Every month, Writer’s Edit selects one work to feature as our Story of the Month. This year we’re going behind the scenes of the writing to discuss inspirations and influences with the authors themselves.
We discussed writing and reading with Katrina Kemp, author of ‘Word-Flies‘, a story using two rounded characters which features as our March Story of the Month.
Tell us about yourself! What’s your writing history like, and what are your accomplishments so far?
I produce writing eclectically and sporadically, mainly articles, short stories and fiction for children, as well as academic and professional writing in the field of education. I am currently completing a thesis about creativity in the school context.
Last year I received a short story prize during the Verge arts festival at the University of Sydney, and the year before that had a short story selected for publication in the Hermes journal, the longest running literary journal in Australia.
Where did your inspiration for the story come from, and what was the writing process like?
The story is of course about the need for self-expression, wherever and whoever we are. Troubled by my own annoying word-flies which buzz around in my head, especially when I am sitting on the toilet with a few minutes to think, I realised that the idea fitted with the character of Pyrrho.
He is a character who features in several inter-related short stories, carrying an air of naïveté which reminds me of Candide by Voltaire, without the extreme optimism.
In Pyrrho’s wanderings, he finds himself in the company of various people who are in some way a revelation. Despite his age, he embodies a childlike perspective on the mystery of other people.
In Word-Flies, he is free from responsibility and the oppression of materialism, but there is still no escape from human consciousness, which demands that we represent our experience in language and art.
Everywhere I go, I carry around a notebook to scribble in; the back of it is called Ungoogled, that is the creative writing part that has nothing to with work, computers and the demands of online life. Word- Flies began in there, just with the central concept of someone experiencing those annoying limits on freedom.
The character voices in ‘Word-Flies’ are very authentic; Chupa’s Aussie vernacular is spot on and Pyrrho has such unique expression. How did you translate that in the dialogue?
Pyrrho and Chupa feature in several of my stories, along with various other misfits adrift in the world: artists, feral teenagers, people who struggle with social acceptability.
Chupa is young but world-weary; Pyrrho is aged but innocent.
Their meetings in the story contrast their characters through the dialogue but hopefully also expose what they have in common. They are juxtaposed but they connect through aimlessness and alienation.
They do not really speak the same language: the dialogue gives voice to people from different worlds and shows that age and background does not determine who we can connect with.
Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite, must-read books?
I love any writer who can use the power of language to either authentically evoke human experience or transport us to worlds beyond it.
As far as I am concerned, your life is not complete until you have read Mervyn Peake’s extravagantly weird and sinister Gormenghast Trilogy, named after the labyrinthine castle which is the home of Titus Groan and his terrifying mother; a force of nature who has birds nesting in her hair and sends Titus away with the nanny after his birth, instructing that she will see him when he turns six.
It is a scathing critique of aristocracy, class structure and absurd power-based traditions, but in terms of imagination, nothing comes near it, not even my next favourite, Tolkien.
I love sharing imaginative literature that draws young children into wanting to read for themselves. Roald Dahl always does the trick.
What advice would you give to other writers? What’s the best lesson you’ve learned?
I feel that you have to write about whatever means something to you; develop an authentic voice, whether or not you feel people will like it or want to publish it.
Let the characters live in your imagination, which might be a cliché, but it is true for me.
I have these people in my head with an independent existence. They are not me or anyone I know, but they exist and I have to tell people about them through writing.
I have learned that the pragmatics of life interrupt the connections you have with your characters and you have to revisit them again and again to make them authentic and to maintain the imaginary world they inhabit.