An interview with Allen Ashley about Sensorama and The Planet Suite

Written by / Interviews

Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Allen Ashley.

Allen Ashley is a writer, editor, poet and writing tutor, and he's the Founder of Clockhouse London Writers. His latest book is "Dreaming Spheres" written with Sarah Doyle (PS Publishing/Stanza, 2014).

He recently edited an anthology about the senses, Sensorama. His book, The Planet Suite, will soon be published by Eibonvale Press.

Click here to visit the Allen Ashley's official website.

Click here to read Risingshadow's review of Sensorama.


Here are a few interview questions about Sensorama and The Planet Suite:

Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?

I have been a published author for over 30 years. I won the British Fantasy Award in 2006 for Best Anthology (“The Elastic Book Of Numbers”, Elastic Press, 2005). I have also been shortlisted for BFS awards on several other occasions.
I currently work as a writer, editor, critical reader, event host and writing tutor. I have five writing groups running across north London (UK), including the advanced group Clockhouse London Writers.

Also, as a passionate advocate of the short form, I am currently the judge for the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition.

You've edited several different kinds of anthologies. How did you become interested in editing anthologies?

I was running the occasional workshop and starting to give some detailed feedback to other authors, which was well received. I did some assistant editing with “The Third Alternative” and then I hatched the idea of editing a Millennium themed project – which became “The Millennium Supplement” for issue 6 of “Roadworks” and included stories by authors such as Tim Lebbon, Rhys Hughes and Gary Couzens. That was it: I was hooked. Andrew Hook of Elastic Press gave me my first full-length project with “The Elastic Book Of Numbers” and I’ve never looked back. I love editing themed anthologies: you throw ideas out into the world and people write great stories that they would never have created otherwise.

You recently edited a fascinating and unique anthology about the senses, Sensorama (Eibonvale Press, March 2015). What inspired you to edit it?

Thank you for suggesting that “Sensorama” is “unique”. The idea of using the senses as a theme actually came from my wife, the poet Sarah Doyle, a few years ago. I sat on the notion for a while until I was ready to put a proper editing proposal together. There’s an important balance to be struck when setting thematic guidelines: tight enough to give the book coherence and structure but loose enough to allow authors to put their own spin on the project and bring out varied interpretations and, if you will, flavours.

What is your favourite sense?

As I say in the back of the book, my favourite sense is touch. As much as I try to have a spiritual dimension, I’m also quite grounded and earthy. Touch can link us with the world and, crucially, each other. I was struck, though, by what Ralph Robert Moore had to say about taste: “You put part of the world inside you. “

Sensorama contains 21 different stories. Were there any guidelines that the authors had to take into consideration when they submitted their stories?

I always set clear and full guidelines for any book or magazine that I’m editing. It may sound trite to say this but it really is crucial for authors to read and absorb guidelines before submitting so that you don’t get immediately rejected for being a mismatch. If I’ve gone to the trouble of saying, “No vampires or zombies”, take note please. I still occasionally get people sending me novellas or novel outlines. It does surprise me that if people have read far enough to get my email address right, they haven’t taken onboard theme and word length. Oh well, all part of the fun of the editing game.

All of the stories in Sensorama are different in terms of genre, style and happenings, but all of them can be called literary fiction due to the good quality of the prose. Was good prose an important part of the selection criteria when you began to edit Sensorama?

Thank you for the compliment. To answer your question, good prose is a hugely important criterion for my anthologies. I’m never looking for the derivative or formulaic. I have high standards that I expect authors to aspire to. Sloppy writing will lead either to rejection or, just maybe if I like the core idea enough, a request for a thorough rewrite. I want my anthologies to be something that I enjoy reading, that I’m impressed by, that aim for the literary end of the SF / F / H / Slipstream spectrum.

Is there anything else that you'd like to tell readers about Sensorama and its contents?

Read the fabulous review elsewhere on this website. Or just take a chance – order the book from Eibonvale Press or Amazon. Give it a go!

Your book, The Planet Suite, will soon be published by Eibonvale Press. It was originally published by TTA Press in 1997, but has been out of print for a while. Are there any differences between the original  edition and the new edition?

The new version of “The Planet Suite” will be very different from and much better than the original version. That’s not just hype. The new edition will also include extra chapters such as “The Perils of Pentavir” – a science fantasy about the mythical fifth planet between Mars and Jupiter – as well as an interview and a couple of articles. I have been through and made some minor corrections but I haven’t gone crazy with the changes. I have kept to the original spirit and details of the plot and haven’t felt the need to give all the characters i-pads or Google glasses or celebrity fixations.

I feel that “The Planet Suite” is an important book – it’s been described as “the definitive Slipstream novel” – and a reprint is long overdue.

Also, there were some issues with the original edition. Andy Cox at my first publisher TTA Press made a late cost-cutting decision back in 1996, which reduced the number of pages, squeezed the font size and narrowed the guttering. This means that even though the literary content is amazing and original copies are quite collectable – selling for $110 on Amazon USA – the reading experience was not as brilliant as it should have been. I was told by Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham that the book’s spine was too narrow to stand up properly on display on their bookshelves. History has not been kind to Cox’s penny-pinching and his decision was even more curious and annoying as his first book length publication “Last Rites and Resurrections” was a much better produced work and won the BFS award (I even collected it on his behalf).

But fear not. Those of you who know Eibonvale’s output can be assured of a beautiful new edition.

What kind of a book is The Planet Suite? What can readers expect from it?

It’s a novel composed of chapters themed around the planets and other bodies of the solar system. In modern terms, “The Planet Suite” is a fractal novel. Doug Thompson has written a few of these as, to an extent, has Nina Allan. J. G. Ballard is my touchstone, though. A fractal novel is one comprised of discrete segments – essentially self-contained stories or episodes – but also has a repeating list of characters and developing situations so that it can also be read as a coherent whole. I chose this form partly because I am heavily influenced by New Wave Science Fiction but also because that’s the way I approached the project. I started with “Seven Rides To Venus” and then thought how about I write a follow-up about Mars? Before I knew it, I was working on stories about Mercury, Jupiter, the Sun, etc and it was an obvious step to knit the sequence of solar system themed pieces into a complete novel. I don’t know that anybody had done this before. There are, of course, obvious and intended parallels with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” musical opus – different, separate movements such as “Neptune, the Mystic” but also a complete symphony when taken together. By the way, I wrote an entirely fictitious story about Holst as a midway number in my novel; it’s called “First World Tour” and is probably my favourite chapter.

What you earlier referred to as “literary fiction”, I would probably call “Slipstream” – which is literary, sometimes experimental, fiction that is somewhat grounded in the genre tropes of Science Fiction or Fantasy. I have become something of a spokesperson for it in the British scene – publishing the “Subtle Edens” anthology with Elastic Press in 2008 and generally encouraging a new wave of writers to follow in the footsteps of M. John Harrison, Nick Royle, and so on.

So, in a nutshell, “The Planet Suite” is a unique novel based on the planets of the solar system and is required reading! Keep an eye on Eibonvale Press for its release date.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently reading submissions for a new anthology “Creeping Crawlers”, which I’m doing for Shadow Publishing. Submission window closes 31 May 2015. Link is:

I’m also judging the British Fantasy Society Short story Competition – window closes 30 June 2015. Link is here:

I have another editing project lined up for much later in the year. Plus I set myself the task of writing fifty different things this year and I’m glad to say that I’m currently on target to achieve that.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

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Thanks for your interest.