One of the UK’s best young novelists, Ali is the author of The Man who Rained and The Girl with Glass Feet, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize for first novels. His latest book ‘The Trees’ is described at doing for trees what Hitchcock did for birds. A brilliant, unsettling story of the day nature fought back.
Ali will be talking to Yorkshire Post culture editor Yvette Huddleston at 4.30pm, Saturday August 6th, St Chad’s church, Middlesmoor. Booking HERE.
These are Ali’s responses to our Q and A:
1. What is your earliest memory of the natural world?
Goats. Both of my parents were camping-mad teachers, so we spent the entirety of every school holiday hanging around in fields. The problem was that I was an unwell child, asthmatic and allergic to almost everything. Everything, that is, except the produce of the goat. We needed to stay on farm sites with plentiful access to my caprine friends. I have lots of memories of being butted by them, although I’m not sure which precisely is my earliest.
2. Did you always want to be a writer?
I wanted to be a painter but I was always making up stories. I went to university to study art, then kept writing on my canvases instead of making pictures. Eventually it was suggested, quite rightly, that my heart lay elsewhere. The truth is I prefer to capture an image in words first and foremost, although sometimes I’ll return to it with a pencil and a sketchbook.
3. Who were the authors or who inspired you to start writing?
It’s difficult to attribute that to any particular author, but Franz Kafka and Hans Christian Andersen were both massive influences at a time when I was just starting to take my writing more seriously. I’d grown up interested in fantastical stories, but The Metamorphosis showed me how magic and transformation can be a kind of expressionism – a way to talk about very real and sometimes mundane experiences in a unique and very visual fashion. Andersen built on that by suffusing his magic with emotion. Fairy tales and folk stories more generally have had an enormous impact on me.
4. Do you have a favourite place or landscape?
There was an old burial mound on a hill outside the town I grew up in. As a struggling teenager I used to walk up there several times a week. From the top of it you could look one way and see the town, look the other and see the countryside. Since then I’ve been to places far more wild and dramatic, but the solitude atop that little barrow will always stay with me.
5. How do you feel about the state of the natural world today?
It’s hard to not be pessimistic. It’s so much easier to damage things than replenish them, and so much easier for a single idiot in a position of high office to affect things catastrophically. Culturally, I think we need a better focus on our dependence on nature and a better narrative of how all-encompassing nature actually is. The instant we start talking about humanity versus nature we set human beings apart from their environment, as if we are somehow independent of it. The stories we tell ourselves about our place in the world steer so many of our actions. If we could ingrain better stories about what we are and what impact we have, maybe we could steer in a better direction.
6. Do you have a motto?
No. I’m too perennially confused and changeable to stick to one.
7. What are you working on at the moment?
An adventure story.
8. What are your three ‘desert island’ reads and why
The Collected Poems of Keith Douglas. The only book I can quote sections of from memory
The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy. This could be cheating, being three books you can buy bound in a single volume (and if I had to choose one of the three it would be The Crossing), but for me McCarthy is the best living writer in English.
Hellboy by Mike Mignola. This is definitely cheating, but one day someone will bind all the many volumes of this comic into a single, heavyweight tome. It’s a tour de force of world folklore and the most uplifting story about free will.