Mansfield Questionnaire: Ella West
Ella West responds to our slightly irreverent literary questionnaire, inspired by Katherine Mansfield.
Write a prelude to your life in one sentence.
Mum and Dad saw each other across a crowded dance hall in Invercargill one night . . .
Would your father have accepted your plea for musical training?
No – I was sent to ballet lessons, which I was no good at.
Do you speak French?
Assez pour acheter deux baguette dans un boulangerie à Paris (qui je l'ai fait!)
If you were to, at any stage, become a ghost who would you haunt?
Shakespeare (as Hamlet’s Ghost or Banquo? Hmm) and then I could find out who really wrote all those plays.
Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?
Isn’t that called Facebook?
Garden parties. Yes or no?
We celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this year in the garden and set the BBQ on fire next to the house cooking too many lamb chops. Needless to say it was a memorable occasion for everyone there. (We managed to save the house and the chops, the BBQ needed a paint job. Mitre 10 has paint that is good for 600degC so we should be fine now.) Where have you had the best time of your life? On the beaches between Coolum and Noosa.
Where have you had the worst time of your life?
Working on a dairy farm in Southland. It was cold.
If you were to use a nom de plume, what would it be?
Ella West maybe?
Virginia Woolf wrote ‘I was jealous of her writing — the only writing I have ever been jealous of.’ Who are you most jealous of?
Sigh - Margaret Atwood, E Lochart, TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath, John Le Carre . . . (I could continue here) and Virginia Woolf – I got an A+ for an essay at varsity on To The Lighthouse.
Where are you in the family birth order?
The middle child – need I say more?
You left home and then:
Discovered the world (which you do need to leave Invercargill to do).
What is your favourite short story?
Flowers for Algernon
What was the last real letter you wrote?
I had penfriends when I was at high school, in the 1980s. One was in Nottingham and was a leader for a nuclear shelter, another was in South Korea and had to learn martial arts at school for when the North Koreans invaded. Awful. My teenage son instead does live gaming and talks to people all over the world, in real time. They’re busy saving the world from zombies, not talking about how much food you need to survive nuclear fallout.
What brings you bliss?
Love, alcohol, chocolate and swimming in a warm sea (although we put up with a cold one in Dunedin – but it’s better than not swimming at all).
How would you like to die?
‘There is no twilight in our New Zealand days, but a curious half-hour when everything appears grotesque—it frightens—as though the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw.’ What are your feelings on New Zealand twilight?
That precious time when the last of the outside jobs must be completed by unless, of course, the tractor has lights.
Has anyone ever said of you that you’re ‘a dangerous woman’?
My husband - constantly. And he would know.
Have you ever had an X-ray?
I don’t recommend them. They usually occur just before someone utters the words “yes, it is broken”.
Write a brief history of your eyesight:
My mother was right. Don’t read under the covers in bed with a torch - it does ruin your eyesight.
Is there ‘the taint of the pioneer’ in your blood?
My great grandfather, our father told us, was a German sailor who got shipwrecked many times and finally jumped ship in Dunedin to make his fortune in the Otago Goldfields. Since my father’s death we have found out that none of this is true. It’s very sad. But I must admit I did always doubt it – I get terribly seasick.
‘I want to be REAL.’ True or false?
“To be alive and to be a ‘writer’ is enough.”