Tag Archives: Scott Prize winner

Andrea Ashworth’s Somewhere Else, or Even Here

 
 
 
Somewhere Else, or Even Here
A. J. Ashworth

ISBN 9781844718801
Salt Publishing
(November 2011)
 
 
We love stories. We crave them. Whether it’s watching films, reading books, going to the theatre or listening to gossip – we need them. And we need to be surrounded by them. Writers, being curiously obsessive creatures, are hooked on them. So hooked that they want to make their own stories – for as much of the time as possible – and for the stories they make to have meaning, for themselves and others.

I wanted to make stories from quite a young age. My first such memory was of sitting in my bedroom at about the age of six or so and making a book of poems. I still have it. It’s a little dog-eared now but it’s surviving. It has a cut-out of a rose stuck on the front and is rather inventively called ‘My book of poems’. Inside are a scattering of poems, in various colours of felt tip, about the seaside or flowers in a window box. And there’s an interesting type of binding which has somehow lasted more than thirty years – staples (now rusted).
 
I didn’t have to design or bind my short story collection Somewhere Else, or Even Here – thankfully my publishers Salt did that. I just had to worry about what was inside – the stories themselves.
 
Writing them was an intriguing, and, at times, difficult process. When I started out on the collection, about four years ago, I had no overall plan for it, no unifying subject or theme. I just wrote one story at a time and kept going. Each story was unplanned too. For me, there’s nothing better than feeling as if I’m in new, unknown territory when I’m writing – it’s like being an explorer. Only, you’re not discovering new continents or planets, you’re discovering something else – something new that you yourself are writing into existence.
 
The stories are all quite different – from child narrators to the elderly; failing relationships to failing health. And there are certain themes which have emerged in the collection too, such as astronomy, loss and hope. There’s a darkness to many of the stories, but, as with yin and yang, where there’s darkness there’s light. It’s strange how, as the writer, you don’t always see everything that the stories you’ve created contain. It’s like being blind to yourself. Which, I suppose, to a greater or lesser degree, we all are.
  
So what about the inspiration behind the stories? Well, sometimes there didn’t seem to be any obvious trigger at all. Stories such as ‘Sometimes Gulls Kill Other Gulls’ or ‘Overnight Miracles’ began after the first sentences dropped into my head, seemingly from nowhere. ‘Gulls’, about a girl on a beach who is lured away to a cave by a boy, just started with the words “A stick scraping over sand”, and from this I got the idea of a girl writing her name in the sand and a boy coming up to talk to her. It was only when I sat down to write it that the story began to open out in front of me, like a path revealing itself, one piece at a time.
 
‘Overnight Miracles’ was the same. This tells the story of a bereaved woman who starts performing magic rituals in a desperate bid to try to bring her dead husband back to life. With this one I just had the sentence “We are in the blackest part of night now”, and from this I somehow knew that this woman was in bed and aware of something lying next to her in the dark – a presence that she could only feel but not see.
 
‘Bone Fire’ had a more obvious genesis: this story of a troubled boy who drags a bonfire into the basement of his school was inspired by a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. On the day I went there was an exhibition of photographs showing groups of children standing in front of some rickety bonfires they’d made. I jotted down my impressions of the exhibition in a notebook and when I later sat down to write, I wondered about what might happen if one of the boys decided to carry out an act of destruction using such a bonfire. The story was the result of those ponderings.
 
One aspect of writing the collection which really fascinated me was the effects gained from using different points of view. ‘Zero Gravity’ features a gang of girls, so it seemed logical to use first person plural (we) for most of the story, but to shift this to first person when one of the girls breaks free and begins to narrate the story herself. I enjoyed the feeling of writing in second person (you) as this gives a sense of dislocation, of separation, of being outside of things – something which can help to create an almost otherworldly atmosphere, giving stories a different kind of charge.
 
I loved going through the process of putting a collection together, especially when I didn’t even have the bones of a plan to hang the stories onto. It was a great surprise when my manuscript was chosen as one of three winners of Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize last year – something which I didn’t expect to happen but which I’m so glad has. I am going to continue to write more stories in the months and years ahead. New stories, slightly off-kilter stories, the kinds of stories that will hopefully give me that thrill of discovery again. It’s that feeling of being somewhere else that I want – that sense of being in another place. The thought that, while the landscape may seem somewhat familiar, it’s really no place that I’ve ever visited before.
 
 
 
Order Somewhere Else, or Even Here here, here or here.
 
Visit Andrea’s blog.
 
 
 
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A. J. Ashworth was born and brought up in Lancashire and has an MA in Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. Her short story collection Somewhere Else, or Even Here won Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize and was published by them in November 2011. Her stories have been published widely, in the likes of The Warwick Review, Horizon Review, Tears in the Fence and Under the Radar. They have also been listed in competitions such as The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition, the Fish Short Story Prize and the Short Fiction Competition.
 
 
 

Cassandra Parkin on New World Fairy Tales

 
 
 
New World Fairy Tales
Cassandra Parkin
ISBN 9781844718818
Salt Publishing
(December 2011)

  
  
Like most writers, my childhood was soaked in fairy tales. Even before I could read properly I spent hours poring over the illustrations of my Ladybird editions of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin and reciting the text from memory. Slightly older, I was fixated on my mother’s hardback edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham and very little expurgated.
  
I think it’s impossible to overestimate the debt we owe to these stories, or the number of times and ways we retell them. They’re some of the very first narratives we learn; they tell us the things we human beings need to know to understand each other, in ways that have meaning whether you’re four or ninety. They deal with the very bones of life – birth and death, love and jealousy, sex and violence … They’re dark and bloody and sexy and visceral, and in interviewing their tellers and recording their voices, the Grimm brothers undertook one of the greatest acts of cultural preservation of the last five centuries.
 
But there’s no getting away from it – almost everything about them is weird. They’re heavy on action, but oddly light on explanation. A whole bunch of stuff happens; why it happens is up to you. Why does Chicken Licken believe Foxy Loxy when he tells her the King lives in a hole in the ground? Why does the Princess love her golden ball so much that she’ll kiss a frog to get it back, and what on earth did he do to end up a frog in the first place? Why, exactly, are seven adult men, all with dwarfism, living together in an isolated cottage with no female company? How could a teenage girl mistake a large carnivorous predator for her grandmother? Why are all the princesses beautiful and all the witches ugly? Why does Death want a Godson? How can pigs build houses, and why do they share a common language with wolves? Why does Cinderella hide away from the Prince? What the hell is going on?
 
The easy answer is “Well, they’re all metaphors, aren’t they?”, and of course, in many ways, they all are. But I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to re-tell some of the original narratives as modern, believable, adult stories – tales where real people with real lives really do fall in love with a masked stranger, or climb the beanstalk and rob the giant, or discover a beautiful prisoner trapped in a tower by a witch. I wanted to find the real-life equivalents of Godfather Death and the Wicked Stepsisters and the many, many Big Bad Wolves, and tell their stories for modern audiences. The result was New World Fairy Tales.
 
The most exciting part of writing the collection was exploring how much – or, more accurately, how little – I had to change to make the tales work in a contemporary setting. While some elements (Jack’s beanstalk) found their place as symbols, others (seven workmates with dwarfism) work surprisingly well with no amendments at all. Names, puns and modern colloquialisms felt as though they’d been expressly designed for some of the animal stories. Even elements which seem, at first glance, to belong entirely to the world of Faerie – such as the power of knowing someone’s true name – turn out to be surprisingly true. I found out one afternoon that there really is a fabric so light and delicate that a small garment made from it could feasibly be compressed into a walnut shell. It’s made from the filament tufts used by molluscs to attach themselves to rocks, and it’s fabulously expensive.
 
The decision to place New World Fairy Tales in America came very early on. If you’re British, America is as close to the original landscape of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as you’ll ever get. I don’t mean this in a flowery oh-my-gosh-your-country-is-so-amazing way (although it is). I just mean that if you stand in Britain, look out across the ocean, and then compare the two landscapes – America and Fairyland – they come out very similar. America contains all possible spaces and places; mountains and deserts and plains and oceans, great cities and curtain-twitching suburbs and tiny, isolated rural hamlets. It’s composed of many kingdoms, loosely federated, each with their own distinctive culture and autonomous power. Getting there requires a long and arduous journey, and when you arrive at the border, it’s weirdly difficult to get in. Its population is at once more devout and more violent than we are; when we visit, we tread softly and are cautious with what we say, and to whom we say it. Even if we’ve never been before, it looks strangely familiar – after all, we’ve been there so often in our dreams. Its citizens speak our language, but also … don’t.
 
Oh, the language, my goodness, the language. When I look back on the start of the New World Fairy Tales project, my main emotion is utter bafflement at myself – “Hey, I know! I’ll write an entire short-story collection in a language I don’t actually speak, set in a country I’ve never lived in!” What was I thinking? How much more arrogant could a writer possibly be? But there was never any question for me that these fairy tales belonged in the New World. Learning to reproduce what I hope are convincing American voices was a humbling and wonderful journey. I spent hours emailing and chatting to my unbelievably kind and patient Stateside friends, trying to learn the rhythms and cadences of American speech. I read, and listened, and talked, and questioned, and then read and talked and listened and questioned some more (seriously guys, thank you for everything you did and for all the stupid questions you answered). Even at the final proof stage I was still frantically combing through my manuscript for rogue instances of Brit-speak. I’m sure there are still places where, despite my best efforts, my roots are showing.
 
Choosing which stories to include in my submission to Salt Publishing’s Scott Prize was a bit of a balancing act. I wanted to reflect the wild diversity of the Grimm brothers’ original collection – to include not just the romances, but also the horrors and the comedies and the mysteries, and the tales that are frankly too strange to be categorised. And all in only forty-five thousand words! Since Salt’s list includes some of the most scarily talented short-story writers of our time, I almost didn’t submit at all … Eight months after the announcement of the 2011 prize-winners, I still can’t quite believe I’m one of them.
 
 
 
Order New World Fairy Tales here or here.
 
Visit Cassandra’s blog.
 
 
 
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Cassandra Parkin has a Master’s degree in English Literature from York University, and has been writing fiction all her life – mostly as Christmas and birthday presents for friends and family. She is married with two children, has so far resisted her clear destiny to become a mad old cat lady, and lives in a small but perfectly-formed village in East Yorkshire. New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing, 2011) is her first published book.