Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
Ashok Ferrey – Sri Lankan born in Colombo, raised in East Africa, educated at a Benedictine monastery in the wilds of Sussex, Ferrey read Pure Maths at Christ Church Oxford, ending up (naturally) in Brixton, converting Victorian houses during the Thatcher Years.
He describes himself as a failed builder, indifferent mathematician, barman and personal trainer to the rich and infamous. Ferrey’s Colpetty People was short-listed for the Gratiaen Prize in 2003. His latest book The Professional is much talked about and he is much sought after in the literary circles.
1.What does it mean to be a writer?
There is nothing arcane or mysterious to being a writer. Any writer who tells you so is more interested in being seen to be a writer than actually being one. You are just plain damned lucky if other people call you a writer, if what you write strikes a certain resonance with them. This concept of resonance is a difficult one: the sweet music you make today may sadly turn out to have been only background noise by tomorrow; conversely, the raucous din that people hate you for today might just be recognised in fifty years’ time as being the most esoteric and exquisite of music.
2.What do you do when you are looking for inspiration, or facing writer’s block?
In my case I bury myself in other disciplines: I just finished acting in my fifth film (over time I’ve actually graduated from half a line of dialogue to about fifteen in this last film!); and I’m forever designing houses (mostly in my head, since I don’t have the money to build them!); when all else fails a good workout at the gym really helps.
3.Your regular working/writing day?
No such thing as regular. I am ashamed to say I’m not the sort of writer who sits down at a desk at ten in the morning and completes 300 words before a gin and tonic and lunch. My day is more likely to be spent on the school run, followed by taking the cats to the vet; and for added glamour there is always vegetable shopping at Raheema’s.
4.A quote you swear by.
Do the best you possibly can. Understand that it is not always given to you to exceed yourself, and be happy in that knowledge.
5.Who is your go to person when you are harassed with your writing?
No one. No one can help you with your inner madness. Writers are the loneliest people.
6.Name one celebrity you want as your book fan!
How about the Pope? Aim high, is what I always say.
7.What is the worst criticism you were given?
A critic once wrote: ‘This writer has no syntax.’ I wanted to reply, ‘If I send you the money, can you buy me some?’
And the best compliment ?
A woman at a party once came up to me. ‘Your biceps are better than your stories,’ she said. I’m still trying to figure out whether that was a compliment or an insult.
8.What is your best marketing tip?
Always be there for your readers and your fans. Never think (as many writers do) that you are in some way above them, and have no time for them.
9. Characters often find themselves in situations they aren’t sure they can get themselves out of. When was the last time you found yourself in a situation that was hard to get out of and what did you do?
There is such a shortage of people here in Sri Lanka who are trained to counsel others. When people read your books and identify in some way with your characters, they assume you have a special understanding of their particular problem. As a writer in Sri Lanka I have at any given time two or three people I have to counsel, on a regular basis. I never try to get out of it: how can you turn people away like that?
10.What literary character is most like you?
Ha! I have no idea!
11.Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others?
Sex scenes are always hard to write (specially for a south Asian, I think!). In my last book The Professional, I had to decide how far I wanted to go. I hope I pitched it right.
12.Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Here again, for a south Asian, it is very difficult to write about your own family. You have to pray that they are blind or illiterate or both, and will therefore not pick up your book. Sadly, someone somewhere along the line will pick up the phone and tell the person, ‘Have you seen what so and so has written about you?’
13.Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
Oh, lots. Muriel Spark, Graham Greene, and of course the incomparable R. K. Narayan.
14.What book do you wish you could have written?
Almost every book I read!
15.If you could be any other author, who would you be?
Just about anyone but Ashok Ferrey!
There is a book inside me, but it is not ready to come out. In the meantime, I’m designing a house for my daughter. In my head, of course!