Thursday 16 November 2017

A Conversation With Leone Ross

Leone Ross is a novelist, short story writer, editor, journalist and academic. She was born in England and grew up in Jamaica. Her first novel, All The Blood Is Red was long-listed for the Orange Prize, her second novel, Orange Laughter was chosen as a BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour Watershed Fiction favourite. In 2015, Leone was one of three judges for the Manchester Prize for Fiction. She is presently judging the 2017 Spread The Word London Short Story Prize.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway is Ross’s new short story collection. From headless schoolgirls, to talking food and threesomes, pretty much anything can happen in these witty, weird and wonderful short stories by Leone Ross.

The finely controlled pacing yields an emotional clout as chilling as the times it evokes. Literate and accomplished.” - Publishers Weekly

Ranging from flash fiction to intense psychological drama, magical realism, horror and erotica, these strange, clever, frank and sometimes very funny stories have a serious side too. Carefully crafted over 15 years, they explore unbounded sexualities, a vision of the fluidity of the person, and politics – from the deaths of black people at the hands of the police, to the deep shifts that signal the subtle changes in the nature of capitalism and much more. These stories may sometimes tickle, sometimes shock; but will always engage both the intellect and the heart.

Tell us of your journey as a writer.

In my twenties when I published my first novel, All The Blood Is Red, I felt an unsurprising duty to write realism: a passionate need to speak of race, injustice and gender dynamics. These days, I express myself in a rather more abstract, mischievous, rebellious ways via magic realism, erotica and horror. I’ll never stop being a political animal - this is just another tradition of illuminating complex emotions and social inequality.

How do you see your role as a writer and what do you like most about it?

My role is to write good sentences, one by one. I like to make people feel. I think of my approach as liquid: I write literally and figuratively about blood, sweat, tears and cum. 

Have you ever created a character who you dislike but find yourself empathising with?

I love them all, especially when they misbehave. I call it the ‘Shrink, Sadist, Parent, God’ approach to characterisation: I work to understand them (for substance) I get them into trouble (for narrative tension), I forgive them (because I have known them since they were small) and I try not to let them run out of control (because I have the overview on the whole work). 

What has been your experience of writing about diverse characters?

I'm not sure what this means. I think black and female and disabled and LGBT characters should just be 'characters' and they are mine. Perhaps I should ‘diversify’ by writing more white straight men. 

If you could be transported instantly, anywhere in the world, where would you most like to spend your time writing? And why?

A certain poolside in Jamaica. There's an almond tree there that knows me. 

What is the one book you wish you had written?

The next one. A writer might resist writing, but she always wants to ‘have written’. Barring that, Geek Love by Katharine Dunn.

What advice do you have for would be novelists/writers?

Read —and master grammar and punctuation, you lazy sods. I mean that gently but firmly. Writing is communication, not masturbation. Grammar helps you be clear. This isn’t elitism or snobbery — slang and patois have grammar too. I get really impatient with wannabes who think they can get away from this requirement.

What are you currently working on? What can we look forward to reading?

A novel, next, after this year’s very well received collection of short stories, Come Let Us Sing Anyway. I've been working on this damned third novel for 12 years and it's time for it to be born. This One Sky Day tells the tale of a single day, of a man and a woman crossing an island. He's fighting an addiction to hallucinogenic moths. She is hunting for her husband's pregnant mistress. You can actually read the first two chapters in the Winter issue of Wasafiri magazine.
There are two other books working their way through me as well: a second collection of short stories based on my online dating life and a futuristic novel with a premise I can't yet reveal. 

Who is your favourite literary character from childhood and why?

It's nonfiction, but I'd go for Gerald Durrell in all his My Family And Other Animals series of books set in the Greek islands. I once wanted to be a vet and his life of sunning himself, looking at small creatures and dealing with island eccentricity felt very familiar when I was a kid.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway is Published by Peepal Tree Press

Follow Leone on Twitter: @leoneross

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