Q&A Monday: Cate Kennedy 5 Comments

Q&A Monday: Cate Kennedy

Cate Kennedy. Female. Lives in north-east Victoria. Has published a novel, a travel memoir, two collections of poetry and many stories (including the short fiction collection Dark Roots). Born in Lincolnshire, England before moving to Australia in her childhood. Has won a variety of short story accolades, and just last month won the People’s Choice Award at the New South Wales Premier’s Awards for her novel, The World Beneath.

photo: Peter Rae

Writing: necessity or luxury?

In terms of achieving sustainable harmonious world peace, probably a luxury.  In terms of making my own life marginally more coherent, probably a necessity. On some days it feels vital, on others it’s more like there’s a half-finished model aeroplane in there on the desk, and I’ve promised someone I’d get it finished and painted. I just want to glue it all together and clear it away and get started on something else.

You’ve published short stories, a novel, a travel memoir and two poetry collections. What’s up – are you a commitment phobe or something?

You know when you were at primary school and you had to run around and try all the instruments in the music room? That’s me – I can’t decide if it’s the triangle or the maracas that I really feel drawn to. I can’t explain why I’ve shifted from form to form like this, but I do know I’ll be writing short stories till the day I die – every genre has its pleasures but the short story is the one I’m married to, if you know what I mean. The others are just affairs.

You live in a rural area, far from the city. Is this a nod to the idea of the secluded, distraction-free writer?

Yes, it sure is. I’m a bit of a latecomer to the writing life and so have had a couple of decades to really hone my procrastination skills – I’m grateful to live in a place where there’s no excuse except myself for getting on with it. I’m a big believer in turning off the incoming barrage of stimulus for a while. I like the kind of day where you answer the phone at 4 o’clock and your voice is croaky because you’ve spoken to nobody for six hours. I’m kind of a gregarious hermit, if that’s possible.

Your story ‘Black Ice’ was published in The New Yorker, somewhat of a mecca for writers. How did this come about, and how do you feel about it now?

I had my story collection with my current publisher, Henry Rosenbloom at Scribe, who thought to send to them to an agent he worked with in New York.  The agent sent the stories out in batches to various magazines, and to everyone’s astonishment The New Yorker said they wanted one. It was like landing on the biggest ladder in Snakes and Ladders – all of a sudden I had publishers there and in the UK interested in buying the rights to the Dark Roots collection, and interested in hearing what I was going to write next.  There was definitely a moment which defined this for me – I asked the fiction editor there if he’d send me some copies and being New York he sent a pile via international courier directly to the farm where I live. I was pushing my six-month-old daughter up the track in her pram hoping she’d fall asleep when I saw a shiny courier van turning into the farm gates and I just knew what that van contained – my advance copies, and here they were, rolling towards me, like a reward I’d barely asked for. I remember tearing the package open there on the track and seeing the cover – it was the issue published exactly five years after the September 11th attack and the image was of Phillipe Petit (the aerial tightrope walker who’d balanced once on a wire between the two World Trade Centre buildings) stepping out into white space. Such a beautiful subtle symbol – but all I could think was ‘that was me, ME!’ – temporarily walking on air.

If you could rifle through anyone’s journals or raid anyone’s hard drive, whose would it be?

Hmm. Annie Proulx’s would be good. Or Elmore Leonard. Anyone with a great eye for detail and a few ideas I could shamelessly crib. I bet they’d both be taking notes in a journal, though, rather than typing them onto a hard drive. Which brings us to your next question…

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

I just want to be friends with the internet. There was the possibility of a more serious relationship there for a while, but we were younger then and it wouldn’t have worked. I’ve tried explaining but the bloody internet won’t take no for an answer. It keeps hassling me, asking me what I’m doing right now, why don’t I tweet my thousand closest friends about it, why don’t I go shopping with it any more, why can’t I spend all day every day with it. I can’t even go out for a coffee with a friend without it butting in wanting to join us uninvited at the table. It’s getting to be a drag. I’m thinking about taking out an intervention order. So, not exactly foe. A knowledgeable acquaintance with a fantastic library – I just wish it wasn’t so needy and possessive.

You can punch one person in the schnoz and get away scot free. Who do you clobber?

Ah, now you’re talking. And because this is a literary blog, I assume Robert Mugabe is not eligible. It sure would be fun to punch the Pope (not that he’s literary either) but it would take a long, long time to explain.

You’re an exile, banished to a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. You are allowed one book and one album of music (in a solar powered iPod) to last the rest of your days. Any preferences?

I’m trying to think this through seriously, but frankly your narrative premise has huge holes in it. What manner of torturer would provide an exile with a solar-powered iPod, and surely they’d allow you, say, the complete works of Dickens and the entire Beatles oeuvre, instead of just one song and one book? Am I part of some giant deprivation experiment? What’s my motivation? Is there a keypad on the iPod?  Okay, okay, I’ll take To Kill a Mockingbird and The White Album. Or maybe Tom Wait’s Closing Time.

Have you ever hit a cane toad with a golf club? Could you?

Funny you should ask. I have. At first I thought I’d give it a single, fatal, golf-like whack across the green but it started crawling and I panicked and had to club it. Just for the record, you don’t need a golf club – just a spray bottle of Dettol. Spray some on the cane toad’s back and it’s done. Clean, quick and hygienic. There’s an interesting pest-control tidbit for you. While I’m exiled on the desert island, I might turn Tom Waits up loud and power up the solar iPod and assemble all these bits of trivia into a book – what do you think?

  • Liam Wood

    Another great Monday Q&A. Left me with a renewed desire to punch Robert Mugabe, which led logically to ideas of clubbing a cane toad in his stead but as I live in Melbourne and I’d probably wimp out anyway I just looked up closing time on you tube and it is definitely some solid desert island listening.

    oh to be a ‘gregarious hermit’

    • http://www.samuelcooney.wordpress.com Sam Cooney

      “I like the kind of day where you answer the phone at 4 o’clock and your voice is croaky because you’ve spoken to nobody for six hours.” –> i dunno about all of you, but i want this to be my life.

      for someone who is continually branded as an ‘internet hater’ Cate always kicks arse whenever she appears on it. (in it? through it?)

  • http://duncanwritingeditingpublishing.wordpress.com Duncan

    Enjoyed the interview, and I’ve really liked the short pieces by her that I’ve read in newspapers and such, so I should really check out her books someday soon.

    And I believe she’s expanding on the whole ‘internet disconnect’ theme in the just-out issue of Overland

    • http://www.samuelcooney.wordpress.com Sam Cooney

      I highly recommend chasing down all of Cate’s short stories. So good.

      And that essay in Overland you speak of is available to read online.

      What do you think about her arguments?

  • Nikita Vanderbyl

    I think Cate has a very valid argument in her Overland essay. Unless we are completely in control of our social propensities like Twitter and Facebook will suck our time away, time we might not have much of (before, say exams in two weeks which I should be revising for, but am instead doing exactly what Cate argues against).

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