Not long now until the much anticipated launch of Ashley Lloyd Smith's debut novel, Pizza with Jimbob & Twoforks, at Derby Waterstone's on 1 October — "amazement" is promised(!), so it's a launch not to be missed.
Here's Ashley to tell you something about his new book …
When I explain to people where I got the idea for the novel, they can get the wrong idea. It was Valentine's Day, 2013, and I was sitting on a toilet in a chain pub/restaurant. I could hear clearly conversations through the wall and it made me wonder what someone might overhear, what might change their life forever.
This led to a story in which the protagonist hears something that makes him kill his wife. He regrets it almost immediately and attempts to make up for this in some way. But no, I'm not planning murder, or bitterly divorced, and my wife hasn't mysteriously been missing for four years. That Valentine's Day was one of the most romantic we have ever had, walking back over fields to our stay in a cosy Tepee with a fire and frost on the door flaps. And despite the novel's theme, we're still very happy.
The rest of the novel came from a determination to follow through on a big project, from a scrap of an idea. For years I had written, directed and acted in theatre but this can be a frustrating process in which the idea has to go through lots of stages and jump many barriers before it is seen. And when it is seen, you can't be sure how many people are going to get to see it. I love theatre, and you'll see that in the novel, but I wanted a medium that was more immediately into its final form and didn't rely on other people to get it there.
Now I've found this not to be entirely true; it is still a collaboration. To make my novel worth reading, good enough to make someone keep turning the page, it required a lot of editing. By accident, a conversation I had with Adam Craig of Liquorice Fish, led to Adam becoming my mentor for a year and when the novel had improved greatly he became my editor, working towards a time it would be published. Adam had judged a competition, through Cinnamon Press, in which I received Highly Commended for three short stories and I asked him what I should do next to improve. "Get a mentor." "How about you?" "Umm ok, yes!" I didn't even know Cinnamon Press did a mentoring scheme and it has easily been the most helpful thing I've taken part in for my writing. I added twenty thousand words, I took twenty thousand away. I tidied up and truncated parts. I went back to my original intension for sections and asked again, "Does this really do what I wanted it to do?" If the answer was no, then I became ruthless. I've never minded making big changes to my work when I can get what the problems are, and Adam pointed those out directly but with diplomacy.
I would like very much to be considered a writer of magical realism, weaving complex, inventive stories like Salman Rushdie, Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera, but I think the influences on my work come as much from theatre and, in particular, the short story/reminisces of Sam Shepard, as much as the novelists I love. His recent death didn't devastate me, although I have met him a couple of times, but it did bring home how important he's been to me in shaping my way of writing and how I look at life. Shepard would sometimes write whilst driving. Even though this is more feasible on the long quiet roads of mid-America, it still requires you to get down a few words quickly and make sure they count. If you're risking death for your writing, you'd best make that writing worth it. I don't like to waste a single word and so it is often sparse and precise. I allow a few tangents from the story but you won't find a lot of detailed description here. Unfortunately therefore, my ambition to be the next Gabriel Garcia Marquez doesn't quite happen.
Perhaps the greatest influence on my writing is the things I have read about novels. I have always felt a story doesn't have to be epic to be worthwhile and so I used that to tackle the infamous problem of the midpoint lull, where the action is dragging and a reader's interest can wain, before piquing again with the finale. I approached each section as a short story in its self, so that if you picked the book up and read a bit at random it would be as good as an opening or a conclusion. I also read that writers are too scared to shock anymore, because of trolling. To not get into that frame of mind I've tried to leave in anything people may be uncomfortable with, if I think it's needed of course!
The central character is not unlike those men who you see in Camus or Sartre novels, a little lost, aloof and looking for something the conventional world doesn't seem to offer. I'm hoping he's someone people will relate too, feel maddened by, or wish they could be a little more like.
Ashley Lloyd Smith