Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Author Visit: A. J. Ashworth

Everyone who replies to this post by 14th February [no matter where they are in the world], will have their name put into a hat. The name pulled out of that hat will win a copy of Andrea's book: Somewhere Else, or Even Here 

[NB: Remember, if you don't have contact details over at your blog, please leave your Twitter name or email address in your comment so I can reach you!]


Andrea! Welcome. Make yourself at home.

Thanks, Jen – lovely to be here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and brought up in Blackburn but moved to Yorkshire a couple of years ago. I’ve been writing seriously for the past few years and won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize last year with my debut collection ‘Somewhere Else, or Even Here’. [Jen: and damn good it is, too!]

Tell us about ‘Somewhere Else, or Even Here.’ How long did you work on it? There are lots of beautifully interwoven themes, and the stories flow from one to the next. Had you planned these connections out, or were those details added later?

The book’s a collection of 14 stories, most of which were written as part of an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. I spent about three years writing them, but I had no overall plan for a collection so I just let each story unfold in whichever way felt right. I’m interested in what you say about interwoven themes and stories flowing from one to the next because all of that happened naturally, without any obvious tinkering or intervention. I have a love of astronomy so I obviously knew that was in there, but other themes such as loss or loneliness were completely unintended. The writer is often the last person who knows what their work is about though!

I didn’t consciously create any connections between the stories, either before, during or after, but it’s not surprising if they’re there because we all have certain preoccupations, whether we’re aware of them or not. Someone once said to me that there are echoes throughout my stories and I like that idea – the idea of the original sound or image repeating elsewhere but in a different way.

Which story in the collection was the first that you wrote, and which was the last?

I think ‘Eggshells’ was the first one. It’s the story of a young girl going on holiday with her family and while they’re driving to the coast they witness a horrible road accident. It was inspired in part by family holidays to Heysham, although I never saw an accident like that, thankfully. The last one to be written was ‘Bone Fire’, which is the story of a troubled teenage boy who carries out an act of destruction at his school using a bonfire.

Where were you when you found out that you’d won The Scott Prize? How did you celebrate?

I was actually at work and knew the winners were going to be announced that day. As you can imagine it was very difficult to concentrate and I spent most of the day clicking ‘Refresh’ on the Salt website, waiting for the news to appear. It was an amazing feeling and I’m forever indebted to Jen and Chris Hamilton-Emery at Salt for publishing me.

I think I celebrated with beer and food at a lovely little Mexican restaurant that I like. There was probably chocolate involved at some point too – there usually is. [Jen: & rightly so, too.]

Which short story writers do you admire?

Raymond Carver is my first love so when I started writing more seriously I always used to try and write like him. I’ve developed my own style since then but his stories are the ones I always return to. I naturally turn to the American short story so I also love Tobias Wolff, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, etc., and I particularly loved Stephanie Vaughn’s collection ‘Able Baker Charlie Dog’ or ‘Sweet Talk’ as it was titled in the US. Other than the Americans, I really enjoyed David Rose’s novel ‘Vault’, which came out last year, and I’ve had the pleasure of reading a few of his short stories since then, so I can’t wait for his collection to come out. There’s also Claire Keegan [Jen: adore her!], Alice Munro, Elizabeth Baines, Vanessa Gebbie, Simon Van Booy… I could go on and on.

What are you reading at the moment?

Vanessa Gebbie’s novel ‘The Coward’s Tale’, which is fantastic [Jen: Vanessa will be stopping by soon to talk about her book], and David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’. I’m always dipping in and out of short story collections too so I’ve got Jo Cannon’s ‘Insignificant Gestures’ on the go as well.

Give us the name of a book that you wish you’d written.

One of my favourite books of recent years is Elizabeth Strout’s ‘Olive Kitteridge’. It’s described as a novel in stories so it can be read either way – as a novel or as a linked short story collection. The book is set in Maine and tells the story of Olive and her family and follows them through the various events that happen in their lives. The writing is wonderful, of course, but Olive is an unusual and intriguing character too – difficult, a little cold, without much self-awareness – and yet we warm to her and care about what happens to her. She’s real. If a writer can make you empathise with a character who isn’t immediately sunny and warm then that’s great writing.

At what age did you know that you wanted to be a writer? What advice would you give to other writers?

I actually wrote from a young age, as a lot of children do, just because it was a pleasurable thing to do – putting words and sentences together until they made a poem or a story. I loved English and if there was an option to write a story instead of an essay that’s what I’d do. I have a vague recollection of thinking the words ‘I could be a writer’ when I was about 15, but I think I put too much pressure on myself and I couldn’t really write for a long time after that. Taking a writing course and having some deadlines helped me to get going again, but that was only about six or seven years ago.

If I can give any advice at all, it is to write as often as you’re able to just because you like to do it – not for what you think it can give you. And keep going. Rejections will come, they always do, but keep going.

Where do you write, and do you set yourself a schedule?

I write in a room at the top of the house which has a nice view of the sky. If the writing’s not going too well then I stare out at the sky. As you can guess I spend a lot of time doing that instead of writing. I just write when I have the urge so sometimes I write every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Other times I can go days and weeks without writing. If there’s a deadline then that helps but I don’t have a schedule.

Can you let us know what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m working on some new short stories and also trying to get going on a novel. Switching from short stories to a novel is going to be a bit of a challenge I think but that can only be a good thing – challenges keep you on your writing toes.

Thanks, Andrea!


  1. Great interview, and I'd love to win a copy!

  2. Great interview, both! It's interesting what Andrea says about her stories having echoes or being linked by her preoccupations, rather than her setting out to create a themed collection of short stories. It's going to make me revisit my short stories to have a look at what my preoccupations are.

  3. What a lovely interview and I know I am not alone in looking out of the window when I am supposed to be working :)
    I would love to win a copy of her book, it sounds lovely!

  4. Interesting stuff. 'Somewhere Else...' sounds like a great collection. I'll have to check out some of Andrea's short story recommendations, too - there are a few names I don't recognise on that list.


  5. Really lovely, honest interview. I like that it came through naturally rather than by meticulous planning, please enter me in the draw for this one.

  6. Lovely interview ^_^ It's nice to see someone else that doesn't schedule :D

  7. Really. Interesting interview, would love to readthebook.Lomazowr@gmail.com

  8. Congratulations on the publication, Andrea. Good luck with writing the novel!

  9. What a nice, honest interview. Love how engaged she is in contemporary writers and how much she admires them. I'd be so grateful for a copy.

  10. I'm totally intrigued. Andreas's reading list is very interesting, and if those are the authors that she is influenced by, I would love to read something she wrote.

  11. Congratulations Andrea on winning the Scott Prize for your short story collection. And thanks for being so open with your interview. I studied Creative Writing at YU in Toronto and graduated with a BA, so I can fully understand your passion. And in reading this post, I have a whole of authors to add to my reading list, thank you! Raymond Carver is also one of my favourites. I love how his writing is very minimalist---not wordy or convoluted---yet so stark. His stories have also stayed with me. I'm looking forward to reading your book to see just how certain themes have "echoed" throughout your stories. It's wonderful news! Congratulations again.

    Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez
    Email: zgarcia(dot)alvarez(at)gmail(dot)com
    On Twitter: @ZaraAlexis

  12. Thanks for all your good wishes everyone. It was really nice to be interviewed by Jen and talk a little about how it's all going.

    Zara, I visited Canada (including Toronto) in September and had a great time. I loved how the bookstores supported short stories over there - a bit of a contrast with the UK, I have to say. I got a collection, while I was in Montreal, by a Canadian writer called Johanna Skibsrud. I'm yet to read the full collection but love what I've seen so far. As for Carver, 'A Small, Good Thing' is probably my favourite of his.

  13. Amazing interview, would love to win a copy of Andrea's book.

  14. Another interesting interview. Anyone who likes Stephanie Vaughn’s stories must be worth a read.


  15. Really interesting interview - and I'd love to win Somewhere Else or Even Here, too :)

  16. fantastic interview. sounds like a really interesting book, would love to win a copy.