour. Herding the ox is a metaphor for recognising this problem, directly confronting it, and eventually ridding ourselves of its power enabling us to live in a kind of extended truce. In this state of permanent moratorium it is possible to find true freedom.

I knew exactly what I wanted to write; that there would be ten chapters, and right from the beginning I knew what each chapter should be about. The shape of the book was quite clear. Once I had the idea to express the Ten Ox Herding Pictures as a novel, it was simply a matter of putting fingers to keyboard, letting it all out, and getting it done.

Winning the Quagga Prize was a great surprise and delight, and it was especially poignant to hear the judge’s words about how much he valued the literary content. I hope that my book sends a powerful philosophical message to readers, but one that can be clearly understood by anyone. Some rather complicated philosophical theories are presented within a Carrollesque adventure story, and I included a decoding section at the end for readers to be sure of meanings. There are several recent philosophers who explore these complex subjects, the Indian thinker and educator Jiddu Krishnamurti being the most noteworthy, but it is sometimes very difficult to understand the thrust of all the ideas. I hope that my book, Ox Herding, succeeds in this endeavour and that readers can ascertain the philosophical meaning as well as enjoy the plot.



If you're in the US, grab one of the copies of Jackie's book as an Amazon Giveaway!

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