Interview with Ashley Little, by Giulia Mastrantoni
Her new novel, Anatomy of a Girl Gang, has just been published and we couldn’t miss the chance to interview her.
Welcome to Ashley Little!
I believe Anatomy of a Girl Gang is an outstanding novel. I was struck by your style and I enjoyed very much the descriptions of Vancouver.
Is it a true likeness? What kind of research did you have to make?
Thank you. I have never lived in Vancouver but have spent a fair amount of time there for both research and book related events.
I tried to imagine what Vancouver’s voice would sound like if it could speak. During the time I was writing this novel, I became really interested in architecture and the ways in which we shape the spaces around us and those spaces shape us.
I was particularly interested in the notorious neighborhood of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I read and watched everything I could find about this community and stayed there in a hostel for a period of about 2 1/2 weeks over the course of two years.
I would dress down, remove my jewelry, put on a hoodie and tried to blend in. I would walk the streets and alleys for hours just listening, watching and observing.
Then I would go back to my room and write down everything I could remember and everything I was feeling. Sometimes, I would just go back to my room and cry. There is a lot of pain down there and it can be very disturbing.
But I wanted to show other people that this exists in Canada. I wanted to offer a window into a world they might never otherwise see.
Why did you choose such young characters and why did you decide to focus on girls?
In my research on gangs I discovered that all female-gangs are the rarest form of gang, so I thought that would be something different that maybe we haven’t read about before.
I also learned that co–ed and female gangs are typically organized differently and have a different hierarchal structure then male gangs, and I thought that was really interesting and I wanted to explore that dynamic.
In my research I learned that gang members are typically recruited young, with 12 or 13 being a somewhat normal age to join, so I had my characters range from 13 to 18.
Families are described as a source of pain and resent. What do you think about the relationship between parents and teenagers?
I think gangs are successful at recruiting young people because they offer them a family that they may not feel they have otherwise.
A gang is a surrogate family. It can fill a gap that may be missing in that person’s life.
Your ideal of art is quite a contemporary one: graffiti is the most important form of art in the novel.
What do you think about art in general? What’s the link between Vancouver and graffiti?
I have been interested in graffiti for many years and finally found a way to put it in a novel.
Gang graffiti is very different from street art but I wanted to explore both and see if there was an intersection between the two.
One of my favorite parts of writing this novel was that I got to research graffiti and see the most amazing works in New York, Los Angeles, and several Canadian cities.
I think graffiti is a way for artists to make their mark on the city but it’s also almost as if the city is speaking to us, showing us its secret heart.
Doing drugs is a big deal in the plot: the girls make money out of that, but they also have a controversial relationship with drugs. What do you think about this?
I think gangs and drugs go hand in hand and to write a novel about a gang and not include drug trafficking and consumption in it would be dishonest.
Drug use and sales are also a major part of the street culture of the Downtown Eastside and I wanted to represent that world authentically.
Rape and violence are both part of the plot. Was it hard to write about such topics knowing that they had a link with young girls?
Again, these things are part of gang life and to leave them out of the novel because of my own discomfort would be cheating the reader and doing a disservice to the novel.
Yes, it was difficult to write the rape scenes and I’m sure it did a number on my psyche to imagine that level of violence. But I think they need to be in there. I never considered taking them out.