01 May 2015

Guest Post: An Interview with Andrew Wilson

The following is a guest post, the second in a series of three, by Annette Stevens.

Mad Girl's Love Song by Andrew Wilson is a good book about Sylvia Plath, one that I would recommend. My name is Annette Stevens, and I blog over at Mademoisellewomen.wordpress.com. As part of a blog series for this website, I'll be sharing some interviews with Plath-biographers with you. Here, we spoke to Andrew Wilson:

Hello Andrew, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

When growing up, did you ever think you would want to be a writer?

Yes I always wanted to write, since a child. I wrote stories and made little newspapers full of local news.

Do you have any other experience-such as in journalism?

After an English degree at King's, London, I did a year MA in journalism at City University in London. Then I got a job in magazines and then worked on staff for a few years before I went freelance, writing for everything from the Face to the Sunday Times to the Independent to the Mail. My first book was Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith – and since then I've written biographies of Harold Robbins, the survivors of the Titanic, Mad Girl's Love Song: Sylvia Plath and Life Before Ted and a novel, The Lying Tongue.

Could you please take us through your average working day?

It depends what kind of day it is – whether it's writing, interviewing, researching or reading. All this depends on which stage I am at and what I am writing. I also still write journalism so I could be interviewing a writer or an actor. If I am writing I like to do about 1,000 words a day – all depending on the deadline.

Did anything specifically give you the idea to write a book about Sylvia Plath, prior to life with Ted Hughes?

Basically very little had been done on this. Most books rushed the early life to get to the meeting of Sylvia and Ted. And I also came across a huge amount of new, unpublished material and tracked down friends and lovers who had never spoken before.

How did you begin to research the fundamental basis of the manuscript?

I spent a couple of months in America at the two big Plath archives – one at Smith College and the other in Bloomington, Indiana. At the same time I started to track down people who had known Plath.

Out of all her poetry, do you have a favourite poem?

"Mad Girl's Love Song" – after which I named the book.

Did you come across any surprising material about her?

A great deal. I like to think I banished the myth of Sylvia as a victim. She was much more knowing and intelligent and, at times, manipulative than that. Also her mental illness started at a young she but went undiagnosed.

At any time, did your impression/initial judgment of Sylvia change?

It changed a lot – often several times during the course of one day. That is the difficult aspect of biography – you have to try and represent a person in all their complexity, with often contradictory impulses and desires.

This week you have a new book out, about Alexander McQueen. Congratulations! What was the inspiration behind the book?

I started work on a year before the announcement of the V&A's show Savage Beauty which opens in March. I had always been intrigued by him as a designer and stager of shows that became art installations. I suspected his story would be a complex one which many layers and secrets, hopefully which I've teased out. Again I hope to have represented him in all his complexity.

Have you ever worn any of his designs?

Only the odd T-shirt – some of his clothes are out of my price range! But that is not to say I don't admire them.

Like Sylvia Plath, would you subscribe to the view that he was possibly a tortured artist?

Definitely. He was driven by a dark vision.

How would describe McQueen in five words?

Vulnerable, insecure, gifted, visionary, honest.

How long did the book take to write?

Two years and this was almost solid work. So I didn't do much other work during this time.

Are there any other books you have planned, to do with designers -such as Chanel?

Not at the moment.

For anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps, do you have any tips?

Follow your instincts, ask questions, work hard. Don't be put off.

And one random question: do you like pizza?



boston12855 said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Andrew's book - the premise was obviously fascinating - and captured some of Sylvia's the effervescence that Mr. Crockett used to described to us that she had in spades as a child growing up in both Winthrop and Wellesley. I once asked a Wellesley High grad who knew her if Sylvia's radiant senior class picture captured her spirit - or was it all a facade? "That was Sly," she replied, "yes, there might have been a few dark days, but all I seem to remember was her smile, her passion for anything she did, and her ambition to make something of herself." To me, as a Wellesley native, she remains the moonbeam caught in our hands - elusive, irresistible, fleeting.

Rach said...

This was a very good book and for the first time I made a strong connection between Sylvia and the influence of certain astrological influences of personalities. Mr. Wilson wrote that Sylvia's need for a "double" or complementary female manifested itself when she went to college because she no longer had her mother close by to fulfill that need. Incidentally,, her mother was a Taurus, which is the opposite sign of Scorpio...If anyone is more than a little familiar with astrology they know that opposite signs can be both attractive and repulsive but ultimately that other sign possesses a trait we keenly feel missing within ourselves. Also, opposite signs share many of the same characteristics but are displayed in different ways or for different purposes. Assia Wevill, the man Ted Hughes left Sylvia for, was a Taurus also. How ironic it is that Assia was the same sign as Aurelia, and Sylvia's opposite...Im considering writing an article or essay on this using my vast decades long knowledge of Sylvia and astrology.I used to do Natal charts and im also a published poet and have had a couple articles published also. In any case, even after reading countless books and articles about SP, in Mr. Wilson's book is the first time it all clicked for me in this vein.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017.
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 2, 1956-1963. London: Faber, 2018.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.