2020 Snapshot: J Ashley Smith

J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian writer of dark fiction and other materials. His short stories have twice won national competitions and been shortlisted six times for Aurealis Awards, winning both Best Horror (“Old Growth”, 2017) and Best Fantasy (“The Further Shore”, 2018). His debut novelette, The Attic Tragedy, is out now from Meerkat Press.

J. lives with his wife and two sons in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires. You can connect with J. at spooktapes.net, or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

My first standalone publication, The Attic Tragedy, came out last month from Meerkat Press. It’s set in an antique shop in a fictionalised Blue Mountains town, and is the story of two girls, outcasts, brought together by a violent incident. It’s about the pain of friendships forged in trauma, friendships that don’t mean the same thing to both parties. It’s about the choice between growing into the person you most deeply are, whether you like it or not; or fleeing from that person, and becoming something less-than as a result. It’s about the ghosts trapped in old, forgotten objects, and the ghosts trapped in prisons of flesh. It’s about the liberating nature of sadness.

As well as The Attic Tragedy, I’ve got a couple of shorts coming out this year, including another novelette, The Black Massive, about teenage ravers who fall in with an eldritch crowd. That will appear in the October issue of Dimension6 (the last ever issue of D6, I should say, which is terribly sad). And, next year, I have another novella, Ariadne, I Love You, coming out from Meerkat Press.

What am I working right now? I’m on the home stretch of a suburban suspense novel I’ve been writing on and off for the last few years – imagine if Patricia Highsmith had written Lord of the Flies. It’s set on an Australian beach holiday and is about an eleven-year-old sociopath coming into her full power. I hope to have it wrapped by the end of the year – but I’ve been saying that every year since 2016, so…

2. What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

Hands down, it has to be working with Meerkat Press. It’s an extraordinary honour to be published alongside wonderful authors like Kaaron Warren, Kathe Koja, Eugen Bacon, Seb Doubinsky and Keith Rosson.

And working with the team at Meerkat has been a fantastic experience. I’m super judgmental about book covers and have unrealistically high standards, so was just blown away with what they came up with for The Attic Tragedy – when they sent through the final draft, my first thought was, “I would buy that book!” Which, I guess, is exactly what you want.

It’s only a little book – about 60-odd pages – so I was really not prepared for how well it’s landed. The month or so leading up to release, I was just speechless with the blurbs we were getting back – receiving earnest praise from authors you’ve long admired is a mind-blowing and, frankly, emotional experience. Connecting with readers and reviewers, the whole book blog and bookstagram scene, has also been incredible.

And to think next year I get to do it all over again!

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

My top picks of recent Aussie fiction have to include Aaron Dries’s genius splatterpunk mind-trip, A Place For Sinners, and Kaaron Warren’s exceptionally creepy, Into Bones Like Oil, which has perhaps one of the greatest titles in the history of the book.

Alan Baxter’s Served Cold is high up on my TBR right now, as is Lee Murray’s Grotesque: Monster Stories. I’m also really looking forward to reading Cat Sparks’ collection, Dark Harvest. And can’t wait for Eugen Bacon’s The Road To Woop Woop And Other Stories to drop next year.

Not so recent, perhaps, but classic collections that any newbs to Aussie dark fiction should get involved with right now include Kaaron Warren’s Dead Sea Fruit, Jo Anderton’s Bone Chime Song, and Andrew McKiernan’s Last Year When We Were Young.

I’m also reading Garth Nix’s Keys To The Kingdom books with my youngest at the mo. This series is doubtless old news to anyone that loves Aussie spec fic, but it’s new to me – and my boys are hoovering it up!

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