Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Agnes Meadows
By Yong Shu Hoong
Agnes Meadows is a "well-travelled" writer in every sense of the word. Aside from making numerous trips all over the world as a tourist, the British writer has also participated in many international festivals as a featured poet – from Bangladesh and Taiwan, to the United States. Her visits to Iraq for the Babylon Festival of International Cultures and Arts in 2012, 2014 and 2016 form the basis for her seventh poetry collection, Back to Babylon (Palewell Press, 2019). The description of the book on her publisher's website reads, "From convivial jasmine-scented nights in the old city of Babil to the horror and grief at Al-Mawahil with its mass grave of 13,000 disappeared Iraqis, her writing takes the reader ever closer to life in this troubled region."
Meadows was a guest poet at the Austin International Poetry Festival in Texas for 10 consecutive years, twice winning awards for outstanding writing. She has also published an English-Chinese bilingual poetry collection, The Light on the Wall (Morgan's Eye Press, 2017), from which she read at the 2017 Formosa International Poetry Festival in Tamsui, located at the northern tip of Taiwan.
In London, where Meadows is based, she ran Loose Muse Women's Writers Night from 2004 to 2020, with regular satellite events elsewhere in England. She has guest-edited the Spring/Summer 2020 edition of the Atlanta Review, focusing on the work of poets living in or hailing from the regions of Cornwall and Wales. And as she continues work on her first novel, she engages in a different kind of travel – journeying back in time to the 12th century.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, who would you be and why?
3. What's the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name 1 living author and 1 dead author you identify with.
John Steinbeck, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, because of what he wrote about and the strength of the characters he created, all exceptionally robust, colourful and relevant to the times he was writing in. His work changed the way I looked at literature and strengthened my desire to become a writer.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What's the one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
Favourite advice from Raymond Chandler (and I paraphrase): "When the storyline flags, introduce a man with a gun" – or in my case a woman with a sword!
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, what will you go for and why?
11. What is your most favourite word and least favourite word?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: mood, room, plug.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
Black ink pens (rather than biros), with red biros to make alterations as I go along, on a writer's pad. I always write long-hand on paper before typing up – I read (and I agree) that this is more conducive to the creative process as it engages more fully the creative part of your brain. I then edit/revise the typed-up versions as I go along.
14. What is the best time of day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree and why?
John Steinbeck – the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, who wrote such masterpieces as The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. I first read his work as a teenager, and it completely opened my view of writing.
Bill Bryson – writer of a number of hilarious travel books, plus really interesting books on Shakespeare and the English language. He clearly has a brain the size of a planet, so I'd love to have the chance to pick that brain.
16. Can you tell us about the novel you're working on, and what it's like switching gears from poetry to fiction?
I found it really hard to make the switch from writing poetry to writing a full-length novel, and while I've been writing The Book of Betrayals, I haven't written much poetry, as it comes from an entirely different creative head-space, and requires a different kind of focus.
17. What would you write on your tombstone?