Festival Artist Guest Blog: Cate Kennedy

The Festival asked Australian author Cate Kennedy to submit a piece of writing to our blog. Her entry is below:

Like everyone – or, at least, everyone interested in writing, which I’m assuming is you –  I love the intriguing spaces created by juxtaposition, so it was fascinating to sit down on the bed upon arriving at the stylish, beautiful and hip Hotel le Germain and open the gift book which came in my author bag, George Webber’s “Last Call”.  This striking collection of photographs showed a very different Calgary to the one I’d just walked into.  The pictures, which document the closure of old hotels, bars and hostels of the East Village to make way for redevelopment, are introduced by a thoughtful short essay by Karen Connelly, who grew up here.  I was delighted to find her name there – Karen was the first Canadian writer I ever really met, years ago in Australia, and I visited her in 2002 on the Greek island of Lesvos, where she has a tiny house and an olive grove – a place I have fantasised about as a perfect writers’ retreat many, many times since.  George’s evocative photos, and Karen’s introductory words about the vanishing world they document, have been on my mind as I’ve walked around Calgary during Wordfest, orienting myself to the city.  The new gleaming surfaces – including the obsidian-black wall which faces my window here at the hotel, just cleaned and polished yesterday – are mirror-bright and reflective, glinting in the afternoon sun, but here and there, thanks probably to George’s images,  I’ve been noticing older walls, still bearing the faded painted traces and signs of their previous incarnations – the figure of a man in a suit, a coffee cup, almost-obliterated wording.  Right behind the hotel le Germain, there’s an old doorway still bearing the inscription “People’s Kitchen”, making me want to put my head in the door (the kitchen entrance now to a diner on Stephen Street) and ask about this history, just in case anybody there still knows it.   Everything makes way for everything else, but scraps and clues linger.  I wonder sometimes if what fascinates us as writers (because come on, you can’t tell me you don’t want to find out more about the People’s Kitchen now) is finding thse small juxtapositions which charge our imagination with the thought of what’s lost, or in the process of being lost.  There’s a space there, a silence waiting to be filled. We know that whatever we manage to unearth there, real or imagined, it’s going to be a story.  That corner, that old laundromat which is now a sushi restaurant, that optimistically-painted sign for the long-gone gentlemen’s outfitters, the creaky old escalators in the Hudson Bay department store which once would have been a technological marvel, all serve to remind us that the past isn’t really past, just waiting to be noticed again.

Of all the events here at WordFest, I have most enjoyed the Word of Mouth and Showcase sessions, and the chance to hear authors read their own work.  First because I just like to be read to, and it’s not often we have the luxury of that experience as adults, but also because I love hearing the particular inflection, rhythm and cadence of the author’s voice delivering those words like no-one else can.  It’s been an inspired choice pairing some of these readings with music.  My reasons for taking the time to listen to a spoken word performance when I have the book sitting on the bedside table at home are the same as my reasons for paying to hear a songwriter sing live when I already have their CDs – I want the live, visceral interpretation being enacted in front of me, the preamble which reveals something particular, the surprises in delivery or emphasis.  Bryan mentioned in his WordFest blog a few days back that he’s been enjoying listening to authors reading their books aloud, ‘exactly as they had intended them to be heard’.  I appreciate his sentiment and know what he means, but as an author who is sometimes called upon to read aloud, I can’t entirely agree with him.  I don’t know about you, but I can never seem to read a passage exactly as I intended it to be heard.  My voice shakes.  I hurry over parts I should linger over, I can’t invest my characters’ dialogue with the kind of drama and delivery I envisaged as I sat in my study hearing it in my head. My collection of short stories and my novel have both been made into talking books, read aloud by actors, and I can’t tell you the relief I felt when I heard I wouldn’t have to read them myself.  Sure it raised a whole separate set of anxieties about whether they would read them ‘right’ and understand and convey the subtle inflections Bryan talks about, but it did take off my shoulders the whole responsibility of doing the work justice with what amounted, basically, to my own bad acting.   Which is why I can only marvel in admiration at writers like Elizabeth Hay and Linda Grant, whose pitch-perfect readings of their own work simply added to the pleasure of absorbing it.   Can’t wait for tonight’s showcase and Poetry Bash…

Cate Kennedy (AUS) is one of Australia’s leading literary figures. Her poetry and short fiction has won many awards and her story collection Dark Roots was published in the UK in 2008. Kennedy presents her first novel The World Beneath, a skillfully written portrayal of a triangle of relationships between a floundering family as an estranged daughter and father set out to try to reconnect on a hiking trip together. The World Beneath explores the way that our anxieties, accelerated by consumer culture and its obsession with appearances, get in the way of living genuine lives.

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