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‘Read widely and a lot’: a profile on Emma Ashmere

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Emma Ashmere’s short stories have appeared in various publications including The Age, Griffith Review, Sleepers Almanac, Etchings and Mud Map: Australian Women’s Experimental Writing. She has worked in kitchens, as a bookseller, in the arts and universities, and as a researcher on two Australian gardening history books.

She moved to the Northern Rivers in 2007 after completing her PhD on the use of history in fiction at La Trobe University. In 2010 she participated in the NRWC Emerging Writers Mentorship Scheme. Her first novel The Floating Garden is published by Spinifex Press.

Why do you write? 

Because I can’t not.

Do you have a routine for writing? 

Admittedly, it can be a bit of a moveable feast, as I tend to write in isolated bursts. If for some reason I can’t get to the keyboard, a few minutes of doing something towards the project helps keep me connected to it – even if it’s just looking up what hats were all the rage in 1920s Sydney, ordering a book from the library, deciding on a character’s name, or scribbling illegible midnight notes.

How has writing your second novel been different to writing your first? 

It feels a bit like leaping into the void again – but a friendly void. I’m far less precious about what stays and what goes. Even if a sentence seems tight, it’s likely a thread will be pulled, all will unravel, and need to be knitted back together again.

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Do your novels change a lot between first draft and later drafts? 

Yes, thankfully. The story I initially wanted to write is still there in the final draft. But some of the themes, plot lines, points of view, and characters might have expanded, while others will have fallen by the wayside. There have been several instances when it’s been necessary to cut whole chunks either because they were dead ends, overwritten, obsolete, or suddenly belonged in another book. This was daunting at the time, but it instantly opened up new space for fresh approaches and ideas.

What are some common mistakes you see among emerging novel writers? 

Because the best learning about writing happens when you write, mistakes are a necessary part of the apprenticeship. Perhaps some people underestimate the time, patience, and resilience needed during the long and hilly path of writing, rewriting, and (hopefully) feeling your way through the publication process. I think it’s also very helpful and heartening to go to writing events, festivals, workshops, writing groups, book clubs and launches, so you can meet other writers and forge supportive connections with a wide range of people in the writing world.

What do you find rewarding about teaching writing? 

When I tutored Life Writing at an outer Melbourne university campus, the continual reward was hearing about other people’s lives, which was always surprising, sometimes shocking and often inspiring. My aim was to be encouraging but realistic, to encourage constructive feedback of other students’ writing and their own, while passing on techniques to help people articulate what they wanted to say as clearly as possible – and in their own way. The learning was very much a two way street.

Who are some writers you admire? 

There are too many to mention here – but some perennial favourites are: Ali Smith, Janet Frame, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Patrick White, Hilary Mantel, Donna Tartt, Eleanor Dark and Deborah Levy because they somehow alchemise history, poetry, theory, absurdity, tragedy, politics and dream into fiction. And also Elizabeth Harrower because her studies of seemingly ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things arrive as sharply and stealthily as paper cuts.

If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone about to embark on writing a novel, what would it be? 

Read widely and a lot.

Find out more about Emma at emmaashmere.com. Emma will feature at Byron Bay Writers Festival 2015 which runs from 7-9 August, with workshops starting from August 3rd. Don’t miss it!

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