A. S. Hatch is the author of This Little Dark Place, which was published in paperback by Serpent’s Tail on 2 April 2020.
He kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about This Little Dark Place.
TLDP is, ultimately, about grief. The indomitable power of grief and despair and its unique ability to drive ordinary people to extraordinary acts. It is the story of an ordinary young couple, Daniel and Victoria, whose desperation and failure to conceive a child drives them apart (as it does, sadly, to many real life couples). The novel is a first-hand account of Daniel’s experience of the fallout of the broken down relationship, following him down a twisted path to the dark place he ends up calling home, a dilapidated old cottage in the woods, and the dark place in his mind.
2. What inspired the book?
The story, or the basis for the story, I had carried in my mind since 2005, when I originally conceived of a prisoner writing letters to his mother ahead of his release in the month of October, complaining of a miscarriage of justice, of prison conditions &c. Epistolary fiction is, I find, immediately gratifying because the voice of the correspondent is mainlined into our conscious. These are their words, there is no adulteration, no middle man. We, as readers, are thrust directly into the play as it were, and indeed we are the players. I had thought of the reader – in that initial concept – as the prisoner’s mother, as occupying the character of the mother, which I thought would make it easier to write, as in, I had a target at which to aim the narrator’s ire. It would almost be like having a conversation. But I never started writing the novel that would become TLDP until January 2017. The spur for finally doing it then was reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. If you’ve never read it, De Profundis is one long letter written to his ex-lover Alfred Bosie from his cell at Reading Prison. The language burns on the page. The rage is palpable. I felt oddly accused reading it, as though I were Bosie, as though I were the system which had placed him there. The direct address “you” was a powerful technique. Reading De Profundis left a deep and indelible imprint on my writer’s mind. I took it as a sign: write the book. I visited Oscar’s grave in Paris in summer 2017 while I was writing the book.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I’m a major league planner. After I become wed to an idea or a concept I usually spend six to nine months developing the plot, mapping the twists and turns, mulling the placement of my red herrings like landmines, before I dive in to draft. A notebook goes everywhere with me (people buy me nice notebooks every birthday and Christmas so I have enough to last an entire career by this point) and in it I try to capture anything that occurs to me which may be of use in the novel. Settings, behavioural tics, interesting figures of speech (older people are great to listen to for these). I know when it’s time to start drafting because the opening lines begin forcing their way out of me. That first page, that first scene or passage I take great pains over. The opening line of a novel is like the opening riff of a rock song. After that though the writing itself is almost automatic. This, I have found through experience, is a good thing – at least for me. Because the more one labours over word choice the less the language flows. The more one frets over the ‘literariness’ of a sentence, the less literary the result. The quality of one’s prose I believe is a direct result of good reading. So I try not to think too much when I’m drafting. I try instead to attain a flow. Silence helps. I’m not one of those writers who could take my laptop to a coffee shop.
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
Just prior to signing the contract I was taken aback slightly when I was asked to cut my 95,000 word manuscript to 70,000 (this after having already cut down to 95,000 words from 135,000 at my agent’s instruction). However, this turned out to be undoubtedly the right call. I realise now that what I began with was a sweet little fruit covered in so much pith. I guess the only thing that surprised me about the process is that I actually enjoyed the editing process. The back and forth between my editor Cecily Gayford and I was immensely fun and satisfying. Cecily pushed me and I’m so thankful she did because the reception the book that we produced has been amazing.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Three to five times a week I lift weights in my home gym. The feeling of being physically strong helps me to feel mentally strong too. Whenever I’m under the weather and can’t lift I feel my writing suffers. Lifting is part of my routine, like brushing my teeth, like sitting at my computer to write.
Videogames occupy a special place in my life. I grew up stealing turns on my dad’s Commodore 64 and then I got my very own my NES, and since then I have watched the industry grow and evolve into the sophisticated behemoth it is today. The types of games I love the most are the ones that are most like reading a book, single-player, plot-driven experiences like the Legend of Zelda series, The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid &c. Well written videogames can be as moving as any film and I truly believe they have more than earned the right to be encompassed by that catch all phrase ‘the arts’.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Infinite Jest by David Foster-Wallace. Hands down. Not simply because of its length, but because it contains such a wide variety of voices, evokes such a range of emotions – no English language writer I’ve ever read had such mastery of both comedy and tragedy, often demonstrated in the same sentence – that it is the obvious choice. It is linguistically endlessly inventive, its scenarios shocking, its scope and breadth astonishing. You could read Infinite Jest every day for the rest of your life and still be as captivated on the last day as the first.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
Question: Who is your non-literary hero? And why?
Answer: Roy Keane. More than the fact that Roy was a ferocious, world-class midfielder and leader, what I loved about him was the way he approached life and his work. I loved his directness, his bluntness. For me the magic of Roy Keane is encapsulated in this quote. Talking about how he felt when receiving praise for having a good game, he said:
“To be honest I actually get offended when people throw quotes like that at me as if I’m supposed to be honoured by it…It’s like praising the postman for delivering your letters. He’s supposed to. It’s his job. My job was to try and win football matches.”
About the book
How well do you know your girlfriend?
How well do you know your lover?
How well do you know yourself?
Daniel and Victoria are together. They’re trying for a baby. Ruby is in prison, convicted of assault on an abusive partner.
But when Daniel joins a pen pal program for prisoners, he and Ruby make contact. At first the messages are polite, neutral – but soon they find themselves revealing more and more about themselves. Their deepest fears, their darkest desires.
And then, one day, Ruby comes to find Daniel. And now he must decide who to choose – and who to trust.
About the author
A.S. Hatch grew up in Lancashire in the 90s, and has lived in Taipei and Melbourne. Now he lives in London and writes fiction in his living room-slash-office-slash-gym in the early hours of the morning before going to work in political communications