with Judith Kingston:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Judith: Like most writers, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t. When I was five, I started rewriting the Bible to include more informative pictures of God and chirpier dialogue, but I gave up after the garden of Eden because it was too much like hard work. Roald Dahl was also an early influence, as evidenced by my first completed novel about a girl travelling around in a giant nectarine. My first serious influences as a teenager, longing to write books you could get lost in, were Joan Aiken, Madeleine L’Engle and Australian author Melina Marchetta. Also Dutch authors Tonke Dragt and Imme Dros.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Judith: Prose I would say Catherine Fox, whose light-but-deep novels never fail to move me and make me laugh, even when I am reading them for the fifteenth time.
When it comes to poetry, there are three specific poems that I am always trying to write – except of course they have already been written. One is “Het Verlangen” by Dutch poet Toon Tellegen, for that one perfect bit: “desire breeds roses and delirious dogs, / rows across lakes at midnight, / shouts”. Another is “Le Pont Mirabeau” by Apollinaire, for its incredible flowing rhyme and wistful beauty. The final one is a titleless poem by Wayne Holloway-Smith (https://thescores.org.uk/wayne-holloway-smith/) about Joseph Figlock catching a falling baby, twice. I want to be able to tell a story this innocuously, pulling the reader in, and then knifing them in the heart at the end.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your writing?
I grew up in the Netherlands and also spent part of my childhood living in Queensland, Australia.
Dutch poets have had a massive influence on my writing but obviously few people would actively notice. I was delighted when an old friend recently spotted a reference to Paul Rodenko’s “Bommen” in one of my poems. In a less lofty way, the Dutch December tradition of writing a poem in rhyming couplets(ish) to go with each present we give to our family has left its mark on my writing too. I really want to rhyme and it not to be weird. A lot of my work has internal rhyme or end rhyme. I just keep coming back to it, trying to use it to create that magical Apollinaire flow.
Living in Australia is entirely to blame for the fact that I mostly write in English. It is because of the time I spent at school there that I am bilingual. Other than that, it meant I discovered a lot of less well-known but incredible writers, including poet Gwen Harwood. A brilliantly zany person and a very versatile writer, she is everything I aspire to be: a serious artist who is also an entertaining dinner party guest.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Two spring to mind:
- I wrote a piece of performance poetry for an immersive theatre show called Morningstar that only one person per evening ever got to hear – only the bravest one. I still love the way it flows and the way it lands. Most of all, I love how things you write for theatre become something more in the interplay with the actor who lifts it off the page.
- I wrote a poem called “Those Last Impossible Inches”, which was published in Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, which came straight from the very depths of my soul and sort of sums up everything I believe in, in a very simple way. A friend recorded it for me. I was sitting in McDonalds when I listened to the recording (fun fact) and it just floored me. Those words spoken back to me were exactly what I needed to hear.
Both of these pieces I wrote in one go, with minimal editing. I am not saying this is how things should be – in the editing process you often lift David out of the block of marble – but in these cases they just seemed to be ready as they were.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Judith: Although I was always writing and drawing and performing plays, it was reading Anne Frank’s diary that decided it for me. Somehow, reading about this young girl’s dreams of being an author that were tragically cut short made me determined to do what she could not, and see my poems and stories in print.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Judith: Watching TV and completely switching my brain off is honestly my most effective way of properly relaxing. I also love reading and drawing but those require a bit more concentration.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Recently, one of my poems was included in Broken Sleep Books’ brilliant anthology “Crossing Lines: An Anthology of Immigrant Poetry”. You can buy it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Crossing-Lines-Anthology-Immigrant-Poetry/dp/1913642313/
Coming up soon, the theatre company I sometimes write for has a brilliant show coming up called Crisis, What Crisis? at the New Diorama Theatre in London – your chance to be a parliamentary adviser in 1979 and see if you can stop the country descending into chaos. https://newdiorama.com/whats-on/crisis-what-crisis
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Judith: Possibly the final stanza of my poem “Sostenuto”, about my great-uncle’s journey back to the Netherlands from camp Bergen Belsen:
“Whenever I saw him he wore a suit – his own, but / under his clothes lurked the bleached bones that / rattled in time to the train he was still on, which / could not take him from that place he never left.” You can find the poem in the Fly on the Wall Press Anthology Persona Non Grata. https://www.flyonthewallpress.co.uk/product-page/persona-non-grata
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Judith: I would not get anything done without my husband, Owen, who is incredible at big picture plotting and story arcs. I love talking through my story ideas with him and he will always help me lift them to the next level. He is also just generally a very inspiring person who works incredibly hard to make his ideas a reality.
So many people have helped me in so many ways, often without realising they were doing it, but I would like to briefly highlight novelist Ericka Waller, who almost literally kicked me off the time out bench where I had put myself for years and made me submit my poetry. It is her fault that anything of mine is published at all.