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Interview: Charlotte Ashley on “La Héron”

– Tell us a bit about “La Héron.”

La Héron is the story of a duelist who enters an illicit tourney only to find most of her opponents aren’t what they seem and are playing for stakes she didn’t agree to. But she’s a tough old professional with more than a few tricks up her own sleeve, so with a reluctant-nun-cum-brawler as her second, she’s determined to win it all and take the purse anyway.


– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

The story was prompted by a writing challenge (the theme was “broken vows”) but it gave me the opportunity to write characters and situations that had been rattling around my head for a while anyway. I wanted an unbridled, swashbuckling adventure story in the style of Alexandre Dumas, only with a cast of quirkier, more diverse characters.


– Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Not in any emotional sense, but certainly in the sense that it is the kind of thing I have always loved to dream about. I joked at first that the story is autobiographical – it’s the fantasy I want to see myself in. Of course I’m a world-wise swordmaster and prize-winning duelist. Of course.

– You have an extensive and prize-winning collection of the works of Alexander Dumas.  Anything you’d like to tell us about that, Dumas, or how his work has inspired your own?

I don’t think anyone has ever written romance – and I mean that in the old sense of an epic, over-the-top, awe-driven aesthetic – better than Dumas has. Anyone who writes popular literature owes him a deep debt, whether they know it or not. I’ve always loved his work, but it wasn’t until I realized that my other favourite contemporary authors were also directly inspired by him that I realized it was okay for me to be, too. Neal Stephenson, Michael Chabon, Nick Harkaway, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Umberto Eco – they all cite Dumas as an influence and thank him for his inspiration. But in literary circles, Dumas is considered frivolous and infantile (see all the editions of The Three Musketeers aimed at kids.) Why is that? His work isn’t trivial – it’s passionate and clever and enduring. He shows better than anyone that you can write stories that are exciting, gripping, and plot-driven but also be emotionally powerful and important. You don’t have to be “popular” or “literature” – the masters can be both. I strive to be both. I will always strive to be both.


– It’s not common to read about a drunken, brawling nun.  Tell us more about the inspiration for the character Sister Louise-Alexandrine.

That’s funny, because literature is full of stories about brawling clergymen, from Friar Tuck to Garth Ennis’s Preacher. The philosopher-warrior is a solid, ancient archetype. It seemed natural to me that any order of women who’ve chosen the independence of an ascetic existence would contain a lot of plucky, volatile members. I specifically imagined her as an illegitimate daughter of Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. I figure she got her father’s attitude and aptitude with the sword. She is named after Alexandre Dumas’s sister.


– What are you working on now?

I’m putting the last touches on another short story about dueling and power. I can’t shake my fascination with martial prowess. I want to keep exploring the ways martial cultures did (or might have) evolved outside of a bald desire to murder and oppress people. Can we love the physical perfection of a Bruce Lee or Miyamoto Musashi without buying into all the baggage that comes with the military – the othering of enemies, the colonialism, the murder? Are there truly honourable ways to fight each other? When your talents are physical, can you be anything other than a weapon? I find these questions interesting and I don’t think I will stray far from them for a while.

“La Héron” appears in the March/April 2015 issue of F&SF.


2 Responses to “Interview: Charlotte Ashley on “La Héron””

  1. Interview @ the F&SF Blog! « Once & Future on March 31st, 2015

    […] F&SF blog has posted an interview with me about my piece “La Heron”. This one was really fun to answer and gave me a chance to rant a little about women in martial […]

  2. Nebula Nominations | on February 15th, 2016

    […] use of magic, especially the mushrooms. The story’s not online, but an interview with the author about the story […]

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