Sunday, 8 February 2015

A is for Ash Hartwell...

One of our authors who has just had his debut collection of short stories released is Ash Hartwell. His first book, ZOMBIES, VAMPS, AND FIENDS has just recently been released and I can honestly say it is a great collection in the tradition of many of the late, great Alfred Hitchcock collections I remember reading as a kid.
In his first book, Ash introduces us to a variety of scary, thrilling and often accurately chilling possible futures where the forces of darkness continue to plague us despite mankind's modern advances. 
Though the book is a bit of a mixed bag at times, I really liked it and thought many of the stories work really well. With touches of Laymon, King, and even the likes of M.R.James and Algernon Blackwood at times, Hartwell still manages to exert his own writing style to great and often spine-chilling effect.
There were a couple of stories I was less keen on than others, but such is the case with most short story collections and those stories I DID like, I liked a lot.
It will be very interesting to see what Hartwell comes up with in the future, and I eagerly look forward to seeing something longer from this stunningly talented new author, as judging from the stories featured in this book, I can well believe he still has plenty more yet to pull out of the bag...

I took the time to ask Ash a few questions about his writing...


Tell us about your writing journey and how you got to the point where you are now.

I always wanted to write as a child. I remember making my grandmother dictate my elaborate tales about the exploits of characters from the books she read to me. I must have been four or five years old so probably garbled my words and included a ridiculously large number of explosions for the likes of Noddy and Big Ears to deal with.
It was only in the last five years or so when I actually started to write, and even then it has been sporadic, and initially just for relaxation. I attended a local writers group for a while and one of the guests speakers wrote for small publishers producing anthologies in America, sadly most of which seem to have since disappeared. He provided some useful hints and tips, suggesting it would be a good place for budding writers to submit a story. I wrote, what I now consider to be a truly awful story, although at the time I thought it a classic worthy of Poe or King, and submitted it to a Christmas themed horror anthology. It was accepted just before midnight (in the UK) on Halloween, and I was hooked. This was easy; One submission, one acceptance. Not for me those years of struggling, those mountains of rejections.
How wrong was I!
I still write on a part-time basis but I have learnt so much since that heady night of success. About eighteen months ago someone suggested I submit some stories to JEA as they were looking for writers. I’d had some success with short stories, having about twenty published in various anthologies, and wanted to step up, so the timing was right. I took the plunge and sent about five. To my amazement they liked them, in fact three of them form the basis for stories in Zombies, Vamps, and Fiends and a forth is currently being re-written as a novel.
I can’t thank all the people at JEA enough for their support and kind words, especially as I have other commitments that restrict my writing time. Catt and the team have been very patient and now things seem to be gathering pace again.
I still write brilliant stories on Monday only to hate them on Friday, but I guess that’s true of most writers. Isn’t it?

What is your book about? What themes do you explore and what can we expect from your stories?

Well it’s an anthology so I guess I cover a range of themes. What is it about? I’m not really sure. It’s an introduction, or maybe an invitation to sample my writing. It’s written in a number of styles and covers a number of genres so, in some ways it’s about me discovering my style, with the reader coming along for the ride.
Some of the themes covered include mental illness and depression, corruption and redemption, anger and revenge, and the futility of war. One story looks at medical science in the future and is more of a sci-fi/horror, while another is an alternative dystopian history (with zombies). One story is heavily influenced by Hammer House of Horror and written in a gothic/Arthur Conan Doyle style and written with my late father in mind – he was a great Sherlock Holmes fan.
I also have a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of dog shows and pageants and attempt, in a few of the stories at least, to hi-light the excesses or failings of modern society.
You should expect to encounter Zombies, Vamps, and Fiends and experience a few twists and turns as you journey through the book. I’d like to think, once you reach the end, you would have gained an insight into my style… and I hope you found the ride as uncomfortable as possible. (cue: sinister laughter to fade…)

What is your creative process? How and when do you get your ideas from brain onto page? Have you any hints, tips or techniques that you can share to help other aspiring writers?

I scribble. Words, phrases and sometimes, whole sentences. Whatever comes into my mind then, after a few days I draw them altogether, discard some, combine some, and then build a story skeleton. After that, or sometimes from that, I create a main character and let them, (under strict supervision if they’re using glue or scissors) build the story that best fits the skeleton. Often I find the character wants to tell a completely different story to the one I planned which is fine as the original ideas may still form the basis of another story.
Usually its characters that drive the story forward, their hopes and fears, likes and dislikes. But not always the main character, in BIOGULAG for example, John Maddox is the central character, established in the very first sentence, but the story is driven on by the faceless bureaucrat as it is he that holds all the power in their relationship. Is the story about John and his experience? Yes, undoubtedly so. But we learn more about the character and personality of the bureaucrat than we do about John. Slightly ironic, given he’s an impersonal, faceless cog in the penal system.
The process I use to write is simple.
Hand written scribbling on scruffy bits of paper, to which add coffee, then type.
After five minutes, swear loudly and press delete.
Repeat several times.
Once I have written a few paragraphs I enter into a process of negotiation with spellchecker to remove the red and green lines it has randomly scattered throughout my story. Did Shakespeare have a separate quill for red and green underlining… me thinks not?
When complete. Email story with a cover letter threatening the editors family with extreme violence should he even consider rejecting the attached story.
Ok. Some of that may not be true but I do simple sit and write from a few hand-written notes and see where my mind takes me. I don’t really have a preference as to when I write but usually in the evening as its quieter then. I have a small study piled high with books, notepads and movie posters where I write the actually drafts but the creative scribbling phase can happen any time, any place.
Any tips? In a word: Perseverance. Write what you want to write, what you feel comfortable with. Find an editor, or another writer, who will be truthful, critical, encouraging, understanding and patient, and let them guide you. Discuss with them what was good and bad about a particular piece, and learn from it.

Which writers inspire you? Who does your writing best compare to in your honest opinion?

I think as a horror writer some are obvious like Stephen King, James Herbert, and Richard Laymon to name a few, but I also admire the story weaving ability of James Patterson and Neil Gaiman who step gingerly around the horror genre without really ever dipping a toe in.
However, the list could really go on and on – Bradbury, Poe, Capote, AC Doyle, Orwell, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Stoker and many others.
It’s not always the writer themselves, but maybe one book they wrote that makes me think, Wow I wish I wrote that! For example Jack Kerouac’s OnThe Road.
A couple of newer writers I’ve enjoyed recently are Adam Millard and Gary McMahon. Although both have been around for a while, their stars are very much in the ascendancy and therefore count as new. So there!
So who do I compare myself to? That’s an unfair question, Mark. Alex S. Johnson, who was one of the editors kindly supplied by JEA, said that the style of one story reminded him of Arthur Conan Doyle. That was a nice comparison but to be brutally honest with myself, I’m not sure I’ve found my own style yet. I enjoy dipping my toe into different genres and styles to see what happens. Sometimes it works out okay, and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ll let others make the comparisons. For now, I’m just happy being Ash Hartwell.

What can we expect from you in the future? What other projects do you have up your sleeve?

I’m currently working on my first novel which, I hope, will be published by JEA when complete. It’s an alternative history story with nasty characters, an infected monkey and a hero you should hate, but can’t.
I’ve also started the scribbling stage of a story that hit me while on a long drive to visit relatives. It may form the basis for my second novel it the scribbling goes well.
I’m also going to be working on editing some anthologies for 13Press during 2015. I’m not sure how it will go, but I’m looking forward to the experience and hope it will help my own writing to develop. As the saying goes, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’

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