Getting into writing – an interview with British Fantasy Award Winner, Allen Ashley

cover_planetsuite

I am Allen Ashley. I have been a professionally published author since 1982. I am the author or editor of fourteen published books. I am a British Fantasy Award winner. I live in north London, UK and mostly work as a creative writing tutor with six groups currently on the go. I am also a professional critical reader for manuscripts. Plus, as I have been for many years, I am an author, poet, editor, singer and event host.

What got you interested in writing?

I have always written. As a boy I used to draw football comic strips or make up songs or write adventure stories that came in at 150 to 200 words. Not particularly adventurous but it was a start…

I made my first submission – a prose poem, really awful – aged 14. That was the template set, I suppose.

Tell us a little about your chosen genre.

I think science fiction chose me! Growing up with the Apollo programme, films like “2001 A Space Odyssey”, TV shows such as “Dr Who”, “Star Trek” and even the Gerry Anderson stuff – “Thunderbirds”, “Fireball XL5” and my personal favourite “Stingray” – I was hooked on the genre. I read some H. G. Wells then moved on to Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, Brian Aldiss, J. G. Ballard, etc. Even though I’ve read widely in other areas such as poetry and many English, European and American Literature classics, I always return to SF. Particularly what became known as “New Wave SF” and its descendant, “Slipstream”.  In later years, I’ve realised that I always particularly enjoyed short stories and anthologies, such as those edited by Judith Merrill, more so than novels. Most novels are overblown these days and don’t mention trilogies! I like the one core idea – extrapolated, dramatised, done.

What are your happiest memories in your writing career?

Winning the British Fantasy Award in 2006 for “Best Anthology” as editor of “The Elastic Book Of Numbers” (Elastic Press, UK, 2005) is probably the out-and-out highlight. It has pushed me onwards ever since. I’d also mention my first story acceptance – getting “Dead To The World” in “Fantasy Tales” way back in 1982 was pretty special. Plus I was lucky enough to perform 3 times with Hawkwind back in the late 80s/ early 90s, including at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo. It was still the “Odeon” in those days. Absolutely massive stage.

Then again, hopefully the best is yet to come!

How do you handle success and failure?

Kipling advises that they are both impostors. If you stay in this game long enough, you’ll experience both at different times – sometimes on the very same day. It’s only the percentage that might change. For failure: go and have a good swear in an empty room. For success: enjoy it but be humble, too. Tomorrow all our work is fish and chip wrappers. Or whatever the virtual equivalent is.

What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?

Deadlines. Closing dates, deadlines and agreed commitments are a writer’s best friend. It’s no good sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike because the wind has now changed direction and inspiration will blow into somebody else’s brain instead. Make yourself work. Try not to indulge your many excuses. Skip meals, TV shows, sleep…!

What is your advice to young and new writers?

Apart from the above: find your own voice. If you are writing like someone else – usually someone famous – try to grow out of it or force your way out of it. Join a writers’ group. Accept that most ideas have already been done so it’s about how you put your spin on them. And don’t give up – you will find your market or outlets. Persevere. Somebody once said that ninety percent of celebrity is turning up; ninety percent of any writing success is perseverance.

Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)

As a leisure reader, I prefer physical books. When I edited “Where Are We Going?” (Eibonvale Press, UK, 2012) – an anthology with the theme of Journeys (mostly in a fantasy / science fiction / slipstream sense) – we were able to make the hardback a thing of beauty, complete with some airmail style postcard inserts that I designed and which my wonderfully artistic publisher David Rix executed. In the real world, this made for a lovely artefact that would look shit on Kindle.

As an editor, I am usually working with digital.

Do you blog?

I have a website – www.allenashley.com – but I don’t post that frequently because I’m usually busy actually writing or tutoring or critiquing. I don’t follow anybody else’s blog religiously so I have no illusions that anyone would follow mine. With other people’s posts, I read particular posts when I’m alerted to them or if the subject interests me but I don’t read everything John and Jane Author post as a matter of course.

I suppose that a lot of the writing advice that I offer is given face to face or in written critiques.

Do you self-publish?

No, I am fortunate enough to have had the support of traditional publishers over the years. I did collect my previously published social and cultural commentary essays together into one volume “The Days of the Dodo” and self-published those back in 2006. No ISBN, no bar code, no price. If you wanted it – and plenty of people did – you could have it for free. Maybe I was on to something because the book was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award the following year.

If you have a publication or promotion – tell us.

My most recent book is a revised, updated version of my novel “The Planet Suite” (Eibonvale Press, UK, 2016). https://www.eibonvalepress.co.uk/books/books_planetsuite.htm

I am the sole judge for the annual British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition – it opens again on 1 April 2018. I am currently editing an anthology of stories by new and emerging writers on behalf of the British Fantasy Society. Plus I am heavily involved with the Christopher Fielden writing challenges – a lot of fun, these. The challenge I set was the “Sensory Challenge” – essentially write a flash fiction full of purple prose – and “Sensorially Challenged Volume One” will be out in December. Have a look at: http://www.christopherfielden.com/writing-challenges/sensory-writing-challenge.php

Beyond that, I work as a critical reader and offer this service for a reasonable fee. I also currently run six creative writing groups including Clockhouse London Writers advanced science fiction and fantasy group and also a “Distance” (i.e. email) group. People are welcome to get in touch with me for further details on critiquing, writing groups, editing and anything writing related. Get in touch with me on: allenashley-writer (at) hotmail.co.uk

Thanks for your time.

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