Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Stephen Falconer Jones about his recently published memoirs Escape from Uxbridge, in which he recounts his adventures in more than 70 countries.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I was brought up in Uxbridge and, even from my early years, I have always had a passion for travel and I wanted to see the world (hence the title of the book). My first overseas project, after university, was to become a Voluntary Service Overseas volunteer teacher in Zambia in 1969 and 1970. There followed a period of 25 years working as an agricultural economist in dozens of countries such as Afghanistan, Nepal, many in Africa and Russia. It is these experiences that I have described in my book, which is subtitled: A working life in far-away places.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I have been writing business and agricultural reports, some book length, throughout my working life but I didn’t start having the ambition to write a book until I was in my 60s.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I started writing some of the material that appears in my book many years ago, around 2003 or 2004. This was the period when I finished working as an agricultural economist and I wanted to record some of my experiences. However, I got busy with other projects and the manuscript was put aside until the first lockdown in 2020.
How long did it take you to complete your book from the first idea to release?
It is difficult to say how long it took because I was not in a hurry and enjoyed the process of reminding myself about all the projects from many years ago. I also digitised many of my old slides and photos, some dating back more than 50 years and many of them were included in the book. The total time period certainly exceeded many months.
What made you want to write Escape From Uxbridge?
There were multiple reasons for wanting to write Escape from Uxbridge. As well as recording some of my experiences of working abroad (during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s), my aim was to write a travelogue with a difference, trying to introduce some humor, while incorporating information about the difficulties of finding viable projects in developing countries. The book also enabled me to talk about some subjects close to my heart such as the downtrodden position of women forced to wear the burka in certain countries.
When lockdown came along in 2020, I needed a project to keep me busy and entertained and dusted off the old manuscript started some years before. More than anything though, as I spent long weeks and months writing, I had a picture in my mind on my four grandchildren (currently aged between 8 and 14 years) reading my words in many years’ time when I will be long gone. I have nothing written by my own grandparents, which I greatly regret, but I hope my grandchildren and other family members will envoy my book in years to come.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Escape From Uxbridge?
There were no great difficulties in writing the book, other than the long passage of time from most of the events but I had some records to draw on.
What was your research process for Escape From Uxbridge?
Given that my book is a memoir, my research method was to write from memory, supplement by many different forms of record. Some of the activities were so long ago that people actually wrote letters in those days and, thankfully, both my parents and my wife, kept the letters I wrote to them from many far-away places in the 1960s and later years. I also had my work diaries and other work documents. Of course, the Internet also came in handy for checking things.
How did you plan the structure of Escape From Uxbridge?
The structure is a simple, chronological account.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Escape From Uxbridge need?
My book is published by Mereo Books and they carried out a fairly “light touch” editing process.
What writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
It is said that everyone has book in them, which I think is correct, and the most important thing is to choose a subject of great interest to the individual person.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I think Escape from Uxbridge will be my one and only book.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, most definitely. I have given many copies of the book to friends and family, plus others have made purchases from amazon or other booksellers, and I have been very gratified by the lovely comments I have received from large numbers of people.
Find more from Stephen Falconer Jones:
“Escape from Uxbridge: A working life in far-flung places” by Stephen Falconer Jones is published by Mereo Books (paperback, £10) and available through the publisher, internet booksellers and bookshops.
Follow Stephen Falconer Jones on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100059722001367