Q&A | AJ Ashworth, winner of the Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition

Interview by Roelof Bakker 

AJ Ashworth Negative Press LondonToday is the end of this year’s National Short Story Week, a perfect occasion to post an interview with AJ Ashworth – winner of the Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition and writer of the award-winning short story collection, Somewhere Else, or Even Here (Salt, 2011).

I found your story ‘Piano’ – winner of the Negative Press London/Foyles short story competition – incredibly evocative even though it has less than 500 words. Did you enjoy writing to a word limit?
It was a bit of a challenge as I’ve never written such a short story before. My stories are usually around the 3,000 word mark so having to stick to 500 words was interesting! I usually stop when the story reaches a natural conclusion and when I’ve said what I wanted to say – the same applied with this one.

Where did your inspiration for ‘Piano’ come from?
Most definitely from your photograph – there was no story until I looked at that piano on the stage. I just got the first line in my head and had this idea of someone standing in the wings waiting to go on stage. And instantly I knew it was a woman looking back over her life as she neared the end of it, remembering a childhood event which had happened on that stage – an event which had caused ripples throughout her life.

Did you play the piano as a child? If so, was it a happy, sad or frustrating experience?
I did – for about a year – but there were reasons why I couldn’t continue. I have felt sad about it since, because it’s something I’d really love to be able to do. I just don’t feel as if I have the time to do it now though… maybe one day.

Does music play an important part in your life?
I like music but it doesn’t have as big a role in my life as it used to. And I can’t write or work and have music on in the background – I prefer silence.

When did you start writing?
I’ve written since childhood but have had long periods of time throughout my life where I haven’t written anything at all. I got more serious about writing seven years ago and took some courses, which really helped. It’s a big part of who I am and if I don’t have some kind of writing on the go then I don’t feel right.

Somewhere Else, Or Even Here AJ AshworthWhy short stories?
Because I love them. They’re so concise and precise and are therefore quite a challenge. I like that they only contain the essential, the necessary (or they should do) and that everything – every word, every incident – has to count and contribute to the whole. They’re such a rewarding read too – you get so much for so few words.

What or who inspired you to write?
I’ve always wanted to write but I don’t know where that comes from. There are people who’ve fuelled that fire – people such as Raymond Carver and Woody Allen – but I’ve no idea what the inspiration was, except a love of language and wanting to use that to communicate some feeling or mood.

How do you find combining writing with working full-time (in publishing)? Do you set time aside to write?
It can be difficult, especially if you’re busy in the day job – the last thing you want to do is to start again when you get home. I don’t write every day. I don’t worry about it though. I just trust that I will write when the time is right for me.

What are you working on at the moment?
More short stories and a novel, which I’ve just started.

Any advice to budding writers?
Write for the right reasons (because you love it) and don’t let rejection stop you.

The short story ‘Piano’ is exhibited both in the Gallery and Café at independent bookstore Foyles, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EB (until end of November 2012).