Ashley Little is a mind-blowingly gifted writer, and reading her novel Anatomy of a Girl Gang is like being hit by a truck. Told in six powerful voices, it's her third novel, and won the Ethel Wilson BC Book Prize, and was longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Award. Ashley was born in Calgary, and completed her BFA in Creative Writing and Film Studies at the University of Victoria and her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. In spite of the violence and energy of her work, she comes across as gentle and soft-spoken, a paradox I love. I'm so interested in how she created the shape of her book.
1. Did you have any alternate titles for your book?
Yes, She Walks Softly, ripped off from the Ice-T song, Big Gun. I now hate that title, although I still like the song.
Also, The Black Roses, which is the name of the gang.
2. What made you pick the one you did? Did that come to you fully formed at the start, or later?
It was one of the first titles I had in mind before I started writing and I liked it the best. I think Anatomy works on a few levels because it is both the study of something and helped me to think about the gang as a living organism; a single biological unit.
3. How did you start this book--an image, a word, a general idea?
After almost three years of research, I heard the character Sly Girl’s voice in my head. She said, “I was shot in the face three years ago.” I knew that was the first line of the novel and that I was ready to start writing it.
4. How did you find the sense of an ending--did you know when to finish? Did the ending remain the same through different drafts?
My original ending was deemed “too hopeless” by my agent and other editors. I was coerced into writing a more hopeful ending which I resented at the time because I thought it felt tacked on and sugary, but now I’m happy that I did. Now I see that it works better that way (even though I couldn’t at the time) and I’m glad they gave me that push. I personally really like down-endings, but I think most readers don’t or can’t handle them. Or they don’t sell. Something like that. One day I’ll write a book with a down-ending and it will sell really well and I’ll prove them all wrong.
4. Could you choose a symbol to represent your book? A shape, person, piece of music, anything you like?
Yes, it is this cover of Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.) by Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt. I probably listened to this song over a thousand times while thinking about and writing Anatomy of a Girl Gang.
5. Did the book grow out of anything autobiographical? Did writing it change your view of the past?
The novel’s setting came from an inexplicable attraction that I had to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Sometimes I felt like I was using the research for the novel as an excuse just to go down there and hang around. But after spending years researching that space and thinking about, visiting it, reading about it, writing about it, watching films on it, and talking about it, I don’t feel the need to go there anymore when I’m in Vancouver. It’s like I got it out of my system. I figured out what I needed to know about it and what it meant to me, and that was important for me on a personal level, outside of anything to do with the novel.
I'm the author of My Name is a Knife, All True Not a Lie In It, and The Old Familiar.