Angela Readman is a Costa Short Story Award winner, whose deadpan, surreal style has been compared to Angela Carter and Kirsty Logan. Her debut novel Something Like Breathing, released this month by And Other Stories, is a story of love and friendship set on a remote Scottish island in 1957. Blending poignant detail with a fairytale sensibility, the novel explores the disruptive power of close female friendships, and the sense of being an outsider in a small community.
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?
I ate a Kit Kat the wrong way once, that seemed pretty rebellious. That, and getting married. I invited no one. It was just me and himself, a cowboy hat and a second hand dress at a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas. It wasn’t something anyone expected me to do. The same goes for being a writer. I was supposed to grow out of stories when I left school and be doing something sensible by now.
What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I Did It My Way’?
The toilet paper. I hear there’s a right way to put it on the holder. I only found this out last year- I’m like ‘what do you mean? It’s toilet paper.’ I’ll die before I obey those kind of rules.
If we’re talking writing, I suppose my short story collection was pretty much me doing my own thing. I wrote what I liked. Everyone was telling me I’d never get an agent unless I wrote a novel, but I wrote shorts because I love stories. I still do. Funnily, it was a short story that got me an agent. She read Don’t Try this at Home and loved it.
This doesn’t feel as big a deal as the toilet paper thing though. I still can’t get my head around the idea that there’s a right way.
What creative achievements are you most proud of?
I have a slow release system with pride. I’m only proud of things after the fact, until then while the work is fresh to me I don’t have an opinion on it. It’s either an incredibly grounded way to be, or plain weird. My novel Something like Breathing just came out last week, so it still hasn’t sunk in it’s a real thing that exists outside of my laptop. When I think of it, it’s still a pile of papers on my desk with a coffee stain on the corner. I’m pretty proud of my collection The Book of Tides with Nine Arches though. It’s poetry, so it’s a quiet sort of feeling, but I know I gave it everything I’ve got. Every now and then, someone will contact me to say they enjoyed it and I’m suddenly glad to remember it’s out there.
If there was one event in your life which really shaped you, made you the person you are today, what would it be?
Probably a teacher reading out a story I wrote when I was a kid. It was near the end of term. I wasn’t in the classroom. I’d been chosen for the greatest honour of all – to organise the art supplies cupboard. It was beautiful in there. I could make a real difference. I was stacking coloured paper and had been told to take some to a different classroom. Then I heard it, my story being read to the class as I walked by. I was mortified. I became a beetroot, some of the kids started giggling. I still feel a bit like that. I turn inside out if I hear anyone mention my writing.
If you had to make a song or rap boasting about your irresistible charm and sexiness, how would you describe yourself?
There are songs about oversized cardigans, right? I also make a pretty sexy veggie lasagna. There aren’t enough songs about pasta. And don’t even start me on soup, I’ve made a few that are charming motherfuckers.
Have you ever made material sacrifices because of your integrity?
We all cut back on things if we want to do something creative I think. We need space to do it , so we buy less to buy ourselves time to write. I sold stuff so I could finish my novel. It wasn’t a big deal to me. I’d already sold all my Smiths records to pay for a writing course years ago. I don’t consider it a sacrifice really, it’s just about priorities. Writing means more to me. I’d rather know I tried doing something I love than live in luxury and always wonder if I should have given it a go.
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.
When I was young, I wanted to be Olivia Newton John at the end of Grease, but something went horribly wrong. I couldn’t sing and when I put on a pair of black trousers and it turned me into a goth. Later, I wanted to be Jeannette Winterson, just an incredible writer. Or at least try to write and work on improving. I don’t know who I’d least like to be. Anyone who’s a bully would be a no no for me.
If you were an Egyptian Pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take to the next world, what would they be?
A fantastic blanket, the collected stories of Flannery O’Connor, some Tunnock’s caramel wafers, teabags and a Moomin mug. Oh, I’d like some art too, I’d want something special to give David Bowie when I bump into him.
Do you have a favourite joke, quotation or proverb?
I still love the one about the balloon who finds no room in the bed, so he lets a bit of air out of his mother, then a bit more out of his father, then undoes his own knot and listens for the whoosh. ‘You’ve let me down, you’ve let your mother down,’ his father says, ‘but most of all you’ve let yourself down.’ I have major balloon empathy. I think we’ve all felt like that.