An interview with Ann Abineri, flash fiction category judge in Hysteria 2017

Ann Abineri is one of our amazing team of flash fiction category judges. She lives in the Cambridge area. She has had short stories, flash fiction and poetry published in Mslexia, Writer’s Forum, Writing Times, Pennine Ink and Words and Women Three. In 2016 Ann had a poem and a short story commended in the Mother’s Milk Writing Prize and a short story achieve third place in the Carer’s UK writing competition.

Which writers or poets inspire you and why?

My first big inspiration was the work of the Liverpool Poets. I still have the copy of The Mersey Sound, purchased at a school book fair and annotated in my neat young handwriting. The way that they took both mundane life events and deep emotions, and summed them up in such witty, sparse combinations of words, was unlike anything I’d come across before.

In terms of writers, I would have to say that Ruth Rendell was an absolute inspiration.  I love her Wexford books and particularly the fact that what initially appear to fit into the ‘cosy crime’ genre actually explore deeply pertinent issues, such as human trafficking. Her work as both Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine shows a deep understanding of human psychology. My own writing often explores darker issues as befits the times we live in.

If you are a writer or poet, how did you get started?

I started writing at primary school and won a prize for a road safety essay. The prize, a badge, was presented by a clown and gave me a taste of success and a craving for acknowledgment. At grammar school I had a few pieces in the occasional school magazine and when I was 16 I joined a rather eccentric poetry society which met on Friday nights in the staff room at an Adult Education Centre.  There, people decades older than me read very strange things, many of which seemed to be personal obsessions rather than poetry, including the writings of the 18th Century scientist and mystic Swedenborg! Although somewhat offbeat, they made me very welcome and listened to my work.

Life, in the form of four lovely children and a plethora of part time jobs in health and education, got in the way of my writing until about ten years ago, when I hit upon the idea of writing for women’s magazines and found an encouraging mentor. Unfortunately this was around the time that the market was shrinking, and I soon realised that wider markets had to be explored. In the last five years I have had numerous pieces of work published in anthologies and writing magazines and get immense pleasure from every success, no matter how small.

What are you currently reading?

I have just finished listening to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as an audiobook, which I loved, and am reading Joyce’s Ulysses, prompted by a visit to Dublin with a sub-set of my book group. I have a huge pile of unread books standing by, as well as a massive e-book collection, and I recently decided that the Japanese word tsundoku, which means owning more books than you will ever read, applies to me.

Are you a library lover, a bookshop bird or an online owl?

All three!  I love libraries and very much echo Ali Smith’s view that they are spaces of democracy that we must fight to retain. I do frequent bookshops and buy online, but most of my book purchases are at literary festivals, often meeting the author and getting a signature.

My e-reader is one of the early ones and I mainly use its associated app. Now that I can read on my phone, I never get that feeling of panic about having nothing to read at a bus stop.

What advice would you give your younger writing self?

  1. I would listen to others when they say you can do it, be they mystical folk or clowns.
  2. I wish I’d started carrying a notebook long ago, as, apart from writing inspirations, I am sure that everything in it would be a source of fascination now. 
  3. Finally, I would tell myself that small pieces of fiction are beautiful and you don’t have to put off writing until you have time to start that novel!

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