Interview with Ashley Stokes editor at Unthank Books
Interview with Ashley Stokes editor at Unthank Books
I’d like to welcome Ashley Stokes, editor at Unthank Books
Ashley Stokes is the author of Touching the Starfish and The Syllabus of Errors. He’s also editor of Unthology and The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings. www.ashleystokes.net / fifteen-endings.co.uk
Morning Ashley, thanks for your time today. One of the best things for me about Unthology 8 is the diversity of voice, style and genre in the stories. Often you go through an anthology and every story reads the same. Is this diversity something you specifically looked for?
Unthology allows different types of story to rub up against one another . It’s all about the stories and the art of storytelling. There’s no type of story that I would exclude as long as it’s written in an exciting way. We want to expose our readers to the gamut of possibilities that the short story can present, and no less than that. We have no agenda when we read the submissions pile beyond hoping for stories that stand-out and linger, that we don’t feel we’ve read before. Afterwards, when we’ve made our selection, we try to create the flow of the collection, so the stories accumulate into something that has more weight or journey to it than just a series of stories flying in loose formation. Diversity, for me, is just being open to ideas and as many forms of expression as possible, as well as trusting the tale, not the teller. We don’t have a worldview; we accommodate multivarious views of the world. We have more eyes than a swarm of flies. It’s about the work, the stories. We seem to have published a huge range of material from dozens of very different writers by taking this approach and we didn’t contrive this. It just happens. And it happens if you believe in the mystery and charge of the short story form above any other consideration.
Most of the stories in Unthology 8 are a great read, but my personal favourite is Damon King’s flash length story, Cuts – about two prisoners squabbling over cheese sandwiches. A very smart, metaphoric story. Do you have a favourite story in it? Or is that not something you can admit to?
I do obviously love all the stories in Unthology 8. If you put a gun to my head – and you are – I would say I was mightily impressed on first reading with Beneath the Melting Snow by David Frankel, a fictionalised account of moments in the life of Edvard Munch. It’s just so atmospheric and intriguing. We used it as the lead story not just because of its qualities but because it contrasted with our previous two leads, George Djuric’s elegaic The End May Justify the Means but who will Justify the End? and Gordon Collins comic bodyshock story Post Nasal Aggravation Syndrome in Unthology6. It also works well with the cover image, Nicolas Ruston’s painting of an artist’s model reclining in a studio.
Looking back over all the Unthology collections, is there a single story that stands above the rest? If so, why?
Oh dear – this is getting like Sophie’s Choice! Without any particular ranking system, I’d say I’m still thinking about Bleach by Michael Baker in Unthology 1, 127 Permutations by Steph Reid in Unthology 2, Eleanor: The End-Papers by David Rose in Unthology 3, The Real T.O.A by Rodge Glass in Untholgy 4, A Little More Prayer by Angela Readman in Unthology 5, Egor by Daisy Lafarge in Unthology 6, Chinese Pygmalion by Elaine Chiew in Untholgy 7 and the Frankel story in Untholgy 8. They would all get into my own private best of Unthology collection.
As well as being an editor, you’re the author of two books, Touching the Starfish and Syllabus of Errors. Do you enjoy editing as much as writing, or do you find it’s something that encroaches on your writing time?
Yes, it does encroach, and I also have three jobs to pay the rent. But, yes, I do enjoy editing, teaching creative writing and curating the Unthologies with Robin Jones and I love working with the writers. I do think that Unthology is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Tell me about your perfect writing day.
It would start at about 6am in the summer when it’s bright outside but still quiet. I’d write my journal, then write about a painting or photograph to warm up. I’d be in the middle of a passage, so I could just pick it up. I’d prod at the keypad and hopefully laugh at myself sometime afterwards. Then I might go for a walk, write some more in a café, read a book, a good one, then have a swim, cook a meal later and watch a film before going to sleep thinking about the writing the following day. It doesn’t play like this very much, though.
What do you think is the most important quality in good writing?
It must be a collusion or alignment of things, how the writer intergrates all the elements he or she has to balance to make something seamless and fluent. I’d say perhaps it’s the resulting quality of charge, an urgency that makes the story seem to stand in for unknown meanings beyond its literal interpretation. Making a stranger laugh is a good quality, too. We are antipoface, I’m afraid.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee, preferably French vanilla.
What does love sound like?
Bill is Dead by The Fall, or Always Coming Back to You by Scott Walker.
Who runs the world?
Barrel-shaped, fungoid, starfishheaded engineers from outer space.
Thank you for your time, Ashley.