Guest-Interview with award-winning dark fantasy author, J. Ashley-Smith (& Giveaway)


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  1. #1

    Guest-Interview with award-winning dark fantasy author, J. Ashley-Smith (& Giveaway)

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    We are thrilled to welcome award-winning author, J. Ashley-Smith, whose new dark fantasy novelette, The Attic Tragedy is out this month! J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian writer of dark fiction and other materials. His short stories have twice won national competitions and been shortlisted six times for Aurealis Awards, winning both Best Horror (Old Growth, 2017) and Best Fantasy (The Further Shore, 201. J. lives with his wife and two sons in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires.


    What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?


    The great power of language to me is in the transformation that occurs in the act of reading, the alchemy of words on a page that somehow become pictures, sensations, real emotions. It's that moment, as a reader, when you forget you are reading. The eyes move, pages turn, but you are somewhere beyond the page – through the looking glass of the written word.


    I couldn't tell you what I was reading when I first recognised this, nor where I was or how old. But that feeling continues to thrill and bewilder me to this day, and always keeps me coming back for more.


    When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?


    Fairly young, maybe eleven or twelve. I was very into Stephen King at the time and have a memory of a story I wanted to write that was either inspired by, or was a shameless rip-off of, a micro-scene in one of his books. The memory is fuzzy now, but I know it had something to do with a dare that goes badly wrong. I never wrote it, of course, but I had the clear intention to, and knew that in doing so I would become 'a writer'. I did write a lot of very short, very gory skits around that time, but didn't start writing seriously (by which I mean, 'writing with intent to complete') until I was about eighteen and on my way to university.


    You write amazing dark fiction. What led you to writing in that genre?


    Thank you for saying so; that's very kind. For me, writing horror and dark fiction is a means to explore, and perhaps purge, my own fears. If there's something in this world that I'm not terrified of, then I'm very likely anxious about it, or at the very least somewhat perturbed. Through that lens of fear and anxiety, the world can seem a dark and brutal place, an unforgiving place filled with suffering and pain. To be human is to create an island of warmth, of kindness, of meaning, protection from the shadows and the cold. Writing the darkness is a way of bringing meaning to that otherwise seething chaos, bringing it under my control, if only for a moment.


    What has been your favorite story to write? Least favorite?


    That's easy. Whatever I'm writing at any point when you ask me this question is both my favourite and least favourite story. That story is like a sibling, the thing you're closest to in all the world; so close you're not sure whether you want to drag it close for a hug, or punch it in the face.


    I do have a soft spot for particular stories I've written, but I couldn't single any one of them out (as, like siblings, the others would all get jealous).

    What are common traps you see for aspiring writers?



    Distraction—the only thing that really matters is doing the work. Get those words on the page, keep going until you finish. Repeat.


    To garble something I once heard Garth Nix say that has stuck with me as a sort of mantra: “The solution to every problem you’ll ever face as a writer is to write another book.”


    If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?


    Start now. And keep at it. Don’t fritter away years agonising over whether or not this is the thing you want to commit to – just commit. The work is its own reward.


    As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?


    I’m not sure we get to choose – to me, a spirit animal is an embodiment of something inside us that is unseen and unknown. If I made the pilgrimage to that creepy sideshow where our daemons are revealed, I’d no doubt enter with a head full of panthers, snakes and owls, with creatures of wisdom and power. But then I’d be chosen by a creature a little more fittingly grotesque – an axolotl, floating in darkness and watery silence.


    What’s the most successful way you have found to market your books?


    I believe it’s important to celebrate the great work that’s being put out by those around you, by your peers as well as your heroes. Shut up about yourself when you can and shout out, instead, about what you love. People will know you by that, and know – when you do have something to promote – what you’re about.


    What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?


    Drafting.


    Getting that first actual draft of a story down is like performing brain surgery on yourself with nothing but a mirror and a pair of pliers. I love every other stage of the process – the excitement of a new idea, plotting, exploring, expanding the world, bringing the characters to life. Perversely, perhaps, I love the endless rounds of revisions that bring the finished story more sharply into focus.


    But drafting…? **shudders**


    How long on average does it take you to write a short story? What about a novelette?


    It really, really varies. Depending on how long it is and how well I know the story going in, the first draft might take a few weeks or even a few months. (For clarity: I write fairly slowly and am constantly distracted by work and parenthood. My hours of writing are all stolen from my hours of sleep.)


    However long it takes, when the draft is done, unless there is a pressing deadline, I almost never revise straight away. I’ll put it aside and work on something else. That way, when I go back to that first draft, I’m seeing it with fresh eyes. How long it takes after that depends less on the length than on how savage the revision needs to be. Some stories needs to be smashed into little pieces and painstakingly put together again. Others just need a spit and polish.


    You’ve written some amazing award-winning short fiction. Do you ever plan to write a novel?


    Thank you. That’s kind of you to say so. And funny you should ask… I’m on the home stretch of a book I’ve been writing on and off for the last five years. It’s a suburban suspense novel – imagine if Patricia Highsmith had written Lord of the Flies – about an Australian beach holiday and an eleven-year-old sociopath coming into her full power. I hope to have it wrapped by the end of the year (but I’ve said that before).


    What are you reading right now that you would recommend?


    I’ve got a few books on the go at the moment, all of which I’m enjoying. I’m going back and forth between Nathan Ballingrud’s collection, Wounds, and Brian Evenson’s Song for the Unravelling of the World – both extraordinary and brilliant for very different reasons. On audio, I’m listening to Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away, which is brutal, touching, hilarious, and wonderfully narrated by Mark Bramhall.


    Other books that have blown my mind recently include Aaron Dries’s genius splatterpunk mind-trip, A Place For Sinners, and Kaaron Warren’s exceptionally creepy, Into Bones Like Oil, which has perhaps one of the greatest titles in the history of the book.


    I could go on (and on, and on), but then you’d have to kill me.


    Tell us about the inspiration for The Attic Tragedy.


    The inspiration for this story came from a few different places, separate ideas or notes to self that sort of smashed together, grew legs and wandered off in the direction of some or other unhappy sunset.


    One was the title, a terrible pun I appropriated from Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy, which I was reading as research for a novella I was then writing (Ariadne, I Love You, coming out from Meerkat Press in 2021) – ‘Attic’ tragedy refers to tragedies from Attica. The setting was inspired by a friend of mine, whose parents were antique dealers. Their house was always full of weird old things, and their shop was a chaotic treasure trove of this and that; exactly how we imagine, as children at least, that all attics should be. The last piece was a dream I had, about a girl who goes to a ghost counsellor – a sort of exorcist hired to cut the connection to the ghosts she hears.


    Once I started writing the story, of course, it went off on its own direction, but those were the three sparks that ignited it.

    What’s coming next?



    Did I mention I have another novella coming out from Meerkat Press in 2021? And there’s a short or two coming out this year, including a novelette, The Black Massive, about teenage ravers who fall in with an eldritch crowd. That’s coming out in the October issue of Dimension6.
    And then, of course, there’s that book to finish…


    Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to share?


    Only that you can find me online at spooktapes.net, or reach out on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I’d love to hear from you.


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    THE ATTIC TRAGEDY by J. Ashley-Smith
    GENRE: Dark Fantasy / LGBT / Novelette

    BOOK PAGE:
    https://www.meerkatpress.com/books/the-attic-tragedy/

    SUMMARY:


    Sylvie never called them ghosts, but that’s what they were—not that George ever saw them herself. The new girl, Sylvie, is like a creature from another time, with her old-fashioned leather satchel, her white cotton gloves and her head in the clouds. George watches her drift around the edge of the school playing fields, guided by inaudible voices.

    When George stands up for Sylvie, beating back Tommy Payne and his gang of thugs, it brings her close to the ethereal stranger; though not as close as George would have liked. In the attic of Sylvie’s father’s antique shop, George’s scars will sing and her longing will drive them both toward a tragedy as veiled and inevitable as Sylvie’s whispering ghosts.








  2. #2
    Thank you for this insightful interview. I must admit that I am terrible, I am a poet, read poetry and about poetry and that's very much it. But he sounds like a great author.

  3. #3
    I love this interview! J Ashley-Smith, you have managed to put into words so much of how it feels to discover the magical world of reading and then to capture that mixed agony and ecstasy of writing. Fabulous!

    Thank you for the interview! And thank you, TK for bringing it to us here on WF!
    There is no life I know
    To compare with pure imagination.
    Living there you’ll be free
    If you truly wish to be.~ Willy Wonka

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