Author Interview – Lee Kofman

The blurb of the memoir The Dangerous Bride reads: “Lee Kofman, rebellious daughter of ultra-orthodox Jews, has always sought her own way. True to her Bohemian dream where love can coexist with sexual freedom, she decided to experiment with an open marriage… despite the fact that her previous non-monogamous relationship ended in disaster”… It has been called “strikingly candid and candidly engrossing” by Kate Holden.

This memoir is an incredibly personal account of human relationships and searching for something more in life.

Kofman presents her ideas and research alongside recounts of her own failed relationships and personal struggles, forcing the reader to sit up and pay attention.

This is definitely a book for now, because now is a time for questioning what we were always taught, and going after what it is we truly want.

Readers will find themselves nodding in understanding of Kofman’s miseries, and grinning widely at her triumphs. The Dangerous Bride is a book for open-minded individuals who seek new perspectives on people and their relationships.

The Dangerous Bride - cover image
Lee Kofman’s memoir ‘The Dangerous Bride’, published by Melbourne University Press.

At what moment did The Dangerous Bride turn from idea to manuscript?

Strangely enough, this book actually started not as an idea, but as a completely different book.

For some years I’d been trying to write a book about my experience of migrating from Israel to Australia, but really I was seeking to explore my simultaneous yearnings for security and for risk-taking, a conflict which tormented me for many years and in many areas of my life, love included.

I initially thought writing about moving to Australia on my own at twenty-six, with little money and even less English, would do. However, unlike the move itself, writing about it felt too safe. I was bored with it all.

After four years of trial and error, I realised the only way to write about risk was, as the legendary editor Gordon Lish suggested, to ‘write to convict’ myself, which is what admitting my romantic failures and my desire for non-monogamy – perhaps one of the last sexual taboos today – amounted to.

So in 2008 I said goodbye to all my thousands of words about migration and started a completely new book about my misadventures in non-monogamy. And of course this book ended up being about migration too and some of those discarded words made it in as well. So The Dangerous Bride is both my love-life story and my love song for Australia.

Creative non-fiction is littered with ethical questions; did you find yourself battling any of these issues while writing your book?

Many of them! It took me five years to write this book and when I complain about this to my friends, they always say soothing things, such as ‘But of course, at that time you were also completing a PhD, getting divorced, remarried and giving a birth to your first child.’ But actually none of these facts explains why it took me so long to write The Dangerous Bride.

The truth is, I wrote slowly, because I was absolutely terrified throughout the entire process. I worried my research into non-monogamy wasn’t thorough enough and I’d mislead my readers. I worried about hurting my former partners, my current husband and my parents by what I had to say.

I was scared I wasn’t representing adequately people I interviewed for the book, or that I’d offend them by describing them the way I saw them. Then I also worried that people I wrote about could be recognised, so I changed many of their personal details and then worried about the potential loss of authenticity.

And then there was a dead woman in my work and how do you ethically write about the dead? Eventually, my anxiety escalated to the point where every time I sat down to write, I felt the room was crowded, haunted by ghosts of all those people I was writing about and they were all telling me I was completely in the wrong, that I didn’t get them, that I used them, that I was full of shit.

I don’t have the space here to discuss how I dealt with each of my, very legitimate, concerns, but I do think that that anxiety was actually – as much as it was painful – healthy for the writing of this book. It kept me on my toes as a writer and the tension generated made the book feel urgent. I hope that some of this urgency seeped into the writing itself as well.

The Dangerous Bride is an exploration of relationships, some of them your own. What was it like putting these personal experiences on paper for the world to see?

Author Lee Kofman

Writing like this is not completely out of my comfort zone, because by nature I am a confessional writer.

My work almost always somehow relates to my life or at least to people who have mattered in my life. But I often disguise my own experiences by fictionalising them, sometimes even attributing them to male characters.

The Dangerous Bride is my most personal work to date not just because I describe my life there, but also because of the extent to which I expose my internal world of desires, paradoxes and weaknesses. And this was another reason why it took me so long to write this book. I found it very difficult to put myself on the line like that.

Your book has a solid foundation of research, can you tell us how you went about this?

I loved doing the research! It was a welcome break from the painful wrestling with my own story.

I got to read many exciting books about lives and loves and creative work of artists who interested me, such as Frida Kahlo and Iris Murdoch. I also loved doing research about historical attitudes to non-monogamy and about the current mores and dominant discourses on love, romance and sexuality.

Then there was all that incidental research that arose from some of the digressions I made in the book. So I read also about the lifespan of poets, about communism, about Judaism’s take on menstruation and much more.

I used to be an academic and so critical engagement with research is more like a comfort zone for me, at least in comparison to the enormously difficult work of creative writing.

Once you had completed your research, what was your writing process like for this book?

My research and writing processes are usually intertwined. Whenever I work on something that requires research, including this book, I start from writing freely whatever comes to mind without checking any facts. Then once I get stuck I do some research.

Then I take a break from the research, so that not to get overwhelmed by all the material, and do more writing. Then I research some more, and so it goes. In this way I also don’t get over-committed to the research and allow for a possible change of direction in the book.

Sometimes, for example, I lose interest in one of the themes, or during the writing process something new excites me and I need to start a different type of research. Not letting research to take over was particularly important in The Dangerous Bride, because in this memoir the engine driving the narrative is my story, and research was supposed to merely complement it.

The Dangerous Bride has been available for a few months now. What’s it been like promoting a book of this nature? Have you found it different to your other books because of the personal subject matter?

I felt very vulnerable once The Dangerous Bride was released, the way I never felt with my previous books which were fiction.

In the first weeks of the book’s appearance I kept nursing grim visions of being stoned, like those unfortunate biblical adulteresses.

But now my sense is that people are more tolerant than I had initially assumed. I’ve been getting many positive and kind responses to my memoir, also from people I considered to be conservative. I also did quite a few radio and other interviews and so far the conversations were respectful.

In a recent talk I gave, my audience was surprisingly (at least for me) comprised of many older people, who seemed engaged, asking questions and sharing experiences.

Later, a woman wearing a hijab approached me to sign her copy of my book, commending me kindly on being brave. This and other similar experiences have made me think that I should be less fearful when writing about difficult subjects and, even more importantly, less judgmental of others.

What’s next for you as an author, have you got another book in the pipeline?

I now have a rich person’s problem – I’ve got too many books I want to write!

Because it took me five years to write The Dangerous Bride and then another year till it was published, I had enough time to develop new ideas.

Right now I’m working on a novel set in the Egypt’s Sinai peninsula in 1996, when Israelis could still holiday there freely. This novel tells the story of four young Israelis who are trying to have a good time in a Bedouin camp, yet their problematic past haunts them. At the same time I’m also writing an essay about café society, the good it did for our civilisation.

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Writer’s Edit would like to thank Lee Kofman for sharing her valuable insights with us. Should you wish to find out more about Lee, please visit her website here.

The Dangerous Bride is available now through Melbourne University Press and bookstores.

Writer's Edit

Writer’s Edit is a young online literary magazine created especially for writers and lovers of books. Founded in July 2013, the magazine is home to writing and book-related news, as well as advice and inspiration for emerging authors. Writer's Edit also publishes the anthology Kindling. To find out more, click here.

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