Ian Ayris caught the public imagination with his fantastic debut Abide With Me. With his honed vernacular narrative style and concise, realistic characterisation he draws the reader into a narrative with great skill. He has a new novella out, A Day In The Life Of Jason Dean and it is Ayris at his emotive honest best.
Ian met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about Ivan Denisovitch and the unconscious mind. I highly recommend his latest for an insightful and superb piece of storytelling.
How much does the parallel between Ivan Denisovich and Jason Dean reflect about the unconscious mind?
Mmm . . . I suppose there are four unconscious minds implied in this question – Ivan Denisovich, his creator – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jason Dean, and me. As far as the unconscious goes, I believe each writer’s unconscious mind heavily informs their writing.
As Virginia Woolf once said,
‘Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.’
I would add: ‘whether he knows it or not.’ I am sure Solzhenitsyn’s experience of being imprisoned in a Russian labour camp informed every word and every line in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. As for Jason Dean, I am still discovering how much of the book was wrenched from my own unconscious. At a guess, I’d say all of it. The difference between the two books in terms of the main characters, and what they reflect on the unconscious mind, is perhaps very different. Ivan Denisovich spends his day trying to deal only with what is before him, the physical, the tangible – whatever it is that can help him get through another day. To allow himself to wander the byways of his unconscious mind, to look for answers, to search for meaning, is something he cannot risk. Jason Dean, however, is drowning in his unconscious, losing any sense of purpose he once had by the minute, a search for meaning his only escape. It is a prison of his own making.
Looking back at Jason’s predicament puts me in mind of a poem by Rabindrinth Tagore:
‘PRISONER, tell me who was it that wrought this unbreakable chain? It was I, said the prisoner, who forged this chain very carefully. I thought my invincible power would hold the world captive, leaving me in a freedom undisturbed. Thus night and day I worked at the chain with huge fires and cruel hard strokes. When at last the work was done and the links were complete and unbreakable, I found that it held me in its grip.’
So Jason spends his time scouring his unconscious for answers.
But at what price?
How much do you think the class system in England has shaped Jason Dean’s character?
Jason pretty much answers this in the book. Now I’m not one for thinking if you grow up in a certain place, in a certain environment, you’re necessarily doomed to tread a certain path. There is hope in the most unlikely of places. But there is no doubt in my mind that certain circumstances – ungs on the class system ladder, afford more, or less, opportunity than others. My dad grew up in the same children’s home as Gary Glitter. My dad now runs a counselling agency in one of the most deprived areas of London, whereas Gary Glitter . . .
Like I said, nothing is without choice.
Here’s what Jason says about his own upbringing:
Gettin off the estate’s like breathin air for the first time. I know I grew up there, an that, but I ain’t got one fuckin thing I took from the place worth a fuck. Me old man, he was a waste of fuckin time, and me mum she spent her whole life pretendin everything round her weren’t happenin.
A kid can’t grow up like that and not come out fucked.
That’s why I took to me books.
Poetry and classics, mainly. Had this idea of betterin meself, you know. Risin above all the shit floatin round me. Nicked me first couple of books from school when I was in the third year – a collection of poems by Keats, and Homer’s Odyssey. Dad found em, said they was for poofs and nonces, dragged me by me ear to the metal bins downstairs and threw em in. Set fire to em with his lighter. Next day, he made me join the boxin club. Said I needed to learn how to be a man.
After that, I spent halfme life down the boxin club beatin the shit out of other kids, and the other half in the library in town readin every fuckin thing I could get me hands on.
I left school with fuck all. But I was built like a shit-house and I could quote ‘Rhyme of the Ancient fuckin Mariner’ word for fuckin word.
You write in vernacular. How much does this help you convey a character’s voice?
Writing in the vernacular, to my mind, allows two things to happen. Firstly, it puts the character in charge, it sets them free to talk in any way they wish, about anything they want. My job, as a writer, is simply to listen. The other aspect in writing in the vernacular is, perhaps, based on my lack of education about how you should write. Not ever having had any formal education in how to write has allowed me to bypass the shoulds and the shouldn’ts, the musts and the must nots of writing – the ‘rules’. The lack of a writing super-ego/internal editor, is a really massive help in writing in the vernacular.
Writing in the vernacular also allows the character to go on streams of consciousness journeys that perhaps, if I wrote more formally, would be dismissed in the editing phase as padding. But for me, it is these streams of consciousness moments that add depth to a character – allowing them the freedom to truly communicate their hopes and their fears and their vulnerabilities from their darkest and their brightest places. Yes, I know they are really all my hopes and my fears and my vulnerabilities, and the stream of consciousness is really the babbling brook of intuition and crippling fear that flows through every cell of my body, but by allowing a character to speak as they wish, without me as a writer constraining them in formal language, the characters seem to be more apt to express the more painful parts of themselves, thus illuminating my own path.
Perhaps my style of writing comes from my years as a counsellor – the concept of allowing the client to express themselves without censor becoming the over-riding principle of the way I write. Counselling in one of the most deprived boroughs in London, vernacular dominates. Vernacular soon became acquainted in my mind with a search for the truth – something else I try to imbue my writing with.
What have you got on the cards for this year?
My main priority this year is to finish LOOK AWAY – the follow up to ABIDE WITH ME.
Apart from finishing LOOK AWAY, I’d also really like to have a bash at writing a screenplay for ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF JASON DEAN. I think that would be a lot of fun. A short story collection might be on the cards too, if I get round to it. And I’d love to try my hand at another novella too.
Ian thank you for an insightful and brilliant interview.