This week’s esteemed interviewee is short story writer and novelist, A.J. Ashworth. Her first collection, Somewhere Else, Or Even Here, won the Scott Prize and was also short-listed for the Edge Hill Prize. She also edited The Red Room, an anthology of stories inspired by the Brontes from my publisher, Unthank Books. Called, ‘one to watch,’ by Vanessa Gebbie, I am excited to hear that her novel has now been accepted by an agent. I am really looking forward to reading it as Andrea (her full name) has an interest in bringing science and, in particular, astronomy, into her fiction which is something which intrigues me deeply as I am currently writing a novel about NASA.
Welcome to the Book Diner, Andrea! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?
I can’t say no to French toast.
When did you realise you were a writer?
I’ve written more seriously for nearly ten years now, but it’s probably only when my first book came out in 2011 – a collection of short stories called Somewhere Else, or Even Here – that I felt more comfortable about calling myself a writer.
Can you tell us about your latest project?
I’m on the fourth draft of a novel, but I don’t want to say much more than that just yet. I’m hoping to finish it in the next month or so.
What inspired you to write it? Where do you generally draw your ideas from?
I get inspiration from many places – art and poetry, for instance, helped me to create some of the stories in my collection. I’m also really inspired by science – in particular astronomy – and love to work that into my fiction in some way if I can.
Is there a particular theme or message you’d like readers to take away from this book?
Some of my work is quite dark, but I’d love people to see the light in it also. Hope is important.
What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster? (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)
I wasn’t that disciplined when working on the first draft of the novel – in fact, I had huge chunks of time where I didn’t write at all, mainly because I was busy with work. I’ve definitely been more disciplined from the second draft onwards. I’ve been working on it every day, usually in the mornings before I have to earn some money – but I can write any time of the day usually. I didn’t plan the novel at all – I had a vague idea of what I wanted to explore and a rough idea of the kind of ending I wanted, but I let it all happen as I was writing it.
Do you write longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?
I write on computer – I absolutely hate writing by hand. I’m a fast typist and I love that my fingers can go at the same pace as my brain. I’m not sure if it makes any difference to style as I’ve only ever really worked on computer.
How do you approach research?
I only did a little bit of research before starting the novel, but I’ve done more since starting the second draft, once I knew what I needed to know about. I think research is important as it helps you to believe in the world you’re creating, but it also helps other people to believe in it too. I only ever research what I need though – I’m not one of those writers who makes lots and lots of notes and then doesn’t use most of them.
A book I’ve read recently and which I’m a bit in love with is Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. I’d seen the film and had never read the book, but I found loved it – it contains three linked narratives (Virginia Woolf, her Clarissa Dalloway character and a woman reading Mrs Dalloway) and I love how he creates small links between the three women … the writing is beautiful and understated too and I will never forget his yellow roses.
What advice would you offer to writers just starting out?
Keep going. Writing is a long, slow process and is more about endurance and persistence than you might realise.
Writing is a long, slow process and is more about endurance and persistence than you might realise.
What would you say are the toughest things and the best things about being a writer?
Rejection is tough, but it can help to give you a bit more mental strength than if people just said ‘yes’ to you all the time. The best thing about it is being able to use language to create a world that didn’t exist before.
How do you handle the rejections and bad reviews all writers experience?
I feel bad for a bit, then accept that it’s just one person’s (or a small group’s) point of view and get on with some work.
How do you deal with the Inner Critic who likes to tell us our work is worthless?
I sometimes listen to it, mainly because it might be saying things that will help to make me a better writer. Other times, I just try and ignore it and focus on the positive instead.
I enjoyed playing music as a child and was always told I had an ear for it. I learned piano for about a year and played Tenor Horn and French Horn at school. I wish I’d continued playing something and I do think about it quite a bit – I regularly have dreams where I have to play the piano, but have to wing it as I’m unable to.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
I have a new website.
Thanks so much for joining us – please call again!
Thanks for having me!