Romy Ash’s first novel Floundering was shortlisted for The Miles Franklin Award, The Prime Minister’s Award, The Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, The Dobbie Award and longlisted for The Stella Prize. She has been anthologised in Best Australian Stories and Best Australian Essays, Voracious: The Best New Australian Food Writing. She has written for The Griffith Review, The Guardian and The Big Issue amongst others. She writes the blog Trotski & Ash. Visit her here.
NAW-Tell us about your book, Floundering. How did you get the idea for it?
The genesis for the story came from a trip I did when I was about twenty, I travelled to remote places in Australia, and the west coast was evocative. There were these places in the middle of nowhere, caravan parks of sorts, but hundreds of kilometers away from towns, away from fresh water. I began to wonder what sorts of characters would choose to find themselves there. Obviously I found myself there, but what about those people who chose to stay, who wanted to remove themselves so completely from regular society. ‘Floundering’ is really a road trip story too – and I certainly saw a lot of road on that trip.
I began thinking of setting characters against that landscape, and the story grew from there.
NAW- In Floundering, you narrate the story from the child’s point of view which is quite interesting. How did you get the idea for it? How difficult is it to maintain the voice and write from a child’s perspective?
I just had the main character when I began writing. This child’s voice, Tom’s. I just wanted to explore what he had to say, and by the end of things I was really deep into his character, I started talking like him in my everyday life. I went a little crazy, but maybe that was necessary for the book.
I didn’t find it difficult to maintain, but there were moments when my adult writerly voice sneaked through in the word choices, and my editor Caro Cooper really helped me go through the text word by word, and make sure it all fit. She was a fantastic help.
NAW- Tell us about your other writings?
I write a column for The Guardian, it’s a recipe each fortnight with a focus a certain fruit or vegetable and its seasonality. It’s great fun, I love working so closely with what’s happening in the markets, and in the vegetable path. This writing about food is an off shoot from my blog Trotski and Ash. In the realm of food I’ve also written for Kinfolk magazine.
I freelance for The Saturday Paper, or I write essays occasionally.
Writing short stories is another passion of mine, and I often write them when I’m frustrated with my novel. I can get that sense of satisfaction from finishing a short story. When I’m writing something that takes conceivably years to finish, I love writing something small as a break.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers? Are there any who have influenced your writings?
Alice Munro is wonderful, she captures that small town so well. Clair Keegan’s short stories are heart stoppingly good. After reading one, I just need a moment to cope with how good they are.
As for influences Kenneth Cook’s spare prose in the nightmarish ‘Wake in Fright’ was a big influence on ‘Floundering’s style.
NAW- How do you write, do you formulate the entire plot beforehand or let the book decide its course? Take us through your writing process?
I always have a landscape, or a setting first, even if that setting is a house, it doesn’t have to be the open road like it is in Floundering. And I’ll always have characters that I’m playing with, trying to capture their voices. Once I’ve got their voice right I can being to write in earnest. The characters will be true to themselves, and interact with that environment. I never start with a plot first, it just doesn’t work for me. The writing process is a little more unconscious, especially in the beginning stages.
NAW- Tell us about your life. How did you end up becoming a writer?
I came to writing through reading. I love to read, and despite being a very active outdoor kid, I just really loved to immerse myself in books. I loved all books, fantasy, science fiction, true crime, and was reading the books on my parent’s bookshelf much earlier than I should have. My mum was always pulling books out of my hands because they were too adult. But usually I was already deep into them.
NAW- What are you reading right now?
I just finished Audrey Magee’s debut novel ‘The Undertaking’ which is brilliant. I’ve begun ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ by Cristina Henríquez which is shaping up beautifully.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I’m writing another novel, my second book. But it’s all top secret, I don’t like to talk about it until it’s ready, and really coalesced. Soon!