Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Jane Ayres’ nonfiction piece, Three Interludes
Sommer: Your craft and control in this piece are stunning. The recurrence of the “room” image is moving and affecting: memories as rooms, the rooms in your final dream interlude, and the interludes themselves like rooms. It gives the illusion that time and memory are capable of manipulation, as if rooms in a dollhouse, instead of being, in fact, ephemeral. It also gives the reader the pleasant sense of being led by you, as if by hand, from “room to room,” which makes being left in the final room so appropriately devastating. You make the link between interludes and the extended metaphor feel so effortless, though I suspect it was not. Did you spend a lot of time planning the structure of this piece before actually writing it down? Did you find yourself editing a lot out afterwards, or did the spare images and controlled prose come “naturally” as a pair to the theme?
Jane: Firstly, thank you for your lovely comments. I am so happy the work made such a positive impression and am really excited about being published in The Forge.
I am fascinated by structural devices in writing. The interludes originally came from a piece of extended non-fiction written during the Life Writing module of my Creative Writing MA, when I was 57. It was a 7000 word memoir in four parts, each exploring periods of time when dance had an integral role in my life, and making parallels between the specific dance form, relationships—both romantic and familial—and dealing with grief. I wanted a way to separate each section which allowed for time to pause and reflect, and decided on a series of interludes. So they were part of the structure and acted also as a commentary. However, the interludes began to live a separate life.
I am always trying to pare my work back, and this is now so ingrained, it becomes natural. Even so, I tend to revise and edit a lot. It always takes me ten times longer than anticipated and I often struggle to find a point at which to let the work go. This may also be because editing is actually my favourite part of the writing process. This is a major change from when I wrote in my teens and twenties, when the first draft was the final draft!
How did you decide to write this piece as nonfiction instead of fiction? What to you determines that choice besides POV?
Interesting question. It is only during the past few years I have felt more consistently brave enough to write deeply personal non-fiction. In the past, I usually hid it in my fiction, nervous about baring my inner thoughts without cloaking them first! So now, it is a bit like a floodgate opening – both liberating and scary. The final interlude is exactly as I dreamed it. After losing both my parents to pancreatic cancer, in the space of five months, sleep, once a refuge, became something to be feared. But during this dream, I experienced such a sense of peace I knew I had to keep it somehow, so I could revisit, so I wrote it down. It’s a place I can be with my late parents. I’m not religious and don’t believe in any kind of afterlife, so this dream is the nearest I can get to that.
In the final interlude, I feel the acute sorrow of your Mum and Dad being gone. Paradoxically, you accomplish this by writing them there. In a sense, they are simultaneously there and not there. Though this is nonfiction, I love, perhaps even need, the vivid fiction of Mum and Dad forever in that big dream house, celebrating. Thus, though the fiction is inextricably linked to the nonfiction (Mum and Dad are dead), it isn’t completely sad. Do you think writers are especially adept at marrying contrasts? And won’t this be the thing that saves us from ourselves?!
Contrasts enable us to appreciate and value what we have, what we have lost. There cannot be love without pain. That is the biggest irony of life. I think writers are acutely aware of this, because we tend to over-analyse when trying to make sense of chaos or find meaning in it.
Do you write longer pieces as well? If so, what do you find are the differences between crafting a piece of flash fiction/nonfiction, and something longer?
I haven’t written any longer pieces for a few years. I’ve always written short stories, and I used to write novellas for the middle-grade age group (max 25,000 words) but find as I get older, the forms I prefer are short. My “natural” word length for short stories is 1000 words, and non-fiction, 300 words. Some of my poems are just 3 lines. I try to make every single word work hard, to convey as much value and meaning in as few words as possible – and I think this approach should apply to all writing, whether long form or short form work.
At the moment, I would struggle with, for example, writing a novel, which my headspace would find unwieldy and overwhelming to organize. Finding the right structure would be crucial to overcome this. And I would never stop editing!
In what ways do you find inspiration for your writing?
Everything I experience—whether as witness or participant or observer—informs and inspires my writing. Ideas exist everywhere.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
It is always disappointing having work rejected. Try not to take it personally, develop a thick skin and, most importantly, make sure you get a lot of work out there. I submit a lot—I currently have poetry, short fiction and non-fiction out with at least 50 publications—so when the inevitable rejections arrive, I’m not pinning all my hopes on one or two pieces. Every acceptance is a great motivator. Some pieces have been rejected repeatedly but when I believe in the work, I convince myself it will find the right home.
Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations!
Thank you. My pleasure. I was over the moon when you accepted my work, and that you believed in this piece, which has such profound meaning for me. And being interviewed makes it even more special!