We love the people who wear our glasses. Most of all we love their stories. Here is one of them.
Meet Ashley, an award winning writer and Scrumper’s Delight wearer from Brisbane. She talks to us about her latest book ‘A Hundred Small Lessons’, her career highlights and why George Saunders is her favourite author of the moment.
- Tell us about yourself and what you do for a living
My name is Ashley Hay and I make sentences – for books, essays, reviews, anthologies, journalism; all sorts of things. I’ve just published my third novel, A Hundred Small Lessons. And I live in Brisbane.
- You’ve recently published a new novel called ‘A Hundred Small Lessons’. What’s it about & who/what inspired you to write it?
A Hundred Small Lessons follows the lives of two women who live in the same small house in Brisbane at different times, and the ways they intersect and clash. There’s an elderly lady (Elsie) who’s about to have to leave (her long-time family home and, in a way, her life), and there’s a younger woman (Lucy) who’s just arrived in the city and is working out how she’ll be a mother as much as how to be in this new place. It’s about – and inspired by – discovering the landscape of Brisbane, particularly the part of it that’s a beautiful and unpredictable riverine thing. And it’s about celebrating the tiny moments of life that might slip by in a day, and the ways they collect and connect. When my American publisher read it, she said “you made me feel deeply, profoundly, what it is to be human.” Which I thought was one of the loveliest reactions my writing had ever had.
- Highlight of your career so far?
I’m very grateful for so many editors and other writers and readers and responses that I’ve discovered through different sets of my words, and I was going to say something here about my previous novel, The Railwayman’s Wife, being voted the People’s Choice at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards a few years ago. Moments like that are the kind of astonishing and lovely surprise that make you pause and think, it doesn’t get better than this.
But then I remembered something else: I was collecting my eight-year-old from school the other day and his principal stopped me to tell me she’d read A Hundred Small Lessons during the holidays and loved it. And we chatted about it for a bit, and then she went on, and we went on. And my son sort of exhaled the principal’s name like a kind of exclamation and then said, “wow, Mum – she liked your book. It will never get better than that!”
- How did you hear about Sneaking Duck and what do you like most about us?
I found Sneaking Duck online when I was hunting for glasses frames and I loved its name and its picture of two ducks: they made me smile.
- Favourite Author?
I can never quite single out one favourite author, but this week’s contender is definitely George Saunders who [came to last week’s] Sydney Writers’ Festival to talk about his extraordinary novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. This book took my breath away: it’s about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s very young son, and a world of other things. And it’s one of the most exciting and moving things I’ve read in years – and warm and funny, too. It’s human, which, in the context of the book, is maybe a slightly ironic thing to say. It’s one of those books that make you turn straight back to the beginning to start again when you reach its end, because you can’t bear the idea of it finishing. I know a number of people who are travelling interstate primarily to see him in Sydney … we could arrange to meet up and form a sort of George Saunders’ Stalking Pack.
- 3 things you can’t live without?
A reliable black pen, preferably felt-tipped or ink-gel; an occasional glimpse of ocean; a pair of friendly glasses that stop lines of words from looking fuzzy and stop me thinking my arms might have somehow shrunk …
- What advice do you have for young writers trying to crack into the industry?
Pay attention to things – I reckon you have to be what Helen Garner calls being a “good noticer”, and then you have to be a bit of a bowerbird and practice writing down the things all sorts of things that you see and you hear and you read. And read as much as you can. And write as much as you can. And repeat.
To find out more about Ashley, check out her website or listen to a podcast of one of her talks at this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you’d like to purchase a copy of her latest novel ‘A Hundred Small Lessons’, click here.