Ashley Goldberg on Abomination—after holding onto this story for so many years it’s left me now, gone out into the world, and that’s a scary thought

Today we’re in conversation with the very gifted writer Ashley Goldberg for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. Ashley is an Australian writer based in Melbourne. His fiction has appeared in New Australian Fiction 2021, Meanjin, and Award-Winning Australian Writing, among other publications. In 2019, Ashley was a fellow at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre and a Tasmanian Writers’ Prize finalist. Abomination is his debut work which was initially shortlisted for the 2020 Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Award.

When did you first think of writing Abomination? How did the idea come up?

Ashley- The first manuscript I submitted to agents was a short story collection in 2017, and while I received a lot of positive feedback what I largely heard was that short story collections are often a difficult sell to publishers unless there’s also a novel attached. With that in mind, I got to work on Abomination. Initially, I suppose I was interested in fate, or rather the paths we start out on and then the paths our lives take. I’m sure most people could point to a moment in their lives that they could identify as a turning point that resulted in them being who they are today, and I was curious about that, particularly with regard to myself and my upbringing in a modern Orthodox Jewish community.

How did you finalise the title Abomination?

Ashley- An ‘Abomination’ in Judaism refers to a particular kind of sin, it’s used in the novel a few times, but it was only when I found the epigraph quote in Proverbs that I knew it would be my title because it perfectly encapsulates the experiences of both Ezra and Yonatan. 

How much of the story are you? How much of the character Ezra, or Yonatan are you?

Ashley- Ezra’s narrative is readily relatable to my own secular life, but his story isn’t simply my life placed on the page. Through Ezra’s tribulations, I was able to explore the relationship between morality and religion, the value of friendship, the contemporary idea of ‘love’ and many more thoughts and ideas that I’m interested in.

As far as Yonatan’s narrative goes, I don’t want to give too much away but there’s a questioning of faith there, and that questioning is mine—not for the same reasons as Yonatan, of course. For me, I think it’s fair to say that my questioning of faith was more gradual, and a product of many influences both inside and outside of Judaism. 

What has been your biggest takeaway while writing this novel?

Ashley- I don’t think I realised how much work publication would be, not only the editing and proofreading but the publicity and promotion as well. All in all, it’s felt like a second full-time job. If I were fortunate enough to have a second book published, I think I would make sure I blocked out an appropriate amount of time in other areas of my life so that my focus wouldn’t be so divided.

Your book also deals with school students engaging in online chatrooms. Do you think technology has changed our dynamics with our children today?

Ashley- I don’t have any children, but my adolescence effectively aligned with the advancement of the Internet. The online world had an enormous impact on my life and my social interactions in my late teens and early twenties. That said, it wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is now, and I can’t imagine what it would be like for children today to have to navigate the expectations of the online world in addition to their day-to-day tribulations.

Is there any particular message that you want to convey via Abomination?

Ashley- I believe Abomination explores universal themes related to identity, faith, family, friendship, and morality. Of course, there’s likely to be a level of affiliation for people with a Jewish background but it’s my hope that Abomination is understood as a story about the paths we are placed on, the paths we take, and how we are all just trying to make our way through the world.

How many rewrites, did you have to go through while writing this book?

Ashley- Not that many—I write slowly. Whether it’s short fiction or a novel, at the end of a writing day around three hundred new words will be on the page. Of course, there will be revisions down the line, but I try to get those three hundred as right as I can the first time around.

Every book is so special in its own unique way, but I want to ask you, how does it feel to see the labour of your love, out in public, at the bookstores?

Ashley- It’s exciting but also terrifying. There’s that saying amongst writers that once you put a book out into the world it’s no longer yours but belongs instead to the readers, and I think that’s true. Whatever my intentions were when writing the book, what the actions and inactions of different characters meant to me, none of that matters now. It’s about how individuals interpret the work—after holding onto this story for so many years it’s left me now, gone out into the world, and that’s a scary thought.

How did your love for writing begin? Did you do a lot of journal writing while growing up?

Ashley- I started writing in my early twenties, around fifteen years ago, and I started keeping a journal around then as well. I’ve always loved reading, ever since my father read R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps to my brother and me when we were small and I, impatient for the ending, would sneak them off the shelf and finish them on my own. Like many who love to read, writing felt like a natural aspiration. But it wasn’t until my first few years of university that I made the conscious decision to be a writer. 

Did you have to go through some initial rejections while getting your book published?

Ashley- Rejection is obviously a huge part of every writer’s life. I queried around 50 agents before I received a request for a full manuscript and even once I had an agent the road to publication wasn’t easy—they submitted the manuscript to around seven different publishers and fortunately Penguin Random House Australia snapped it up. I think luck plays such a major part in getting published.

Do you have a writing ritual? Do you write on your desk, or do you like to hop out in cafes and do some writing there instead?

Ashley- My place is pretty small—a two-bedroom terrace in the inner-north of Melbourne. We don’t even have a kitchen table so most of my writing is done either on the couch or in our spare room/library/my partner’s yoga studio. I can’t really write in public—I think I’m too self-conscious. When I write at home, I listen to music pretty much all of the time, but it has to be something I know well so that I’m not distracted by some damned catchy hook.

When you’re not reading, or writing, what do we see you doing?

Ashley- I work four days a week, leaving the fifth as a dedicated writing day. But oftentimes I’ll spend that fifth-day playing basketball or streaming some nonsense TV show. I’ve come to realise that leisure time is an important part of the writing process—the difficulty comes when you only have so much spare time to allocate to either leisure or writing.

What are you reading currently?

Ashley- No Hard Feelings by Genevieve Novak – a fellow Australian debut author. It’s very funny, and the voice is great. Humour is such a hard thing to do in fiction, but Genevieve has really nailed it.

Do you have any tips for the new aspiring writers who are working on their first novel?

Ashley- Read as much as possible, obviously. Read the kind of writing you want to write. And then find a workshop group if you can. I completed a Master’s in England a few years ago and what I got the most out of were the relationships formed outside of the classroom. Once a week, a small group of us would get together and drink wine, eat cheese and critique one another’s work. And because of the friendships we’d already developed the feedback was often honest, candid and spot on.

Just one last question, what are you working on next?

Ashley- Short fiction is my first love and my favourite form of prose—I’m always writing short fiction and I hope to have a collection one day. Other than that, I’m also working on a new novel that explores a relationship between a young man and a much older woman and the idea of limerence—a state of all-consuming infatuation with a person—among other themes, including some related to religion and Judaism.

Abomination was published on 3rd May 2022 by Penguin Books Australia. You can purchase the book here.

Read our book review for Abomination here.