In the Spotlight returns for a couple of weeks to showcase more new and established talent … and this week I welcome fellow Unthologist and so much more — the talented A J Ashworth. I met her at one of the launch events of Sarah Dobbs’s Killing Daniel novel where A J and I read extracts of our stories from Unthology 3, so if you have a copy — her story was the one about the monolith; very unusual and excellently written. We have stayed in touch and she now works as an editor as well as writer and I think she is one to watch for sure … so big warm welcome please …
<<<Pause of rapturous applause>>>
A J Ashworth
Tell us something about yourself and your writing …
Hi everyone! I published a collection of short stories at the end of 2011 – Somewhere Else, or Even Here. The collection won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize and was later shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize. I’ve currently abandoned short stories though and am working on a novel.
Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.
I’ve wanted to be a published writer for a long time, yes – it’s been a long-held dream of mine. In my twenties/early thirties I was really struggling though. I couldn’t seem to get anything finished so I didn’t feel I was getting anywhere. I therefore decided to take some distance learning writing courses with Lancaster University and these helped me to be a bit more focused and to actually complete some stories. I then went on to do an MA at Sheffield Hallam University and completed the main bulk of my short story collection there. After the MA, I submitted this to Salt for the Scott Prize and was one of three winners.
Do you have an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
I don’t have an agent at the moment. Most agents are reluctant to take on short story writers – mainly because publishers are hesitant when it comes to buying collections, especially when they’re by debut authors. Independent publishers such as Salt and Comma Press are excellent and you wouldn’t need an agent to have a book published by them.
Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off?
On all the courses I’ve taken – distance learning; MA – I have been given feedback on my work, either by other students or tutors. My MA tutor, Felicity Skelton, gave excellent feedback and really helped me to improve my work, and that kind of support is invaluable really. There are other people who give me feedback also and I was previously a member of an online writing group. The key thing is to show your work to people you trust – those who want you to write well – and then take on board those comments you agree with.
Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?
I told my partner and my parents. I was pretty excited as you can imagine but I had to restrain myself a bit because I was at work when I found out.
What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?
During my MA, Felicity acted as an editor really so she gave good advice when something wasn’t working in a story. Then, when the collection was going to be published I got the first proofs from Jen Hamilton Emery at Salt and she made a few suggestions about words that could be cut, for example. I think it’s important to listen to feedback, whether it’s from a trusted reader or an editor – they’re able to see your work in a way you can’t because you’re so close to it. Good editors make your work better.
Tell us something about your writing day, routine …
At the moment I’m writing most days because I don’t want to lose touch with the novel, but if I don’t feel like writing one day I don’t. Sometimes I write in the morning, other times the afternoon or evening – so I don’t have a strict routine where I have to be at my desk by a certain time. Some days I’m disciplined, some days I’m the laziest person on the planet.
What or who inspires you most, people, authors, books?
I’ve not read, or seen, all of the work by these people but I love: Woody Allen, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel… lots of Americans really. Two books I’ve loved in recent times: Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I get inspired by people who are passionate about what they do – scientists, artists, writers, filmmakers.
Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?
If I don’t have a piece of writing on the go I don’t feel right. That doesn’t mean I always want to write – often it’s the last thing I want to do – but there’s something inside me urging me to do it. I think about writing quite a lot. It’s always there whirring away somewhere in my brain. If I’m watching a film, I’m analyzing the story, thinking about how it’s been constructed, the dialogue. If I’m washing up, I’m thinking about stories – not necessarily mine, but other people’s. I’m not sure it ever really switches off. As for what I want my stories to do… I want them to resonate with people, to connect with something in their own lives, I suppose.
How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?
If you’re published by a small independent you have to promote yourself as much as you can. I don’t like self-promotion – a lot of people probably feel the same – but if you don’t do it then hardly anyone will know about your work. They may still not even know about it even if you do the self-promotion, but you have to try. I haven’t done much really, apart from doing the occasional blog interview, a few readings, etc.
Tell us about the latest published book…
Somewhere Else, or Even Here is a collection of 14 short stories exploring themes such as loss, love, loneliness and hope: a girl meets with danger on the beach when she is lured away by a strange boy; a bereaved wife enlists the help of a mysterious woman to perform rituals that will bring her dead husband back to life; a boy’s anger at his absent father leads him towards an act of destruction in the basement of his school. The book is available from:
Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions)
And I also have some paperback versions available via my blog
What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years time?
I’m currently writing a novel and also editing Red Room, a collection of new short stories inspired by the Brontës to raise funds for The Brontë Birthplace Trust – this will be published by Unthank Books later this year and will feature stories from David Constantine, Alison Moore, David Rose, Bill Broady, Vanessa Gebbie and many more. I hope I’ll still be writing in ten years’ time but I don’t know what else I might be doing.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
Keep going. Perseverance is really important.
Can we publish an extract of your work?
A J Ashworth Sample (click link to read first story and beginning of next — pdf kindly provided by author and not to be reproduced without permission © A J Ashworth, Salt Publishing, 2012
Thanks you so much for being a guest and telling us about your writing. I am trying to get more writers for this spot so if you or someone you know wants to be here — please do let me know. Next week I welcome the talented writer Sophie Jackson to the spotlight …
Have a great day everyone. The sunshine is glorious and I almost wish I was out in it — although I am enjoying editing my novel. Work hard, play hard at the weekend …