Friendship has meant a great deal to me over the years.
An Audience with Dame Fiona was a session I was looking forward to. I’m a great fan of Fiona Kidman. She made the decision to become a writer when she was 22 years old and hasn’t looked back. During her writing career she’s produced novels, short stories, plays, and poetry and has over 30 books to her name. Her stories are deceptively understated, real, evocative and moving. In the 1970s she was seen as a strong voice in the feminist movement and has fought relentlessly to improve opportunities for writers in New Zealand.
At the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival, she was in conversation with friend and book disributor, Carole Beu. The mood in the room was relaxed. The audience was mainly women. Many were of Dame Fiona’s generation, most younger. She was greeted like an old friend.
In my interview with the author, Fiona Kidman tells me of an experience she had in the early 70s when she was on book tour. It was early in her writing career. It was pouring with rain and she had to stand on a wooden crate in the mud to speak. She didn’t expect many people to turn up in such awful conditions but over 2,000 women came to see her talk that day. It was then she realised that women were desperate to hear the voice of their generation. Her sincere interest in people and the events that shape their lives has kept her writing voice current. She writes our stories and we love her for it.
The Trouble with Fire is Fiona Kidman’s most recent collection of short stories. A central theme of fire, real and metaphorical, runs through the work. Lady Anne Barker sets fire to large tracts of Canterbury tussock land in the title story while fire-spotter, Samson, in Extremes surveys the forest for flames not realising that “there’s a fire burning on the hearth at home”. His wife is playing away.
Unplanned pregnancy is a topic touched on several times. Today, it’s hard to imagine how few choices women had only a generation before mine. As the author says, you either got married in a hurry if some chap would have you or you “went up north for a while”. Extremes is the story of two women who contact the Sisters Overseas Service (SOS) in Wellington for terminations and the decisions they make. Part Two follows the life of Joy Keats and the impact an unplanned pregnancy has on four generations of women connected to her.
Friendship is important to Fiona Kidman. She was born an only child and grew up without cousins. In the session, she spoke of three great friendships in her life. Her 28 year friendship with writer Lauris Edmond, her bond with Angela Carter, and her close attachment to Lois Minnit who was involved in SOS with her. Her oldest friendship is with a school friend she’s known for 66 years.
She keeps a folder full of interesting snippets from newspapers. Fiona Kidman connects deeply with people and it’s from her profound humanity that her stories flow.