This installment of my interview series is with Ashley Prince – a member of the Pontiac & Ottawa Valley Writers’ Circle (POVWC) who is hard at work preparing her first book of poetry. Ashley brings an incredible understanding of the inner workings of people. With this knowledge, she has an attention to detail on character behaviours and motives that proves very helpful during critique nights. Please enjoy this interview with Ashley.
1. What was the first thing you ever wrote?
The first thing I remember writing was a book for my neighbour who loved cats. I was probably about 6 at the time and I wrote and illustrated this story about her. I really don’t remember the plot, but I do remember spending hours in a closet up in the loft of my childhood home working on it. I made a “hard-cover” for it out of a cereal box, and bound it with masking tape which we always had an abundance of because my dad used it for doing painting and auto-body work on cars. I gifted this single book to my neighbour, Jackie, and she sadly moved away shortly after. She was the most lovely woman and greatly deserved my first book.
2. Do you remember how you felt after you wrote your first story/poem? And how was it?
With my cat book, I remember feeling proud. I definitely showed it to my teacher at the time and of course to my family. As for my first poem, the first one I remember writing, which felt like a finished poem, was a sonnet I had written for my grade 10 English class about The Lord of the Flies. I had a very proud teacher, who was simultaneously supportive of my writing, and I remember him reacting in a positive and impressed manner stating that he had never even written a sonnet before. That was probably the first time I felt like I could be a writer, as opposed to an angsty teen who wrote her sad musings on the state of the world.
3. What book(s) are you reading right now?
I am currently reading Under the Tump: Sketches of Real Life on the Welsh Borders by Oliver Balch. I am heading to Wales in March, in particular to a small town called Hay-On-Wye. It is known as “the town of books” and boasts over 20 bookstores with a population of only about 1,500. We are packing an empty suitcase for our inevitable book purchases. Typically, I read quite a variety of genres, from literary fiction, to sci-fi, to young adult, to poetry, to children’s books. There is something to appreciate in all genres.
4. What was the most recent “great” book that you read?
I have read a lot of “good” books lately, but in terms of “great” they have been slim this year. I would say though, that the two greatest books I have read this past year were Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd. Both books deal with mental health but in very different ways. I loved Perks of Being a Wallflower because it left me shocked and surprised during the Epilogue. I have never read a book before where my whole understanding of the characters and the plot shifted at the very end of the book. It was wonderfully unexpected. The movie version of this book was also incredibly accurate – probably the best adaptation of a book I have ever seen. As for A Monster Calls, it was so beautifully crafted and dealt with some serious issues in such a poetic and somewhat non-threatening way making it palatable for young readers but also deep and incredibly layered for the adult reader to dive into.
5. What do you love in a book?
I love a book that leaves me with lots of questions at the end, or where I am left wondering what is happening with the characters long after the book is done. I call this a “book hangover”, where I just can’t shake the feeling of it afterwards, and I will often need a palate cleanser before diving into a new book. I think this feeling is usually achieved through the slow development of character throughout a book, and the layered relationships that also emerge. A book that comes to mind that does this well is The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald. I had the biggest book hangover with that one!
6. What do you dislike in a book?
Cliched characters. People in real life are complex so when a writer is lazy and uses archetypal characters, I get super annoyed and bored with the story instantly. The plot could be revolutionary but if the characters suck, I am out.
7. What do you like in a poem?
I love human elements in poetry. Descriptions are wonderful and essential in poetry, but if I don’t get the sense that the poem is coming from a real, intense human emotion, it can fall flat for me.
8. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
There have been a number of times in my life where I thought, “Hey, I should/can do that.” The first being when I wrote my stellar cat book. As an adult though, I think the first time I would have seriously believed I could be a writer was when I was in my 2nd or 3rd year of university. I remember making appointments with a couple of my English profs and asking them how I can make this work. They gave me great advice and direction, and have been mentors to me since.
9. What are your writing goals?
I have two major writing goals at the moment. The first is to complete my poetry manuscript. I have been working on it for about 7 years, with things really amping up over the last year and a half. I hope to start shopping it around by July of this year. The second is to write a YA novel. It is a genre that I love, and have lots of great ideas for stories, I just need to get them out. If I could have a draft of that done by the end of the year, I would be pretty happy.
10. Have you any publishing credits? What are they?
I’ve published two poems, “Why This House Aches” and “I’m Still Here” in the University of Prince Edward Island Arts Review in 2012.
11. What is a typical writing session like for you? What are your habits?
Typically I am either in my living room, wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, or upstairs in my office writing at my desk, also wrapped in a blanket. I always handwrite my work (even longer prose) and then type it up later. For editing, I also do by handwriting and then making corrections on electronic copies. I tend to write in the evenings after work, which isn’t the ideal time for my creativity but the only time I have these days. I am most productive right in the morning so I try to get it done then when I have the opportunity. I also carry around a little notebook with me which can churn out some great writing, especially if I am in a new place. I will take the time out from a walk to write down descriptions of the landscape or event which almost always results in a poem. Those are some of my favourite writing sessions because they just emerge and aren’t forced.
12. Without spoiling the plot or the intrigue, what are you working on now?
My focus has been on my poetry manuscript. It covers themes of grief and loss, mental health, love (of course!), and the complexity of relationships. It is separated into three sections: Shadows, Holding Places, and Longings.
13. Off the top of your head, what’s a prompt or technique you would give to a writer experiencing writer’s block who needs something to inspire them?
An exercise that I did in past creative writing classes, and have done recently with POVWC is to write something based off a piece of art. I remember a prof in one of my creative writing classes bringing in a strange straw-like figure and got the class to write something about it. We all wrote incredibly different things but it got the creative juices flowing. Another exercise I have enjoyed doing in the past is taking a short piece of writing that you admire, and using its form, tone, and style, and rewrite the passage. This exercise allows you to really take note of structure and the use of language.
14. Shakespeare is credited with inventing several words through his writing such as “assassination” and “addiction”. If you could make up one word, what would it be and what would it mean?
I wish there was a word that could describe the tension between crippling self-doubt, and outlandishly optimistic confidence. That is how I often feel with my writing, and with coming up for a name for that word.
[Editorial note: this interview was conducted before Ashley made her trip to Wales. She has now made the trip with the empty suitcase for books.]