How Ashley Little quiets her inner self-doubting voice
Ashley Little often writes about characters living on the edge. Her work examines the psyches and inner turmoil of people often gone unrepresented in literature and in society at large. Her 2014 novel Anatomy of A Girl Gang won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Little's latest is Niagara Motel, which is on the longlist for the International DUBLIN Literary Award.
Below, Little takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow writers.
1. Greg Hollingshead asks, "What role does self-doubt play in your life as a writer?"
It's a huge part. So much so that I had to tack a little picture above my desk. It's a drawing of a swallow flying with a banner and the banner says, "Have no doubt." I find it to be helpful. Mostly when the self-doubt creeps in, I have to say — out loud or in my head — shut up, shut up, shut up. Then I keep writing.
2. Rachel Cusk asks, "Have you ever tried to express yourself in another art form?"
I sometimes draw for fun but they are not the kind of drawings I would go around showing people. I like to dance, but not as performance, just for fun. I'm currently learning to play the guitar.
3. Joy Fielding asks, "How do you go about creating believable characters?"
For my first three books, I did the whole character study thing with each major character; took my characters through Proust's Questionnaire, got their eye colour, weight, hair colour, bad habits, etc., and figured out their astrological signs and took a lot of their personality traits from their astrological sign. Then I would write a three or four page summary of the novel from that character's POV. But for my last two novels, I could hear the voice of the narrator so clearly in my mind that I didn't need to do that preliminary work. They told me the story and I wrote it down. I think some characters you have to work at getting to know and discover and some seem to come out fully formed.
4. Karen Solie asks, "Do you remember who you were reading when you first realized, not that you wanted to be a writer, but that you were intrigued by writing and what it can do?"
I remember my grandma reading me Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. That was my first time crying from a book. I didn't realize books could be so powerful until then. I was probably seven or eight.
5. Lawrence Hill asks, "What is the worst job you ever had, and what kind of good material did it give you?"
I worked in a pie shop in Victoria and had to make all the pies and tarts and sandwiches and cookies and soups and everything. It was run by a mean little old man and all of his friends would come in who were all very old. I would wait on them hand and foot and make the food and do all the dishes and never get tipped. Never. I once got locked in the walk-in freezer and I thought I was going to die in there. I made that into a scene in my novel The New Normal.
6. Steven Heighton asks, "If you're a fiction writer, have you ever created a character with whom you'd never want — or dare — to be alone with?"
Hank the Tank, who is in both Prick and Anatomy of a Girl Gang, is a pretty scary dude. I probably wouldn't want to be alone with him.
7. Heather O'Neill asks, "If there were to be a biopic made about your life, which actor would you want to play you? Which director would you choose to direct?"
Molly Parker and David Lynch. Or Miranda July to direct and star. She's way cooler than I'll ever be though.
8. Richard Van Camp asks, "What's the story you'll never write about that haunts you? It could be delicious. Yes, that's the one we want to know. What is your delicious that you'll never write about? What. is. it?"
I'm not sure if haunting and delicious go together. I gave birth at home in August 2016 and it was really amazing. No pain, no tearing, no screaming for drugs, none of that nasty stuff you often hear about with labour and delivery. It was a really enjoyable experience. It was the best high of my life. I did a program called Hypnobirthing and it involved deep breathing and positive affirmations every day. It definitely worked for me. That is something I'll probably never write about but I like to tell people about it because it was great and we don't often hear good stories about giving birth, we hear horror stories.