The Momus Questionnaire — Anna Vaught

Anna Vaught is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, reviewer and editor. She is also a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor to young people, mental health campaigner and advocate, community volunteer and mum to a large brood. Her books, for Patrician Press, are Killing Hapless Ally, a semi-autobiographical novel about mental illness (2016) and novella, The Life of Almost (2018). For the same press she has co-edited the anthology My Europe (2018) and is editing Tempest, an anthology of writings about dystopias (2019). Anna’s novel Saving Lucia, about Violet Gibson, the Irish aristocrat who shot Mussolini, and Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce, will be published by Bluemoose in spring 2020. Currently on submission is her homage to Southern Gothic and historical fantasy, called The Revelations of Celia Masters. Anna contributes to, among others, Litro, Review31, New Welsh Reader, Visual Verse, Losslit, Writers and Artists, Contemporary Small Press, the TLC blog and The Shadow Booth (memoir); two of her flash fictions appear in The Shadow Booth Vol. 2 this summer. Her poetry is published by Patrician and Emma presses.

Have you rebelled against someone else’s dreary expectations of your life, and become something more unexpected?

 Yes; with everything. I am the black sheep of the family – and I mean this lovingly – don’t get me wrong. My work is referred to as bits and pieces; my writings as ramblings – and there is, I think, a general disappointment that I didn’t stick to a proper linear teaching career and buy a house in a gated community. Yup. I’ve travelled loads, lived all over, married a bloke who asked me for directions on a Kolkata street, taught and written and have an extensive volunteer portfolio. Since I was 17 and had my first job, I’ve tithed my income, too so even if I wanted a house in a gated community, it’s not happening and it has taken me a long time to slough off others’ expectations. But my kids tell me all the time how proud they are of me and wrote to me about it on Mother’s Day.  

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’? 

I jumped ship; took risks; rebelled (still rebelling), wrote publicly – really in the hope it would help others – about a difficult background and about mental health problems. 

What creative achievements are you most proud of?

My books; I’ve written a lot in a short time while managing many other commitments and my own three kids plus others for whom I am guardian. Also, my tutoring and mentoring company. It has always been a huge joy of my life to work with young people – in schools a vicariously achieved happiness came from seeing creative things come alive for teenagers. In a funny way, my home: I’ve made a semi-derelict old pub that both sides of our family disapproves of into a family home and I did a lot of the work myself. Dived into a lot of skips along the way.

If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?

Being a carer; early loss; being orphaned; abuse; unkindness. I see that this is more than one thing, but it was all closely connected – plus some of its fallout remains ghastly in my adult life and I have to live alongside it. I am beginning to write about that. Oh – and subsequent mental health problems. All of this has, I hope, expanded my heart and I feel like I am always on watch for others. Taking care of them and being there. Make sense? I talk to people all the time. Some extraordinary things have happened in my life because of the encounters that being there – or attempt to be there – engendered. I wonder if being stifled, reduced, then nearly annihilated seems to have led – not that I am saying this is easy –  to courage. (Also, the kids, teaching and learning to read!)

If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?

If you are feeling bad

Come on over, yo,

I got tea and welshcakes….

(This would work for Kanye, don’t you think?)

Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?

Yup. But I feel a bit embarrassed saying that. Still, there are no pockets in a shroud.

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.

Most: gosh too many. Human rights activists; mental health campaigners. May I slim it down and think about writers and those involved in publishing? I’d be thinking about writers who are wonderfully creative and also focused on community and on love for others. Such as Kit de Waal; Salena Godden; Nikesh Shukla. I have taken such encouragement from the independent presses too and the pioneering spirit of those who run them. I think YES! As an MP, David Lammy. I’ll just pop that in.

Least – hmm.  Tricky this. There are some cruel and loathsome people in the public eye. I will say Trump and his family. For racism, unkindness, ego, corruption. It brings me out in hives when Ivanka Trump speaks about feminism and rights for women; talks about families while exploiting children in sweat shops for her product lines. I look at her and see that she and her siblings have been raised to be the acceptable face of corruption. Ugh. Can I add Farage, Johnson et al? Tommy Robinson and those who support him. Those who peddle divisive and cruel things; those who are motivated by greed and ego. 

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?

Well now, as I said, there are no pockets in a shroud. But…books: though how would I pick just a few? My favourite blanket. My wedding ring. Some of my children’s drawings and love letters.

Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?

I am going to say the words that make me go weak at the knees from someone I was thinking about just now. My auntie Bettykins just turned 90 and danced in her tiara on her birthday. She comes to the gate when I leave her and says (do a West Wales accent as it’s the only way here) ‘You lights up everything, you do.’ I draw on that when I feel sad. Unconditional love and its words. Failing that, Beckett’s ‘Fail again. Fail better’ and a stack of things from the husband and offspring.

What’s your favourite portrait (it can be a song, a painting, a film, anything)? 

Well I love art, music and film and this is nearly impossible for me to decide and it tends to change. Does that make me terribly fickle? Let’s take some recent pleasures:  I was watching Miller’s Crossing the other day and thinking how fine that was, listening to Lynnard Skynnar’s Freebird while driving to Madrid and revisiting my art books when I got lost in the lush depth and darkness of Caravaggio.