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Columnist Michael Apichella shares the story of Bury St Edmunds actress and writer Hatty Ashton

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While working for a suburban-Chicago newspaper, I often suffered from writer’s block. The cure? Muffins and coffee. Preferably at the Dunkin’ Donuts shop well away from the office.

It’s funny. Somehow a muffin always soothed my nerves and fed my creativity, reminding me of Algernon and Jack in Wilde’s The Importance of being Ernest. Jack wonders about Algernon’s odd habit of calmly eating muffins as a means of resolving his big problems. Just call me ‘Algey’.

Here’s why. Recently, at the Apex café, I spied my most favourite muffin in the display case, a honey-bran. I asked the server, Hatty, for one and requested four more to take away. ‘’We only have one bran-muffin ready now,” she explained, “but you may come back for four more later today.” As I munched that jolly, round cake, the magic began. Soon it whispered there’s a story in Hatty waiting to be told. And, by George, there is. A good ’un.

Michael Apichella (5442918)
Michael Apichella (5442918)

Bury resident Harriet ‘Hatty’ Ashton is a twenty-something actress, co-founder and artistic director of Bring Out Your Dead Productions theatre company, as well as an author of children’s books. Her latest story is There’s Head in my Bed, retelling in verse the local legend of the recovery of St Edmund’s severed head by a wolf.

A woman of many parts, Hatty’s strictly high-octane. “I’ll be under-studying the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds pantomime this year, and I’m in a new Amazon-Prime [book] series that is to be released early 2019.”

She started acting at Suffolk Young People’s theatre and has gone through the ranks of the local theatre scene. She also studied Motion Capture (a.k.a. mo-cap), and it’s her goal to be a Gollum-type character like in Lord of the Rings.

“I love monsters and, according to Carrie Thiel (Motion Capture Combat Choreographer for the Lord of the Rings films), I do a very good goblin.”

Hatty’s been inspired by many great performers.

“Tamsin Greig’s a brilliant actress. Absolutely Fabulous’s Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are hilarious. And Anthony Hopkins’s an amazing storyteller. You can see the fun they’re having!”

Actress and author Hatty Ashton
Actress and author Hatty Ashton

Millennials are habitually tarred-and-feathered in the media as slothful. But Hatty’s not having any of that.

“It’s the young people who are lacking opportunity in this day in age. Due to my career choice, I’ll only achieve my goals through dogged perseverance; yet, I adore what I do, so I scale the mountain with a smile and lots of other people aren’t as lucky. Also an artist’s life is hopping from one creative act to the next. They are like short little bursts – same as the cash.”

Many say Bury isn’t a young artist’s town. “It’s up to the young people and us clingers-on-to-youths to make more opportunities for ourselves. We’re the best equipped to do so. However, my co-artistic director Greg Hanson and I have found with Bring Out Your Dead Productions, which is run by young people for young people, the older generations are very supportive, and they want to see us flourish. We’re very lucky to have that encouragement.”

Her advice to youngsters hoping to become artists? “Persevere and be kind to yourself. The saying ‘When one door closes another opens’ is so true.” Wise words.

Hatty’s next book, Forkbeard and the Ghost King, will be launched at Moyse’s Hall Museum on Sunday, November 25.

“Local stories are part of our shared-heritage; they belong to us, and we should be proud to have them.”

Clearly, as with Algernon, bran muffins are the secret of my newsprint success. What’s Hatty’s? Oh, that’s easy, she declares: “I’m very serious about silliness!”

Forkbeard and the Ghost King times are November 25 at 12.30pm and November 26 at 1pm. It’s free of charge and booking is not required. Moyse’s Hall Museum is on Cornhill, Bury St Edmunds. Call 01284 757160.