Ashley on the creative process of writing…
For me, I think a large part of the creative process comes down to reaction. The way writers and other artists respond to the environment is one of the keys to creativity – the development of an ‘openness’ perhaps. Especially in regards to ‘place’. Often, when I visit a new place (or even familiar one), I’m struck by the desire to try and capture something of it. To reflect it in words. That reaction is a real driving force, it sets off my mind and things come together and I have to write.
With City of Masks, I had that experience when my wife and I visited Italy’s Amalfi Coast. We were very lucky to travel there and experience the beautiful town and sheer mountains sheltering it, the deep green of the lemon groves and the winding road. We took a lot of photos of course, but photos don’t always hold much of the feeling of actually standing in a place, of looking up to a mountain range perhaps or feeling the sea air on your skin. It was thrilling, beautiful.
I remember when reading about the historical Amalfi, which fell into the sea during a tsunami hundreds of years ago, the image of a tiered city clinging to the mountains, exposed to a great bay, leapt into my head. I had the start of an idea and once I added a sea beast lurking beneath silvery water, City of Masks was born.
Next I asked myself who lived there? What was happening to them? What drove these people? By now I was already home and missing Italy and so that night I wrote a bird’s eye scene describing Anaskar, the tiered city featured in City of Masks. But I soon stopped and instead zoomed in to place Notch, a mercenary falsely accused of murder, in prison, awaiting execution. Suddenly I had my opening! After a few revisions I was happy with it, in part because something about the ‘wrong man’ trope really appeals – it’s probably all the Hitchcock movies influencing me! But once I had Notch in place, once I knew where he was and what he wanted, I drew in more players, including Sofia, a younger member of my leading cast. Her story was more about a personal struggle with masks of power, and with living up to other people’s expectations, a struggle I’d hoped many readers would be able to relate to.
Probably the most fun I had with characters was in trying to come up with a likeable (I hope) antagonist. Lupo (Italian for ‘wolf’) came about from my desire to have a villain who was sometimes flippant, sometimes enraged, smug, driven, merciful, someone who was quite unpredictable at times – because I’m a firm believer in the idea that if the writer is bored with their story or characters, it’s a guarantee the reader will be too.
More preliminary world-building sketches and plot ideas followed and once I was ready to actually start, I set a minimum goal of 350 words per day and forced myself to stay disciplined. I worked on the novel every single day for months – sometimes I wrote only fifty words and sometimes over 2000 – but I wrote consistently until I was done. Giving myself a clear and small minimum goal was a great motivator and further, allowed me to budget time around full time work and other commitments. Having the small goal also made it achievable, and then whenever I went over the target I felt better about my progress, better about the story, better about everything, which in turn kept me working, kept motivation high.
Soon enough I had hundred thousand words (which took about three months) and then the real work began. Revising! I’m the kind of writer that prefers to work with music, generally I use something more up-tempo for first drafts, but widen the sonic range when editing. I remember listening to a lot of Black Sabbath and Yo-Yo Ma with City of Masks, in addition to Italian progressive rock bands like Osanna and PFM.
Over the next months I put the story through about four revisions before seeking feedback from people I trusted to be forthright, then sent off draft five to Snapping Turtle Books, a new publisher based in New Zealand and then got lucky again, receiving an offer for the entire Bone Mask Trilogy!
Ashley is a poet, novelist and teacher living in Australia. He teaches Media Studies and Music Production and in the past played in a metal band, worked in an art gallery and survived the wilds of music retail.
He is the author of five poetry collections and two novels and was poetry editor for Page Seventeen from issues 8-10. He also moderates online renku group Issa’s Snail and is slowly working on a spoken word album.
Aside from reading and writing, Ashley loves volleyball, Studio Ghibli films and Magnum PI – easily one of the greatest television shows ever made.
What’s next for Ashley?
I actually have a few projects in the works at the moment, some simmering away and a few on the boil! The Lost Mask, follow-up to City of Masks, is due for release early 2015 and I’m hoping to self-publish my third book, a ghost-story novella, a few months after.
I’ll also be continuing to promote my first self-published novel, a contemporary fantasy called The Fairy Wren, while also writing Greatmask, the conclusion to the Bone Mask Trilogy. If I’m lucky, I’m also planning to record a spoken word CD of my poetry, so I should be able to keep nice and busy over the year!