Lorna: What inspired you to write The Syllabus of Errors?
Ashley: No one experience or idea in particular inspired the collection. After I finished my novel Touching the Starfish I worked on a few short stories I’d sketched during the novel’s composition and enjoyed writing pieces I could complete quickly. I certainly wasn’t thinking of a collection, let alone a sequence at this point. After three stories I tried to start a novel but couldn’t get started, so wrote a few more shorts, by which time they started to accumulate. However, the stories were partly inspired by a visit to Berlin; when I was a teenager I’d been obsessed both with the city and the whole history of central Europe between the wars. It was also informed by a feeling that some of the neurotic visions that beset Europe in the twenties are revisiting us now.
Lorna: Which story in the collection is your favourite, and why?
Ashley: ‘Abyssinia’ is my favourite. Inspired by Robert Stone’s story ‘Coping’, I wanted to write about someone coming spectacularly off the rails to see if I could bring him back from the brink. If I think about The Syllabus, ‘Abyssinia’ is the story that seems the most indicative to me, the most emotional. I may have come closest here to saying what I mean.
Lorna: How has UEA inspired your writing career?
Ashley: Teaching evening classes in Adult Ed for five years informed rather than inspired Touching the Starfish, my campus shed novel.
Lorna: Who are your favourite authors?
Ashley: Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Yates, JG Ballard, Kafka, Philip Roth, James Lasdun, Josef Skvorecky, David Foster Wallace, Patricia Highsmith and David Rose.
Lorna: Do you have any advice for people who would like to pursue a career in creative writing?
Ashley: Write what only you could write. Don’t expect anyone to like you for it. Don’t grow a goatee beard. Talk to strangers. Ignore fashions. Fear the winter.
Lorna: How can people become involved with Unthank Books?
Ashley: Unthank Books does have a partnership with the careers service at UEA, so in the first instance, contact Justine Mann if you want to work on marketing a novel or Unthology. Anyone with design or IT ideas should contact the publisher, Robin Jones on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Stokes is a Creative Writing Lecturer for UEA. His latest collection, The Syllabus of Errors, will be available to buy from 14th February. Join us at The Bicycle Shop on Thursday 21st February, from 7.30-9.30pm for the launch. Book signings with the author, hear readings from the book, and meet the Unthank team! For more information, visit www.unthankbooks.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.