Each year we interview our volunteer judges for the Hysteria Writing Competition and I’d like to introduce Abigail Wyatt.
This is a really probing question and, being in many ways, a very private person, I am almost tempted to answer it with a scarlet and shocking lie. Instead, though, I will tell reveal to you one of the great guilty secrets of my childhood, the fact that, aged eleven, which was old enough to know better, I stole some jade coloured stone chippings from my grandfather’s grave for no other reason than I thought they were beautiful. Predictably, perhaps, having once taken them home, I was so tormented by feelings of guilt that I was completely unable to enjoy them. Instead, I kept them hidden in a jewellery box at the back of my wardrobe until, eventually and several weeks later, I made a visit to the grave to return them. After that, I felt a good deal better but the incident was a prophetic one. I am very much aware that, as an adult, guilt has been one of my weaknesses. I would have achieved more and been much happier, I think, if I could have ditched some of the self-blame sooner than I actually did.
What do you enjoy reading the most and why?
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I read voraciously, a glorious mix of whatever took my fancy from ‘Jill Has Two Ponies’ and Jean Plaidy to the poetry of Rupert Brooke and the collected works of Oscar Wilde. I come from quite a modest background so I was mostly dependent on the resources of the public library. Most evenings after school, I could be found there, usually with my parents’ tickets. I was a shy and introspective child and reading was the chief pleasure of my existence. As an adult, my reading tends to be dictated by my mood and purposes: for consolation, I will read Emily Dickinson and I very much enjoy the intellectual challenge that comes with the poetry of John Donne and the Metaphysicals. When it comes to novels, I read fewer now than I did when I was younger; among my favourite novelists, however, I would place the following: Margaret Atwood, Jill Paton Walsh, Pat Barker, Alan Bennett and Julian Barnes – and, of course, John Williams whose novel ‘Stoner’ was easily the best I read last year. Lately, too, I have found more time to indulge my love of history. Currently, I am reading – and writing – about the women of the French Revolution.
If there was one book or piece of writing you wish you had written what would it be?
This question is easy. All my life, since the age of twenty when I first came across it, I have identified very strongly with Anne Sexton’s signature poem ‘Her Kind’. Of all the poems I have read and loved, this is the one that never fails to move me. More than any other piece of writing, I wish it was mine.
What prompted you to volunteer to be a judge in the Hysteria Writing Competition?
Having entered the competition in the past and having been lucky enough to have had my poem ‘Lady Convolvulus’ published in the 2012 anthology, I knew that the Hysteria Writing Competition to be both friendly and well-administered. I have never been a judge for a major competition before although I have been involved with some smaller competitions locally. Since I wanted to increase the range of my experience it seemed to me that offering my services was an excellent place to start.
If there was a film of your life who would play you and why?
I had to think long and hard about this one. I even asked my friends. As a strategy, I don’t recommend this as some of their answers clearly owed more to flattery than truthfulness while others were at best tactless and at worst downright insulting. That said, I am going to opt for Emma Thompson because I believe she has the range and intelligence to convey the complexity of my character. I would hate more than anything to be rendered on the screen as flat and uninteresting. My vanity is of the kind that would make me object less to a portrayal that revealed my flaws than to one which depicted me as stupid or dull. Now I may be both of these things but I have spent my life trying not to be. Best not disillusion me at this late stage.
Where can we find out more about you?
Firstly, I am co-editor with Hamish Mack of the online poetry magazine Poetry24 at http://poetry-24.blogspot.co.uk/ where readers can find a number of examples of my work as well as my weekly bi-weekly commentary on the work of talented contributors. Next, I blog at Mad Rabbit where there is a page offering links to some of my publications including my short story collection Old Soldiers, Old Bones and Other Stories . My poetry collection, Moths in a Jar is just now coming towards the end of its print run but a few copies are available – at the reduced price of £4 including postage and packing – to anyone contacting me via Poetry24. I expect to publish a new collection in the autumn of 2014. Most of my work appears in magazines, journals and anthologies, over seventy in all since I first began submitting in 2008. If you want to meet me in person, you will probably need to come to Cornwall. I enjoy doing readings and performance events and I am a member of Lapidus http://www.lapidus.org.uk/ but the needs of my elderly mother make it difficult for me to stay away from home.