Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, February 23, 2015

Alison Lock - A Question and Answer Session with the author of Above the Parapet

Today I am very honored to be able to publish a Question and Answer Session with Alison Lock, author of Above the Parapet, a collection of short stories.  Last month I read and listed on a story from this collection, "Ashes for Roses".

The story centers on a brother and sister, living together in their deceased parents English house, in their sixties.  They are both very into the cultivation of roses and are nearly self sufficient from the produce they grow. They quarrel a little as natural but basically they get along.  An announcement comes on the radio. A volcano has erupted not to far away and will produce dangerous fumes and huge volumes of ash.  

The brother and sister are both getting ready for the county flower show, planning to win.  Suddenly the sister realizes the ash will destroy her roses.  The story takes a very interesting and exciting turn and I will leave it for you to enjoy and ponder over.  Her prose is very carefully wrought. 

Lock lets us see with just a few sentences into the dynamics of the family and into the long ago past.  We wonder if either sibling ever married, how they wound up in their living together. 

Alison Lock is very much a writer of great refinement and subtle intelligence which is very much evident in her story "Ashes for Roses".

I relished this story so much I read it three times.  

Official bio

Alison Lock is a poet and writer of short fiction. Her first collection, A Slither of Air, was published as a result of winning the Indigo Dreams Poetry Collection Competition 2010. She has recently published a collection of short stories entitled, Above the Parapet. She has an MA in Literature Studies from York St John University.

My post on her superb story "Ashes for Roses" can be read HERE.  (There is a link in my post to the story.)

Interview: Alison Lock



Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine. Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in the same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude to write?


I prefer to write in the mornings. I had a long period when I got up in the middle of the night to write – it helped to fill the hours of insomnia, but I realised that ultimately it is detrimental to health. It might work if the rest of the world has a flexible routine – but life's not like that.I need solitude.


"in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant antiphrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."

What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?


I can understand why Barthes argues that the writing and the author are unrelated. The Classic way of interpretation is only one way of finding meaning and it is bound to be limiting. Of course, there is inevitably a connection: the views and background of the author are bound to infuse the writing, but I believe that the result – and by that I mean, the text and universally accepted interpretation – must be a combination of writer/text/reader.


When I have given readings of my stories or poetry and people come to talk to me afterwards, I realise that their interpretation of the work comes directly from their life experience and that they relate most strongly to the ideas and stories that they recognise as being like theirs – these are the ones that resonate with them. Sometimes, they areminor parts – single lines, words, rather than whole stories, or, pieces that linger longerand simply leave an impression of the whole.



"It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from "Against Interpretation" by Susan Sontag


As a writer, how do you feel when people Interpret your work, attribute meaning to it?, see things in it you never thought about?



I am always surprised, sometimes delighted, and occasionally dismayed when people mistake my original meaning, but then it is not surprising as my writing tends to linger on the ethereal, the half light – that is what I am interested in – the thoughts that seep in when we are not looking. I know people who have read my stories have mistaken my sense of humour for something darker and that makes me want to explain.


When I chose my stories for the collection, I carefully ordered them so as to form a slow fall and then a rise towards the end – what I did not take into account was that a reader often picks out a story at random rather than read from beginning to end. Inevitably this affects the interpretation.



Who is your ideal reader?


What is an ideal reader? A person who reads a book from cover to cover, perhaps? Or one who gives it a 5 star review?


My favourite review on Amazon is from the writer, Iain Pattison. He writes re: Above the Parapet, that it 'keeps the reader tense and unsure in a world that seems to shimmer between reality and ominous fantasy'. He gives it 4 stars and I really appreciate his comments.



It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs. Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published?. Is it homogenizing writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this?



My MA in Literature Studies/Creative Writing gave me a chance to focus on my writing in an environment that was both stimulating and supportive. I studied part-time over two years in order to fit it into the rest of my life. I really felt that having spent many years bringing up children and working that I needed to engage with the world beyond my own.  Taking this course was a credible means of achieving my aim. Nevertheless, I can see that with so many people studying an art form that is ultimately assessed under academic criterion that it could lead to a homogenization of creative writing. But writers, like all artists, have to live in the real world, and find the ways that work best for them.




How important is seeing different parts of the world to you in terms of stimulating your creativity?


As we were saying before, it is inevitable that our writing emerges from our beliefs and views and the ways in which we see the world. Many of our notions of the world are now seen through the TV news and other forms of media. I love travelling and experiencing the world for myself – nothing can replace that.  



Where can we find you online?




Please tell us something about your recent publications and/or works in progress.



I have two books published: a collection of poetry A Slither of Air (2011), and a short story collection Above the Parapet (2013).


I have a forthcoming poetry collection, Beyond Wings (2015 Indigo Dreams Publishing); and a fantasy novella Maysun and the Wingfish (Mother's Milk Books 2015).

A busy year ahead!




Who are some of your favourite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists?  What classic writers do you find your self drawn to reread. If a neophyte writer in your primary focus were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?



Short Story Writers: Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, Cate Kennedy, Sarah Hall, Hilary Mantel, Kevin Barry, George Saunders


Poets: Mary Oliver, Kathleen Jamie, David Morley, Moniza Alvi, Fleur Adcock, WS Merwin.Really, there are too many to name..



Frank O'Connor in The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story said short stories seem to be about marginalized people, the lonely, those with with little voice in society. Do you think he is on to something illuminating about the format? Why is there so much loneliness in the short story?



It is true that because of the nature and the length of a short story it is often very focused, intense, atmospheric, and from a single character's viewpoint: of an event, an interaction, or a relationship with self or another character. A short story is often static in that it can bebased in a precise geographic setting whether relating to the real world or a fantasy creation. Of course, this is not always the case: they can be a travelogue in time or/and place i.e. the stories of Henry James, or Guy de Maupassant – where author is intermediary and stories describe the exotic.


I am most drawn to stories where I feel that the author is in the shoes and body of the character and respects them. The characters created by the Australian writer, Cate Kennedy, are like this. It is as if we are invited to empathise with them, to understand their human frailty: they are people who might be similar or different from ourselves. This is the delight of writing – exploring new territory, taking off from the familiar.



I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on a tropical island, for example.


I think extremes of any kind push the mind a little bit further and that applies to climate too, but it is not the case that it is only in the colder temperate zones that 'great' literature is produced. There are great African writers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chinua Achebe come to mind; South American writers: Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda – for example.



Many cultures are permeated with references to seemingly supernatural creatures, some kind of malevolent. Do you feel any sense of these entities in the world you look out on in your daily life or in your writings? Do you sense a continuity between the natural and supernatural worlds. Is a belief in the supernatural just escapism and wishful thinking?



It is definitely the case that I like to explore the borders between different worlds in my writing, and my more fantastical stories include ghosts and time travellers. I like the idea of a continuum between the supernatural and what we generally accept as reality – probably a result of my Catholic upbringing – I can remember as a child, quite vividly feeling a sense of 'other'. I was never afraid, just comforted and curious.



If you found out that a favourite writer of yours was grossly bigoted would you lose interest in them?


Yes. I think personal politics is important. I would feel I could no longer trust them.




When you write, do you picture an audience or do you just write?


I just write – if I thought about an audience I would stop writing – I would feel far too exposed to reveal myself at the point of creating.




Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile?


I find there is far too much to write about and too little time to do it – that's how I am feelingat the moment. I guess it might change.



What are the last three novels you read?


I am currently researching for a fantasy fiction novel and so my reading reflects this:


Something wicked comes this way by Ray Bradbury

Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien

Ingo by Helen Dunmore



If you could give your eighteen year old self one suggestion, what would it be?


I have always enjoyed writing; poems and stories and sometimes I filled daily journals for several months at a time. But I never thought I could take writing seriously as a career. I would say to my eighteen year old self: 'Call yourself 'a writer' – even if it is only a whispered voice in the back of your mind.' That way I would be giving myself permission to take the time to write.



If you could live anywhere in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why?


Somewhere very different, sometime long ago – Ancient Egypt – where women had better status than other ancient societies.



Are you open to e mail, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers or do you fear stalkers or don't want to be bothered?


I like to share interesting articles and news about poetry, novels, and short stories,particularly on Twitter: ali_lock_



Quick Pick Questions


A. tablets or laptops or smart phones?




B. E readers or traditional books?


Traditional books


C. American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while?


I prefer fresh, whole foods, any day!


D. Cats or dogs?




E. best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or?


Vienna – only because I was there last summer at the 13th Conference on the ShortStory in English. I loved it.


Thank you for this interview, Mel – The Reading Life site is an inspiration!





My great thanks to Alison Lock for taking the time to provide us with such interesting and insightful responses.

I plan a major review of her collection, Above the Parapet in March




Alison Lock said...

Thank you for posting this interview, Mel. It was good to have the opportunity to consider your questions. You have created a wonderful resource with your website. Thanks again. Alison.

Mel u said...

Allison, it was my honor to have you give us such well considered responses