Holding on for gold dust: fiction with Ajay Close – 7 February 2018

The truly talented and inspirational writer, Ajay Close, took the hot seat for Fiction, last Wednesday evening.

Following Alison’s skilful introduction, describing her as a novelist, dramatist and creative writing tutor for adults and children, Ajay transported us along, on her writing journey, from Primary School, where a teacher had described, ‘her gift for words,’ up until present day. A published author of five novels and three produced plays, Ajay started out as a journalist, working for Scotland on Sunday, The Scotsman, Herald and Sunday Herald (amongst others) before becoming writer-in-residence in Renfrewshire and Perth and Kinross.

Growing up in an ordinary middle class family, Ajay had always wanted to be a writer.

Describing her career as ‘a series of lucky breaks,’ it was whilst studying English at Cambridge and, following a romance with an American when she was introduced to his friend, an American journalist, that led to a career in journalism, where she won many awards. Some years later, a phone call provided the unbelievable luck of finding an agent and the publishing of her first book, Official and Doubtful by Secker and Warburg in 1996, long-listed for the Orange Prize.

As a journalist, after interviewing John Le Carré, she was given ‘a great quote for the front cover’…described as ‘Gold Dust’.

Talking about the Suffragettes, going back one hundred years, vividly and with eloquence, she explained about the fires, bombs, calling cards, trials, convictions and imprisonment of these militant women. Descriptions of the prisons and force-feeding of the women on hunger strike, were particularly moving. In her novel, A Petrol Scented Spring, the relationship between an ‘ambitious doctor’ and one Suffragette, Arabella Scott, with whom he seemed emotionally attached, was of great interest. Narrated by Dr Hugh Ferguson Watson’s wife, she thinks she can explain their unhappy marriage – someone had come before her.

Throughout, Ajay provided invaluable advice for aspiring writers;

A ready-made plot makes writing much easier.
Believe in your characters.
Promoting is easier when writing about something real.
Publishers don’t always know what’s wrong with a book.
Editors and the marketing department need to fall in love with the book.
Sometimes… just Hold On!
‘Gold Dust’ = get a great quote to use time and time again!
Enormous advantages with big agent – but… smaller agents can be really useful.

During the second half and questions, Ajay discussed her research, books and the internet, including genealogy websites such as Ancestry.co.uk.

For the final ten minutes of part two, Ajay captivated us, reading from her latest novel, The Daughter of Lady Macbeth. With excellent storytelling, picture words and sentences, she described Lilias, an actress on and off stage and now sick with cancer, finally giving in to her daughter, Freya, …who is desperately needing to find her father’s true identity. Speaking in the two contrasting voices of mother and daughter, Ajay drew us into the mother’s bedroom, with illuminating and magnetizing descriptions, like moths to a flame. Powerful imagery, described peculiar possessions from the mother’s theatrical life, hidden in a trunk under the bed…

Then, suddenly, the reading stopped…and, all too soon… the session was over.

Many thanks to Ajay Close for a thoroughly enjoyable, informative and truly inspiring evening. We all wish you continued success for the future and look forward to hearing from you again…

Carolyn Ann Watts.

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