– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘The Attic Tragedy’ blogtour, organised by Meerkat Press.
To promote this book I have a Q&As post, but b
About the Author :
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, 2018).
J. lives with his wife and two sons in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires.
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.
First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’m a British–Australian author who finds solace from the seething terror of existence in writing and reading dark fiction.
Even back when I was a child of ten or eleven, I wrote stories, gory little skits about terrible things. I studied film and creative writing at university and got distracted for years by the lure of the ‘real’, starting but never finishing several of those tedious, transparently autobiographical novels that everyone (rightly) mocks middle-class white male MFA students for penning. Then I moved to Australia and didn’t write a word of fiction for ten years.
It was the birth of my second son that prompted me to start writing again. Not the pretentious Booker-Prize-aspiring waffle of my twenties, but my first love, those stories of my childhood, weird dark stories about terrible things. The first story I wrote was published in an Australian horror anthology and it’s been all downhill from there.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
I was sick a lot as a child and spent many school days reading in my half-dark bedroom. My favourite books when I was young were by Roald Dahl. He is one of those authors who speaks directly to the soul of a child, simply by portraying the absolute horror and unfairness of the world. His stories are unflinchingly brutal, unashamedly terrifying, and refreshingly, searingly honest. The stories that stuck with me the most from childhood are The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, and the unspeakably wicked The Enormous Crocodile.
I’ve been revisiting all of his books now I have children of my own. It’s strange to read them from the perspective of a parent, but wonderful to go back into those worlds with first one then the other of my two boys (now ten and six). Every story of Dahl’s is like a gateway drug to darker, more monstrous works. They’ve already graduated onto Goosebumps, and from there on in the slope becomes even more slippery and treacherous. (If you listen carefully you can hear me gleefully rubbing my hands together.)
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Ira Levin, author of Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and A Kiss Before Dying. Levin’s books are some of my all-time favourites, and I’ve already devoted too much time pulling them apart, trying to figure out the mechanics of them, how he achieves those incredible effects. The trouble is, every time I start trying to analyse his books as a writer, he sucks me in and before I know it I’ve raced to the end, dragged along that wind-tunnel of suspense by his spare prose and immaculate dialogue.
Now, if only I had direct access to his brain – a jar, and a scalpel…
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
I’d invite Merricat Blackwood, from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle. I’d have to make the tea, of course – you never know what she might put in it. But after a cup or two, and perhaps some biscuits baked by Constance, we’d run out into the grounds and bury this and that. Old coins. A marble. Perhaps one of the nosier villagers.
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
While I would love to have a regular writing practice, always turning up at the same time and place every day, lighting a scented candle and offering a sacrifice to the various dark gods, my life as a working parent tends to get in the way.
Sometimes I’m up before the crack of dawn, trying to cram down as many words as I can before I hear the patter of little feet. Other times I’m up into the wee small hours, trying to fill as many pages as I can before my vision goes blurry. I do have a desk, but mostly end up writing with my feet up on the couch and a dog on my legs.
If there’s one thing I’ll do without fail before starting to put words on the page, it’s boil the kettle and make a cup of tea.
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
My friends and family would only have to worry if I ever stopped writing down my ideas. If that stuff was left unchecked to just rattle around inside my head…? Now then they’d have a cause for concern.
As to where the ideas come from, the demon king of the nether realms whispers to me while I sleep.
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
It varies, depending on the story. Sometimes I know exactly where I’m going and all the steps to get there are mapped out in detail. Other times it’s more vague: I’m exploring an image or a feeling, or getting settled in with a character, just setting things in motion and seeing where they lead. For the most part, though, I pants my way in and plot my way out.
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
The most important thing is the writing itself. Learn to love the act of writing, relax into the uncomfortable joys of each stage of the process. Commit 100% of your energy to the story you’re working on right now and it will reveal its secret self to you. Don’t get distracted by worries about whether or not you’ll ever be published. Forget about growing your author platform. Just do the work. The writing is its own reward.
What are your future plans as an author?
I’m on the home stretch of a suburban suspense novel I’ve been writing on and off for the last few years – imagine if Patricia Highsmith had written Lord of the Flies. It’s set on an Australian beach holiday and is about an eleven-year-old sociopath coming into her full power.
As well as The Attic Tragedy, I’ve got a couple of shorts coming out this year, including another novelette, The Black Massive, about teenage ravers who fall in with an eldritch crowd. That will appear in the October issue of Dimension6. And, next year, I have another novella, Ariadne, I Love You, coming out from Meerkat Press.
Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
Sylvie never called them ghosts, but that’s what they were.
The day we became friends, she walked me through the darkened rooms of her father’s antique shop, trailing her fingers over the objects. All of them were lovingly cleaned, none with even a trace of dust. There were old books and reliquaries, trinket jars and model ships, barometers, credenzas, compendiums and lamps. There were music boxes and what I now know was a Minton hand-painted jardinière. Sylvie brushed them with her long pale fingers, her eyes aflutter, her voice so soft it was almost lost to the tinkle of the overhead chandeliers, the tick tick tick of the many hidden clocks.
“The woman who wore this lost her husband to madness.” Sylvie fingered an ornate ring, curlicued silver bordered with diamonds. “He disappeared when she fell pregnant and everyone thought him dead. He’d been gone three years when she read about him in the paper. He was living rough in Centennial Park, running naked and wild, biting the heads off geese.” She slipped the ring back into its padded velvet tray. “Her mother always said he’d come to no good.”
“Or this,” she said, and her fingers moved to the stem of a burnished brass telescope. “A lover’s memento. The woman who owned this took a keepsake from every man she fell for. Not one of them ever knew of her love. And none loved her in return. She died of loneliness and an overdose of laudanum, lifted from the Gladstone of a doctor she’d set her heart on.”
Sylvie swam between display cases with fluid movements, her touch as delicate as a butterfly. I hardly dared move, afraid my bulk would knock over some priceless curio, topple some fragile ancient thing.
“How do you know?” I asked and followed, squeezing between a bookcase and a mahogany sideboard. A blue glass vase wobbled on its shelf and I reached out to steady it. “D’you find all that on the Internet or something?”
“No, silly,” said Sylvie, eyes laughing. “They tell me.”
I thought she was teasing, so turned away, pretended I was examining the collectables. Beside us was a heavy leather-top desk, the surface inlaid with gold leaf that glittered faintly in the half-light. There was an old-fashioned cash register and a marble bust and, beside them, a black-and-white photo in a silver art deco frame. It was a portrait of a dark-haired woman with round faraway eyes and a haunting smile; just as Sylvie would look in ten years, twenty years—beautiful and tired and sad. But there was a spark in her eyes, as though she were smiling through the sadness, like a single beam of sunlight glimpsed through brooding clouds.
“And this one?” I said and reached to pick it up, but felt through my sweater a delicate touch. Sylvie’s hand on my arm.
I felt hot all over and prayed I wasn’t blushing. Every one of my scars was tingling. “What do you mean they tell you? Like you can . . . hear them?”
Sylvie looked up at me and frowned, her eyebrows furrowed and serious.
“Of course,” she said. “You mean you can’t?”
Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, J. Ashley-Smith.
$50 Book Shopping Spree!
The Magic of Wor(l)ds
P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!