10 Questions With… Ashleigh Nugent

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Ashleigh Nugent, whose debut novel LOCKS, is going to be a book that everyone should read!!

I was delighted when he agreed to answer some questions on his writing journey, how he wrote LOCKS and what he has been up to during lockdown.

Over to you, Ashleigh…

1) As a child, did you have a favourite author? Was there a turning point with a book that made you go ‘Wow!’?

Every time I hear an author talk about how they gorged on C. S. Lewis as a child or how they lived in the school library, I am visited by the pangs of imposter syndrome. Because, no, I didn’t have a favourite book as a child. I didn’t read as a child. But the ‘Wow!’ moment, I remember it like yesterday.

It was a book called Where Are You Going by Swami Muktananda. It asked me to question myself, to choose how I live, to acknowledge my purpose in the world. So I did. And that changed everything. 

I’ve asked my mum whether she tried to read with me as a child, though I realise this was not as common back in the 1980s. She assures me that there was little point attempting anything with me that involved sitting still for a minute. I can see her point. It does strike me as strange, however, that I always wrote but didn’t read. 

The school persuaded my parents to take me to the doctor to deal with my unbearable creativity and high energy levels (What kind of child…?). The doctor decided I was a clear case of hyperkinesis, now known as ADHD. My inability to sit still and be told what to think all day led me to believe that I was not one of the clever kids. And, no, I didn’t read books. 

The colonial curriculum — featuring not a single person who looked like me or my dad, my sister or my brother — also turned me off education. Police harassment and a self-fulfilling prophecy soon saw me playing the part of just another scally, a petty criminal hanging round the streets, fighting, selling drugs getting arrested. 

Suddenly I was 21. I had never read a book. And no one knew that I wrote poems. 

2) Did you enjoy English at school? What is your earliest no memory of writing?

That said, English was one of the only things I enjoyed at school, along with running, playing, and being a pain the arse. Still, I do have memories going back to primary school of teachers telling me that I would be a writer when I grew up. Shame I didn’t read.

One of my earliest memories of writing is a piece I did in school about how I loved to lie on the couch with my dad, how he made up daft songs when he was happy, and how he made me pluck the white hairs from his Brillo pad beard and save them because they were priceless. I could see that mum was a bit envious. So, at the next opportunity, I wrote a piece about mum: how she liked a glass of whisky at night, smoked cigarettes, and once had a race with some lads on the M62. 

Mum was more circumspect about sharing her feelings after that. 

3) How did you come up with the idea for your debut novel?

I lived it. Locks is based on a true story.

I didn’t read but I wanted to be a writer. Moreover, I didn’t have a story. What did I know? What story could I tell? My brother was eight years older than me. He had been in the army, he had lived in London, he had a reputation for being cool, tough, clever, handsome, popular, funny. But I was just me. 

I had to make something happen. 

So when I went to Jamaica at sixteen years of age, I was on a mission to make something happen. Yes, I was also in search of roots, identity, and belonging. I was raised in a leafy aspirationalsuburb where no one looked like me. Hence, I had been arrested three times before I’d ever committed any crimes. I knew virtually nothing about Black history and culture despite having a Black identity foisted upon me by others from the day I was born. So, I had a twofold mission: make some mad stuff happen and refine my identity as a Black man. 

I succeeded in the former. 

Within three days of being in Jamaica I had been mugged and stabbed, arrested and banged up. I was held in an underground dungeon with no running water, I watched two friends drown in a river, and I was beaten unconscious while a group of boys chanted, ‘Fuck up da white man.’ Then I was forced to skip bail and flee Jamaica illegally. 

So, yeah, I succeeded in the former. 

4) What normally comes first for you when write? Is it plot or character or the themes you want to explore?

Locks is an exploration of race and racial identity, amongst other things. As I lived the story before writing it down, the plot came first. However, interesting themes emerged as I started to construct the narrative: race as social a construct, hegemonic masculinity as a blueprint for barbarity, the potential for self-development through misadventure and so on. 

I am currently researching for a prequel set in Jamaica in the early sixteenth century. I aim to explore the relationships between three characters from the indigenous Taino population, Spain, and the West Coast of Africa. 

So, I suppose I’m starting with theme this time.

5) When do you write? What time of day is best for you? Do you have any writing rituals?

I write when I can. My ritual is simple: Crack on.

The past twenty years have been so busy: working, studying, and raising children. And the nature of my work means that I’m up and down the country, organising new projects at last minute, and sporting numerous hats in any one day. 

To explain in brief, I run a company called RiseUp CiC. We deliver courses in prisons that combine creative arts with mindset development techniques. It’s a beautiful job that has me leaving work elated on most occasions. But it’s not so conducive to writing rituals. 

6) Have you found that your characters have unexpectedly surprised you? Do you let your characters dictate to you at all?

Once I start flowing, characters become unique entities with their own values, drives, and motives. My consciousness becomes a conduit through which the characters express themselves in this dimension. So, yeah, they surprise me.

Sometimes, while reading back what I’ve written, I’m shocked to find that the characters have created situations or solved issues without any conscious input from me. 

Creativity opens your consciousness to the unconscious, super-conscious, and collective conscious dimensions. So, who knows where some of the ideas are coming from? 

7) During lockdown, how have you found your writing process? Has it changed at all?

Yeah! Locks was due to be released in May 2020 in the Everyman Theatre during the Writing on the Wall festival. That never happened. And it’s a good job. If I had attempted to get it finished by then, whilst organising and delivering projects in prisons all over the UK, it would have been substandard. Lockdown allowed me to slow down on final edits and make sure I was as close to a hundred percent happy with it as possible.

Then came the marketing.

Most of my writing since then has been poetry commissions, essays for other people’s blogs, and promotional pieces for Locksand for RiseUp. It’s the first time in twenty years I have been able to write in the daytime rather than squeezing it in once everything else is done. 

8) What are you currently watching on television? Have your television habits changed throughout lockdown?

We never watched boxsets in our house. Then lockdown happened. Line of Duty and Breaking Bad are amazing. They are masterclasses in storytelling (at least, that’s how I justify a three hour binge). And as for The OA. Wow! The OA!

9) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Drink Guinness. Prior to lockdown I could have mentioned some other stuff. But now it’s just Guinness, TV, tunes, and chilling with my wonderful wife. 

10) What is your music taste like? Have you been missing live music in lockdown?

Hip-hop and reggae all day. Apart from those, I just like anything that inspires and energises me.

Before lockdown I hadn’t discovered any new music for a long time, I was just too busy. So it’s been beautiful to listen and discover again. I haven’t listened to any live music, but I have fallen in love with a load of new albums. Currently, the things I’m rocking most on Spotify (which I’ve only joined during lockdown) are Don’t Fight Your Demons by Arrested Development, The Amiri Baraka Sessions by Heroes are Gangleaders, and Songs of Our Native Daughters by Our Native Daughters.

Thank you for your time today Ashleigh, it was a pleasure to have you on the blog – I can’t wait to see LOCKS on the shelves in print!!

Bio: Ashleigh Nugent is a writer, performer, and Creative Director at RiseUp CiC. His publishing credits include poetry, academic work, and magazines articles.

His latest work, LOCKS, is a novel based on the time he spent his 17th birthday in a Jamaican detention centre. LOCKS won the 2013 Commonword Memoir Competition, and it is receiving rave reviews in magazines and blogs. Liverpool Literary Agency is currently working to secure mainstream distribution. 

The one-man-show based on LOCKS has received rave audience reviews following showings in theatres and prisons throughout the UK. 

For the past 22 years Ashleigh has used rap, poetry, and literature to help the most vulnerable to develop positive mindsets. Ashleigh’s company, RiseUp CiC, have developed a programme that empowers prisoners to turn their lives aroundby taking control of their own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

LOCKS is available on Amazon at the following link: https://amzn.to/3ryOTir

@LocksBook

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