Q&A Monday: Kalinda Ashton 0 Comments

Q&A Monday: Kalinda Ashton

Kalinda Ashton. Female. Lives in Melbourne. Debut novel The Danger Game completed as part of a doctorate in Creative Media by research, and published in 2009 by Sleepers Publishing. Has had short stories in a bucketful of publications, including Meanjin, Overland, The Sleepers Alamanacs, Kill Your Darlings and Hecate. Her short plays have also been produced. Teaches writing and editing at university level. Associate editor at Overland. And more.

Writing: necessity or luxury?

It is certainly not a necessity – although reading has saved my life many times over and might be considered a ‘must have’. I would (naffly) fail to describe writing as a luxury either; it might be a haunting (unsure if I am deadly serious here or noxiously whimsical!)

The Danger Game’s characters are convincing in their ordinariness, in that I felt as if I had met them and not just read them. Was this a focus of the book?

A number of people have commented that Louise, in particular, reminds them of someone they know (or used to know). Quite often they loathed their own real life Louises and felt harassed or annoyed by her, so some found Louise unbearable on the page (and she was actually much worse in an earlier draft). I am interested in that old chestnut, ‘every-day life’, whatever it might be when it is at home. To some extent, I am fatigued by the proliferation of novels about brain surgeons,  philosophers, opera singers and psychoanalysts (although the matter has provoked a binge of mine into the analyst narrators triggered initially by Suri Hustvedt’s The Sorrows of an American). I suppose I was interested in writing about the perils and fragility of ordinary characters’ experience of work and other institutions (welfare structures, school…) That said, I am not sure what ‘ordinary people’ actually are. We’re all peculiarly ourselves for better or worse – just listen to people talking on the tram and you’ll find the magic and the tragedy in the banal.

How did you start to write a novel? Was it a deliberate undertaking, or did it creep up on you unexpectedly?

I wrote a novel for possibly the worst reason of all time: I thought I ‘should’. I was writing stories and plays and began to acknowledge if I wanted to be an (ahem) ‘real’ writer that I should probably have a go at writing a book. The beginning was extremely difficult as I don’t plan or plot or even know what my abiding conflict or structure might be. It is a process of painful discovery and trial and error. I did not even know I had a dead child in the centre of the book until I had to explain some scars on Louise’s arms, a detail which I had thrown into my description without any clarity or intention. This makes for some agonising moments. I don’t have “ideas” for novels; I have a relationship, or a moment, or a place and hope that I can struggle my way through to a meaningful narrative. I still find short stories more satisfying and more natural. Writing a novel is not necessarily an enjoyable experience for me and I have been shocked that some people actually enjoyed TDG.

The biggest thing you learned from publishing The Danger Game?

That having a real and engaged editorial process can save a book every time…That much of publishing is a lottery and you only need one editor to really love your work and that will make a difference…that I should probably be less open in interviews…that there is an audience for a fiction work about class…That people expect you to know something or be more expert after you publish a novel, whereas in reality I frequently feel that I know less and less.

As fiction editor of Overland, have you become more or less enamoured with short fiction?

I have been at Overland for just over three years. I used to be the associate editor and work with articles and commissions, now I’m ensconsed in the fiction sphere. I am still in love with short fiction but I’m more aware that as a reader, your mood, the stories you’ve just read, your feelings about writing can all make an impression on the selection process, so I need to read and re-read work that comes in. I still feel that I get a chord touched in me when I read a wonderful story: there is a reverberation, a note of completeness and of challenge. I also feel that authors who are trying to do something different often write they read a lot more speculative fiction, for instance, or ‘postmodern’ writing (I hate that term) than I used to. I also read a lot more misery memoirs, Who magazine and celebrity biographies. I really do read incredibly eclectically and I think writers ought to. (Maybe sans Who
magazine.)

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you rifle?

Flannery O’Connor, Marx, Bush and Cheney (just to get the evidence), Tariq Ali, Janette Turner-Hospital, Peter Hoeg, Trotsky, Margaret Atwood, Germaine Greer, Emma Goldman, Malcolm X, Gerard Winstanley (leader of the Digger movement in Britain), Morrissey, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Marqui de Sade (that one’s courtesy of Jeff who is perplexed, in the Overland offices to know why anyone would want to do anything like read another’s journals), Foucault… Oh God, now I think about it, just about anybody’s! I am really nosy.

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

Friend to the friendless? I love it the interwebs but if I don’t have internet where I write I get a hell of a lot more done… There has been an incredibly democracy to the internet and regarding the rise of  social media in countries where the public media is severely limited and propagandistic (e.g. the Irani women’s blogs…or blogs from occupied Iraq, or as alternative to CNN during the invasion of Iraq) but the internet also pretty much runs on advertising and pornography. I could probably do without taking tests like ‘what personality disorder do you have?’ and ‘which suburb are you?’ I like wiki-leaks, but.

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

Only one? Let’s say I take a big swing and get Andrew Bolt, John Howard, George Bush Jnr and Steve Fielding in a fell swoop? Does that count? I would kiss others, as pennance.

You’re an exile, banished to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. You are allowed one book and one album of music (in a solar powered iPod) to last the rest of your days. Any preferences?

Let’s go with an Interpol, Joy Division, the Smiths, Flaming Lips, Leonard Cohen, Magnetic Fields and Daniel Johnston compilation (so if I wanted to end it all…I’d have some miserable company). I am in exile on an island and I have *one* book? If I wanted to go mad, it would be Cat’s Eye, or the Bell Jar, as I’ve already read them ten-plus times and could probably recite them. Realistically, and sadly, it would more likely be that last student assignment I haven’t marked or that manuscript a friend wants me to read that’s been sitting on my desk for the last few weeks/months. So sad! Maybe I could finally catch up and finally read the Bible, also buying myself a ‘get out of island lord of the flies like angst free’ card!

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

Well, I have been vegetarian for approximately twenty years now and was vegan for a few. So, no, I haven’t. If a little daddy long legs spider has crawled into the bath, I will painstakingly ensure he gets onto a scrap of cardboard and then I take him outside so he doesn’t get wet and drown, even if it takes fifteen minutes. Could I? I have the rage. Do Sarah Palin or Steve Fielding count as toads?

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