Interviewed by Lander Hawes
Ashley Stokes writes stories which cover a fictional ground that I once regarded as impassable, and his writing incorporates wildly divergent ends that I once considered irreconcilable. His work is both highly literary and extremely funny; it is as socially and politically attuned as it is tenderly private and intimate; it is, by turns, both subjective and objective in its treatment of obsession, sentimentality and nostalgia.
One of the reasons I’ve continued to read, and champion, Ashley’s work is that I think he writes colorfully about the colorlessness of regional English suburbia. He explores the tendency of this milieu to be defined in negatives and contrasts, and fictionalizes very adeptly the consequences of this for the inhabitants.
His short story, “Temple and Space,” is currently featured at fwriction : review for Short Story Month.
You write proficiently in both the long and the short form. Do you find it easy to work in both forms?
Any story idea can work itself up to the long or boil itself down to the short form, but a writer has a natural instinct for what he or she wants for a story. With short story ideas I usually have a precise feeling for length, or I’ve been asked for stories of a certain word count by a magazine or website and thus I know it has to be 2,000 or 3,000 words. About switching forms, Flannery O’Connor once said that it can be like escaping from the woods only to be ravaged by the wolves, meaning that each form poses a separate series of problems.
I used to write short stories between longer projects, as calling cards, and it’s only since finishing my novel Touching the Starfish that I’ve had a sustained period of writing shorts. Now I feel slightly apprehensive about writing a novel. However, I feel that I’ve learnt so much from these recent stories that I will at some point take on a longer project. I should add that some of my short stories are relatively long, novelettes of 12,000 to 15,000 words, stories that could have been expanded into novels with a different approach. A lot of my stories sit between the forms, but I do still like the swiftness of a short story. Chekhov’s analogy to a “shot of vodka” is a fine one.