Q&A with William Jefferson

Port Estillyen Exclusive

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The Estillyen Chronicle

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The Author Behind
Messages from Estillyen

It was a calling to write a book about “words and why they matter” that brought the Isle of Estillyen to life. In Messages from Estillyen, William Jefferson offers us a vibrant tale about the search for meaning—a search that leads the book’s unforgettable characters to the words of Christ himself.
Chronicle Literary Critic Felicity Sharpe caught up with Jefferson to learn more about the vision behind his new book—and what drew him to the Isle of Estillyen and its treasure of words and faith.

Felicity Sharpe: It seems, Mr. Jefferson, Messages from Estillyen is drawing considerable attention. Might I ask, what possessed you to write Messages from Estillyen? What was in your mind?


William Jefferson: That’s simple: words.

FS: You mean words inspired you to write—or words were in your mind?

WJ: Both. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the way words and messages shape our lives, culture, and society. Words all matter. Yet some matter far more than most. I wanted to write about words—how they clothe thoughts and provoke us to be and act in certain ways.
Of course, to write about words, you must have words in your mind. So, as I said, it was both.

FS: I see, but why Estillyen?

WJ: A writer traveling to the Isle of Estillyen is most fortunate. Here you have this ancient Order of Message Makers. They are unique to the world. Their craft of weaving words together is absolutely wonderful, beyond me. I can’t believe that for centuries they’ve been linking words, forming lines, and forging meaning.
Basically, I came to Estillyen to listen. I say Messages from Estillyen is more about reporting than composing.

FS: Were you ever an official reporter?

WJ: No, not like you. I’ve dispatched a few press releases here and there, that kind of thing, but not as a regular beat. Messages making meaning, that’s the fascination for me. That’s why I love it here on the Isle. I can take in some of the most incredible stories.

FS: I understand you write on a farm, in a small cottage you restored, and it dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Is that correct?

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WJ: Well, partially correct anyway. I do write out of a lovely old cottage, with window panes of wavy glass. There are old pine floors to pace—and ponds to view. Very inspiring is that spot. Also, I did restore it, but not all by myself. I had a lot of help. I love architecture and restoring things.

FS: Did your studies always align with your interests?

WJ: Well certainly not in the beginning. I grew up in a home that was essentially void of books. I was what you might call an observational learner.
It was not until I was twenty-three that college came into the picture. My sense of intrigue and curious imagination drew me in the direction of communication and theology. Years ago, I did graduate work at a place called Wheaton. Then about a decade ago, I studied at the University of Edinburgh. I was very surprised to get in to Edinburgh—and even more surprised to get out. They let me take home an MTh in Media and Theology.
It’s strange being in a place with so many bright people. Learning is vitally important. So, too, is insight. Hopefully, in Messages from Estillyen, they move along as friends—maybe even twins.

FS: What about faith? That’s obviously a major feature in the novel. Is it a subject set out for the characters of Estillyen, or is it a major part of your life?

WJ: ‘Faith as part of life’ doesn’t work for me. Faith is my life.

FS: There are several pets in your novel, like Treasure the blind collie, Tiptoe the Callao cat, and Shakespeare the Quaker parrot, which always speaks backwards. Are you particularly fond of animals?

WJ: How can you not be fond of animals? It’s indecent to your heart to be otherwise.

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The Estillyen Chronicle


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FS: Why, though, a blind collie, a rabbit that trembles? You even have a pair of orphaned Siamese cats in Messages, called Pen and Post. Why such unusual or abnormal pets?

WJ: Ah, you’ve struck on a good question. Would you like three reasons or two?

FS: We might as well have three, don’t you think?

WJ: Sure, as you say. First, bear in mind that pets are all part of Estillyen life. I’m simply reporting what I see.
Second, some of the pets in the book do remind me of my childhood. When I was a boy, I frequently stayed overnight at the home of an elderly couple that ran the local corner drugstore. At night we’d lock up the store, head home, and count the money—roll coins in paper tubes at the kitchen table.
The elderly man’s name was Carol, his wife Rita. They had a blind collie named Tex and a parakeet called Butch. As Carol drank beer in frosty mugs, and we counted and stacked the coins, Butch would perch on Carol’s shoulder, chirping and nipping his eyebrows. I can still see it now.
The third reason relates to your word—abnormal. In the novel, characters speak of maladies and abnormalities. Yet, maladies, as we call them, can often serve up greatness or offer certain rewards. The malady of dyslexia, for example, may be that of a creative genius. The abnormality of blindness may help one see, perceive beyond seeing.
Normality, after all—what is it? Where is it to be found? Who possesses it? I can tell you for certain, it’s not on Estillyen. That’s why I love the place so much.

FS: So you are truly fond of the Isle of Estillyen.

WJ: Smitten, I’d say.

FS: Any one spot in particular that draws you?

WJ: No, because it’s all the spots together. Every nook and cranny holds mystery and beauty.

FS: What about the food?

WJ: That’s maybe the strangest thing of all.

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FS: What’s that?

WJ: As soon as I step off the Estillyen Ferry, my appetite increases to such an extent I can barely concentrate. I’m compelled to move in the direction of food—almost zombie-like. This morning, like many, I had blueberry flapjacks at Fields and Crops. The aroma, the taste—not commonplace, I’ll tell you that.

FS: What would you like readers to know about you, Mr. Jefferson?

WJ: Not much, actually, and I really mean that. In the great scheme of things, it’s inconsequential. That’s the optimum word I’d pick and place at the head of this line—inconsequential. Nice flowing word, don’t you think?

WJ: Smart question, that is. Yes—I’ve seen too much, without seeing enough. I’d say it this way—too many places and chases, and not enough halting the races. I’m working on that, though.

FS: Do you use the title of author?

WJ: I’ll use it, but only if I have to. I much prefer Message Maker. That’s what I am. I’m a weaver of words pointing to words that matter.

FS: That does sound right, spoken by you.

WJ: I’ll grasp that as a compliment and carry it throughout the day.

FS: Are you planning to move to Estillyen?

WJ: Now, you know, I just might one day. I dream about it so much, I might as well. We’ll see. For certain, I’ll not stay away. As the seasons pass, I’ll make my way to Estillyen, time and again. Of that, you can be sure.

By Felicity Sharpe, The Estillyen Chronicle

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