Laura Waddell is a publisher and writer, whose essays on working class identity, feminism and modern literary culture have featured most recently in the anthologies Nasty Women (404 Ink), Know Your Place (Dead Ink) and The Digital Critic (O/R Books). Her work has also appeared in the Independent, Sunday Mail, 3:AM, Gutter, Glasgow Review of Books, Bella Caledonia, Libertine, TYCI, and Parallel magazine.
The Momus Questionnaire was created by musician Nick Currie, and is designed to identify the aspects of the subject’s personality which give them a positive self-image, or ‘subcultural capital’.
Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?
The dreary notion that pursuing anything arts-related through love, study or work leads to nowhere good rears its head occasionally. I flung myself at books full force and not only does it bring me the greatest joy but I have ended up with my dream career despite my high school careers advisor trying to talk me out of it. There should be more scrutiny of the political and social structures which limit opportunities for young people, instead of rolling up the welcome mat to deter perseverance.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
I rented a flat when I was seventeen years old, working a couple of jobs to pay for it while still at high school. I would finish a shift of collecting glasses and avoiding creeps at a sticky floored club in the small hours, leaving to the sound of sirens outside attending to weekly fights, and go to my high street drugstore job the next day, where I’d spend hours making shampoo and paracetemol boxes face out neatly on the shelves, feeling very misanthropic while in-store jingles played on a loop. In between, full of teenage whimsy and awe at the new arena of freedom, determined to do things just because I could, I’d have picnics and listen to classical music on the scrap of back garden whilst the moon was still in the sky, stencil fairies and stars on my walls with globs of glitter paint I’d lugged home from a hardware shop, or I’d float in the local pool (I still can’t swim) for early hour rates, empty at 6am but still all chlorine and rubber rings and light beginning to bounce off the walls when the sun rose higher into the sky to mark a new day. Then I’d go to school on Monday morning. I eventually swapped both jobs for a call centre which paid £5 per hour and £7.50 overtime, which felt like a fortune. I’d put in a few hours after school each day, and can still reel off some of the bargains of the week scripts I’d have to say to customers over and over again, selling knife blocks or DVD sets at knock down prices. I look back and think, what freewheeling madness, liberating and scary at the same time, full of twinned emotions, fear and adventure.
As an adult my work ethic is very strong, beavering away at many projects at once, and I often have to force myself to rest. Can I offer you a five-piece stainless steel knife set at a price you won’t believe?
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
I’ve had a good year of writing narrative non-fiction and having it published, but I’m currently working away quietly on some experimental prose and short fiction which I feel has been waiting for me to attend to in the artistic cosmos for a long time, like some kind of creative heart. I’m finally orbiting it. I’m getting closer. I can see it. That feels like an achievement.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
There is no one moment but the continuous driving force in my life has always been books. I believe I was signed up to a book club not long after birth, before I could read, and I always had a library card.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and excellence, how would you describe yourself?
Must I? I have a really cool red freckle on the middle finger of my right hand. I’d probably talk about that, exclusively.
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
I recall with greedy clarity watching a pound coin slide around in a circle before dropping into the slot of a dog shaped charity box for rescue animals. I wasn’t sure whether to be proud of myself for playing my bit to further a cause I believed in or upset at the spontaneous sacrifice when I could have bought sweets instead. I was ten. I have since repeated this emotional journey by dedicating an awful lot of time to things like indie literary magazines when I could have become an accountant or something in half the hours.
Describe a public personality who exemplifies everything you’d like to be yourself, then another public personality who incarnates everything you’d least like to be.
Rebecca Solnit’s essays are the epitome of important writing, writing that is rich with intellect and thoughtfulness on big emotive subjects. As for public personality I’d least like to be, let’s say The Opportunist Columnist, none in particular but those of a seam running through many outlets, a breed desperate to stir controversy, flippantly question the rights of marginalised groups, hold any opinion necessary for money and self promotion, integrity and impact be damned. Words have impact.
If you were an Egyptian pharoah and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
I’d need some light to guide the way. A neon pictorial sign of a takeaway box of noodles, winking on and off; a taxi cab light in screaming yellow; one of those casually striking French pharmacy signs. A trash can with resident raccoon for some company and can-do spirit, willing to share scavenged pizza. Books go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
No. I especially do not have a favourite joke. I am Comedy-with-a-capital-C averse.
What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)?
Olivia Laing’s portrait of the New York City artist David Wojnarowicz in the book Lonely City was my introduction to his work, and for that I am grateful. It highlights, with tenderness, his ability to find beauty in gloom and a rare, vitally raw way of looking at the world – artistically, politically, sexually. As well as being a compelling artist who worked in a variety of mediums, he was the antithesis of a culture which practises detachment and nonchalance, reacting to the world around him and its injustices and joys with full emotional force in his activism and writing. Laing is a brilliant portraitist and I’ve recommended The Lonely City to so many people. I recommend it to you too.