Monday, 19 April 2010

How you write - Part 7 - Jenn Ashworth

I'm really happy to be hosting a guest post from Jenn Ashworth, whose debut novel A Kind of Intimacy is sitting next to my bed waiting for me to finish the remaining 60 pages (I just had to half close my eyes to check how many pages are in it - just in case I saw anything that would give away the ending). It's a brilliantly drawn story of a slightly unhinged and deluded 28 year old woman existing on the edge of society, getting things wrong, being weird, and being unloved. I recommend it fully, heartily, and all other ways people recommend things.

Here's Jenn to tell us how she writes.

How I write has changed, and probably will carry on changing. My first novel – a horrible attempt my best friend retains a copy of merely to blackmail me with – was ‘composed’ (that’s probably too strong a word for it) on an old typewriter I bought from The Children’s Society charity shop in Chorley, Lancashire when I was sixteen. A lost balloon-novel was typed on a laptop, in bed, at night when I was supposed to be studying English Lit. It was stolen, which is a story I quite like telling at readings. I’m not as sad about it as I used to be.

A Kind of Intimacy, I typed onto an un-stealable desk-top computer, wearing the letters off a keyboard and keeping one foot on the bouncing chair my new little girl sat, neglected, in. Cold Light, the one I’ve just finished, was written in long-hand in a set of A4 pads, then typed up, then half-deleted and rewritten six times on the same desk-top computer. A new Cherry Keyboard, and made of sterner stuff because the letters are intact - or maybe my hands are less clammy these days.

And the next one? I’ve no idea. I’ve a Lamy fountain pen with a medium nib, and people buy me bottles of ink for Christmas (Lamy green and Diamine Black Cherry are my favourites, although a friend tells me only nutters write in real green ink) and I usually save it for thank you cards and letters, but I think the pen’s up to the challenge of a novel.

I used to use the bold nib, but my loopy, lumpy handwriting was illegible, and that pen was stolen when I worked in the prison – the prisoners like real ink and metal nibs and I like the idea of my Christmas Lamy pen being used to make a tattoo. Maybe I’ll use Lamy the second to write my third novel, except when I cry or spill my tea, the ink moves and the page looks more like a chromatography experiment than a novel in the making. The impermanence of real ink is worrying – I want my books to be like those tattoos and I write my journals in biro.

It’s my journals I want to tell you about. My journals – a stack of which you’ll see in the picture – a record I’ve been keeping since I was thirteen, which used to be half my life but this year, is slightly less than that. The older I get, the smaller the percentage of my life that is unrecorded gets. I like that.

I write about boring things. The things my daughter does. My rants and irritations. I unload. Sometimes I call it the grudge book. I write about my secrets and most of all I write about my writing. I expect it’s very boring and it would be nice to have it burned just before I shuffle off, but I can’t mean that, because if the fountain pen happens to be near me when I take up my journal for the evening’s recording and unloading session (that last phrase sounds much ruder than I mean it to) I always swap it for a biro. I’m unreliable.

Of course I want it to last forever. It’s why I don’t type it up, I want these words, these special secret words that will never be read aloud, never be published, never read by anyone other than me, to exist in the real world. I want to feel the impression of my hand on the paper – see the tea and tear stains, and wonder what was written on that page I tore out of the book.

The books used to be cheap ones - the paper yellow already because I was little and I was buying them out of my pocket money. I write on Moleskines now because I like the binding and the covers and I’m a pretentious twat, and Rhodias because I like the orange and the squares but wish they were a bit more substantial looking.

Jenn Ashworth writes for fun, and for a living. Her books aren’t crime novels, but novels with crimes in them. And Fat Admirers. And glow in the dark fish. And out of hand news readers. And the Crystal Maze. And sticks of rock and shower curtains with penguins on them.

She’s just finished her second novel, Cold Light and her first, A Kind of Intimacy was published last year with Arcadia. She also writes short stories – strange ones about people being disappointed, or shocked, or trying to explain themselves and not doing a very good job of it. She’s got ambitions to write a real detective novel and maybe a radio play, but right now she’s working on Too Much Information – a live lit show she’s co-starring in with the poet Jo Bell.

When she’s not writing books, she’s blogging – a little bit ago her blog won a prize at the Manchester Literature Festival. And when she’s not doing that she’s writing in her journal, window-shopping for just the right kind of teal coloured ink, or irritating her family, who she lives with in Preston, Lancashire.


Nik Perring said...

Brilliant! Loved this, thanks.

I think what I like the most is the evolving process; it's always cool to try doing things in different ways. Unless you're me, who finds something that kinda works and sticks with it because I worry that I'll forget everything if I try it from a different angle. :)

Rachel Fenton said...

I enjoyed reading this - thanks - love your messy journals, Jen.

Jenny Beattie said...

I've just finished reading A Kind of Intimacy ... only a few days ago and I'm still thinking about it. It was wonderful, tragic and funny.

Jenn said...

thank you all, and thanks to Teresa for having me...