Quick & Quirky Questions with Abigail Ottley

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley is a former English teacher who was born and raised in a working-class home on the edge of East London. Since leaving teaching in 2004 due to a period of serious illness, she has dedicated much of her time to writing poetry and short fiction from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. She also continues to act as primary carer for her very elderly mother.

Abigail was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2013 and over the past ten years her work has appeared in more than two hundred journals, magazines and anthologies. Some examples of these are The Lake, Atrium Poetry,The Atlanta Journal, Gnashing Teeth and Fragmented Voices. In 2020, a selection of Abigail’s work appeared in New Women’s Writing from Cornwall and in 2021 she was shortlisted for both the Cinnamon Press and The Three Trees pamphlet awards. She is a contributor to a number of anthologies published this year, including Close Up; Poems on Cancer, Grief, Hope and Healing, Morvoren: the Poetry of Sea-swimming and Cornwall, Secret and Hidden, a collection of short stories (2022). Dancing in the Dark, her essay on rape, was published in The Survivor Zine earlier this year.

Tell us 4 important facts about yourself:

  1. I was the first person in my very working-class family to obtain a degree.
  2. Due to my mother contracting rubella during her pregnancy, I was born with very poor eyesight, but this was not understood until I was seven. I fell over a lot as a child, but my mother said it was because I was clumsy. 
  3. I am plagued by food intolerances including, tragically, an intolerance of dairy products, potatoes and tea.
  4. I am besotted with my little dog, Percival Dog Esq. who was found abandoned and tied to a fence near my home eight years ago.

What is your favourite age that you’ve been so far in life, and why?

I think, so long as I am able to write, stitch and paint, this is always going to be the age I am at the time someone asks that question. Most of us experience many ‘ups and downs’ at all stages in our lives but being alive and in difficulty is likely to be better than the alternative.

Who is your favourite fictional character or famous person over 60?

I am interested in history in a general way, but I am especially interested in the stories of women. Among my favourites are the later women of the House of Trastámara, Isabella and her daughters, Juana and Catalina, the last of which we English know as Catherine of Aragon, first wife to Henry VIII.

You are alone in your house (no pets). You have three minutes to get out before the house collapses and burns to the ground. What one possession would you grab and take with you? 

The two photographs I keep on my writing desk. One shows my husband and I on our wedding day and the other is a very tiny portrait of my much-loved grandmother, Matilda.

What’s your favourite creative pastime?

Apart from writing, which I do pretty much every day, I enjoy embroidery and watercolours. I am currently embroidering a visual family history for my grandson’s eighteenth birthday. My grandson is only just coming up to two, so I probably won’t be around to see his response. 

Tell us something about yourself that’s surprising or unexpected.

I was shot in the eye at point blank range when I was an early teen and, after an abortive attempt to remove the air rifle pellet, I have carried it in my skull ever since. What is, perhaps, more surprising is the fact that there was no blood. I lost consciousness for a while, came to my senses, got up, and was sick on my shoes. After that, I couldn’t think what else to do so I walked the half a mile home.

Annual Poetry Competition

Theme: ‘The Environment’
Deadline: 31st October 2022 – Entries now closed

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