By Anne-Charlotte Fabre
I sat down with Jenn Ashworth to talk about ‘the filthy way the magic happens’, and her tips and tricks for new writers.
Author of many novels, with her latest Ghosted coming out later this year, Jenn Ashworth is an accomplished writer, lecturer, and tutor for Lancaster University. I was lucky enough to be taught by Jenn this year on my Creative Writing course, and her lessons have really stuck with me.
Accompanied by her pup Brodie, Jenn was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss all things writing, from her inspirations, to her quirky habits, and de-vamping the image of the author.
Our conversation, lightly edited, follows.
Anne-Charlotte (AC): “Our first issue’s theme will revolve around water as our co-chiefs have a mutual love for writing about it – do you find that you return to similar themes often in your writing?”
Jenn: “All of my novels are set in Lancashire. There’s something about the West Coast of England that I find really inspiring, there’s something quite magical about it, quite bleak, quite dangerous. I’m from Lancashire, I was brought up here, I went away for Uni, but I came back, and writing, for me, is a way of looking at places that I know well and seeing them differently or making them unfamiliar.”
AC: “Yeah, I think writers do tend to write what they know don’t they? In some forms at least. And this leads me to my next question – Your book, Notes Made While Falling, is a memoir, so it’s drawn from your real life. How did you feel writing about something so personal? Was it harder? Easier?”
Jenn: “Definitely more difficult, definitely. I hadn’t written directly about my own life before it was difficult because it was new, and it was difficult because some of the experiences I was writing about were difficult and I knew that people would have opinions about them. I guess I just had to accept I had these feelings about it, and that I was also going to write the book anyway. The book wouldn’t fix those things, it wouldn’t solve those things, it wouldn’t take those things away, but I was going to write it.”
What happens to my memories when I try and set them down on the page? I learned that there is no past, there is no reality, there’s only the stories that we tell about it.”
AC: “When you sit down to write, what’s one thing that you always need? Silence, maybe, or snacks?”
Jenn: “I do drink an alarming and abnormal amount of tea and then by the end of the day I’ve got like 12 mugs all over the desk. I also sharpen pencils quite a lot, even though I type, I like to have lots of pencils lying around. I like the sight of a freshly sharpened pencil. I also eat a lot of snacks. Maybe you just have to imagine me sitting at my desk surrounded by packets. Empty crisp packets, empty pots of tea and pencil sharpenings, and that’s kind of the filthy way the magic happens.”
AC: “I think that would break the illusion for quite a lot of people!”
Jenn: “I know! I don’t know, that’s why I’m glad to be doing this interview. I think it’s really important, especially people who are just beginning or learning to write that they realize that, you know, it’s ordinary.”
I’ve written most of my novels in bed with a tube of Pringles, and that is quite a normal thing.”
AC: “Becoming an author isn’t easy, so how did you stop yourself from giving up?”
Jenn: “I guess the way I didn’t give up was the thought that, there’s nothing stopping me from giving up, if I stop I’ll do something else, so what? Giving myself permission to stop, made me realise that I didn’t want to stop. I really didn’t want to.”
AC: “As a tutor and lecturer for Lancaster University, you’re probably quite busy, so how do you find time to balance both your work and writing lives?”
Jenn: “There’s a trick! I make appointments. The same way you have in your diary ‘2 til 4, Jenn’s class’, unless you were very ill, 2 to 4 that’s what you’re doing. So, I do that for writing, and I wouldn’t dream of not showing up. Faulkner said he only writes when the muse visits him, but he makes sure that the muse visits him at 9 o’clock every Monday morning and he’s sitting in his chair waiting for her. I don’t believe in the muse, but I do believe that inspiration comes to writers who are sitting in front of the computer waiting for it.”
AC: “Ghosted is your latest book, set to be released in June, and you’ve published many other books before – what’s the most exciting aspect of being published?”
Jenn: “There’s two parts that I love. I love seeing the cover for the first time. In a way, it’s the first experience of seeing someone else read your book and you see what they’ve made of it. The next bit is, there’s a period where the book is published and there are reviews from lots of people, and then it dies down and you go back to your ordinary and very anonymous business, and then, one day out of the blue, there will be an email or a message from someone you’ve never met before saying “I’ve read your book, and here’s what it meant to me.” And that I love, I really, really love, and it’s unexpected. It’s lovely.”
There’s always a big act of vulnerability in writing, right from the very beginning when you scribble something on the paper and show it to your mum or your best friend.”
AC: “Out of all the books you’ve published, do you have a favourite? And if so, why?”
Jenn: “It’s like children I guess, I love all of them for different reasons, but it’s always the one that’s about to come out, always, always, always. I think that we evolve as writers, we change, we get better, I hope that we get better. The one that’s about to come out, it was the best that I could do, and I’m always so pleased with it.”
AC: “Is there anything that you absolutely love about being an author, and maybe anything you hate?”
Jenn: “You know when people ask you what you want to be when you’re older and you say ‘I want to be an astronaut’? Being a writer felt as crazy as being an astronaut. And I still sit at my desk sometimes and I think ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I wanted to be as a kid, and I am!’ The stuff I hate is having author photos taken. I should find someone and just say ‘Could you please be me for these author photos?’”
After a fit of laughter, I asked Jenn my final question.
AC: “We’ve already talked about this a little, but do you have any advice for new writers?”
Jenn: “I would say two things. Write the bit that you already know and you can piece it all together later. And the second thing I would say is find a group or a writing partner, and what I would say is give that person feedback as often as you can – you learn more from giving feedback than getting.”
I know that each of my books when I published it was the absolute best book I was capable of writing at the time.”
I had a wonderful time speaking with Jenn, she’s full of amazing stories and advice, and gave us a few good laughs. And it was lovely to meet Brodie!
Jenn Ashworth’s latest novel, Ghosted, is set for release on June 10th this year.