Interview with
Romy Ash

As we're conducting this interview via email, could describe your current environment?

I am writing in my studio, which is in the Sample House building, quite near the Victoria Markets. It is a studio that I share with seven other writers, The Lifted Brow magazine and Nest architects.
The space is filled with light and plants, and proximity to the Victoria Markets means fresh fruit and delicious snacks abound.

This year you won the Felix Meyer Scholarship – why did you decide to use the scholarship to travel to Japan and how will this further your research and writing?

I have been working on a collection of short stories set in Japan (of which the short story 'Underwater' forms a part). Japan was a natural choice in order to continue research for this collection.

What interests you about Japan, above any other place in the world?

Japan is almost impenetrable to outsiders; there is something about throwing a character into and against that surface. See if they can manage to break through.

'Underwater' provides an interesting play on the public/private dichotomy in Japan (for example, with the futons and book covers you mention). Was this something that struck you during your travels and your interactions with the Japanese, and how does that differ from Australian customs?

Many things struck me during my travel in Japan. With a short story there is so little time to evoke a setting, a character, or try to capture the feeling of place. Whatever I'm writing about I try to use small details to tell a larger story. That's part of what I am attempting to do with the book covers and futons.

What is your own experience of being underwater?

When I was a kid, and lived a sandy street away from the surf, I spent a great deal of time contemplating life from under the water. I liked the rushing quiet that I found under the surface and I learnt how to find the spot under a wave that was safe, where the wave just rolled over and to the beach.

Are you still drawn to contemplate life – in the rushing quiet – underwater? If not, where do you do this now? Do you think we need this time – for introspection perhaps?

I try to submerge myself as often as possible. Living in Melbourne I often find myself yearning for a swim in the ocean, especially in the winter, which even after eight years of living in Victoria, I find difficult. But I have grown to love the beaches down here: the skin stripping cold and the powerful surf. I need this time for introspection. There is something humbling about swimming in something so overwhelmingly big.

Your first novel, Floundering, was one of three manuscripts shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel manuscript prize in 2010 and will be published by Text next year; how did you come to write this?

I have been working on the manuscript for Floundering for three years. I guess it began with a character, with the boy whose eyes the world of the book is seen through. This character just wouldn't leave me be.

You made me hungry when I looked at your recipes on your blog Trotski & Ash! What draws you to write about food?

MFK Fisher, who was a wonderful writer, was often asked why she chose to write about food, and not about struggle, love, power and her answer, from The Gastronomical Me is as follows: 'The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mingled and mixed and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it...and it is all one.' This is the ethos I attempt to embody when I write about food.

How do you split your time between food writing and other creative writing?

I snatch at any time I have spare for writing.

What is the next recipe we might see on your blog or in your fiction?

I don't often write about food or eating in my fiction – but I have a non-fiction piece in the next Lifted Brow about my experiences hunting, killing and cooking a wild rabbit.

What does winning the 2011 GREW Prize for Fiction mean for you?

Uninterrupted time to write is a precious thing. With my book coming out next year, it will be the perfect opportunity to work on my next project.

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