Kathy Lette: the teflon talker!

I knew I’d love meeting up with Kathy Lette, that it would be just like talking to all my wonderful, witty, intelligent girlfriends –  and it was. We laughed over our cappuccinos  and we empathised with one another just like old chums. So although this blog is written in interview style, it was really more like a good old chat. Kick back and enjoy!

Kathy, you bring a great deal of empathy and humour to your writing. When did you first realise that you could make people laugh and that you liked that feeling?

I think it started when I was a short, red-headed teenager on the beaches at Cronulla. Surrounded by Ken and Barbie’s progeny, I knew I had to have some other trick up my trackies or I’d never get noticed.

Your books are really popular in Christchurch libraries and the question most readers wanted me to ask you is: Are you like this at home?

Yes I am! I like to keep myself entertained. It’s not that I don’t have down times, but yes I’m quipping away on the homefront as well. Remember that I spend a lot of my time working on my own, so I suppose that is when I am at my most subdued. Then I just have to get out, meet a girlfriend and have a laugh.

You’ve been billed as “a witty author who writes for women”. Do you think this pigeonholes you and that you are much more than that.

I don’t mind that description, but I do believe that in my latest book The Boy who Fell to Earth, I have tackled a far more serious topic – my son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I did a lot of research for that book and relived a lot of the anxiety of raising an Aspergers child. OK, so I do it with humour, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it was really really tough and heartbreaking and fascinating and draining and stimulating all rolled into one. Now I can honestly say that having a child on the autistic spectrum has taught me so much that I would otherwise not have known.

Kathy Lette and blogger Roberta SmithDo you think you could be “a witty author who writes about blokes?”

I’m sure I could do it, but I wouldn’t want to. I’m rampantly feminist. Men have plenty going for them – better salaries, the old boys club, freedom from childbirth and the menopause. I don’t see why they should get me as well.

What does your son think of The Boy who Fell to Earth?

He loves it! I would never have published it without having run it past him. But he is in his twenties now (and hoping to become the world’s quirkiest sports commentator!) and he is very supportive of what this book is trying to do.

What sort of reaction have you had to The Boy who Fell to Earth from the Autistic community?

Fantastic. I have been inundated with e-mails and stories from parents (women in particular) who thank me for telling their story for them.

Your writing depends a lot on wordplay and the subtle nuances of the English language. Has your work successfully survived translation into other languages?

My books are published in 15 other languages, but the translation is very difficult. I have reams of howlers that are a direct result of mistranslation. I usually ask them to employ a comedienne to help them and to contextualise the examples to appropriate examples from their country.

Libraries – what do you feel about them?

I am passionate about libraries and reading. I can’t imagine what a world without libraries would be like. I am worried about reading though, so many young people just don’t read at all. I’m involved in World Book and have recently handed out hundreds of copies of Pride and Prejudice on the London Underground. People are so suspicious of anything free, but I just say to them: Slip between the covers of this darling!

From the lady who gave us gems such as:

“Breasts so large they have their own postcode”
“the pubic pelmet” as a description of miniskirts and titles like Foetal Attraction

I was chuffed when she wrote in the copy of my book:

Dearest Roberta

You are a literary goddess. Thank you for such a scintillating interview,

Love Kathy.

We need to talk about …

No, not Kevin this time, but … the homeless. I think it all started for me with the Christchurch quakes raising our levels of anxiety about our homes, the having or not having of them, that is.

Around about quake time I stumbled on William Boyd’s novel Ordinary Thunderstorms, in which the main character – someone just like you or me – ends up living rough in London.  Ever since then, the homeless have slowly but surely insinuated their way into my very living room.

And there is no escape, because the subject of homelessness has really hit its straps at this year’s Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2012 where book after book has the homeless jumping off the page at me.

In Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, author Martin Edmond – in an attempt to better understand McCahon’s Sydney walkabout – goes homeless for one night in Sydney. It is amazing how compelling it is to read his account of this. You can’t help but wonder how you would cope with a life lived out of a supermarket trolley.

Charlotte Wood also incorporates the homeless into her excellent novel Animal People. Pet owner Nerida is described as someone who would:

feed a stray cat or fret if Balzac had a cough, but the homeless were as intolerable as vermin.

In Snowdrops by A.D Miller, the homeless have a spectacularly bad deal. Not only is Russia a freezing cold country in which to have no front door to close, but homeless people are often murdered and lie under piles of snow all winter only to emerge like snowdrops  in the Spring thaw.

Only Kathy Lette, in The Boy Who Fell to Earth, doesn’t flirt with the topic. But if she had, I bet she’d have made it laugh-out-loud funny.

It is a subject that seems to be in the air right now. So I wasn’t the slightest bit taken aback to open  The Press  the other day and read of a pensioner who is going to sleep in her car for a week in a show of solidarity with all the Christchurch people who have no homes right now.

It could all be quite depressing – being homeless or feeling homeless. But as a Chinese proverb so succinctly put it:

You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair!

Goldilocks and the three blogs

My favourite festival cover this year.

It had to happen eventually – Goldilocks got tired of bears, their furniture and yucky porridge and took up blogging instead. Her first blog was too hard – she sweated bullets over that one, she really did. Her second blog was too long – she’d got life story and blogging all mussed up. But her third blog was just about right and Goldilocks really got into the swing of it and settled into a steady blogging rhythm.

Then she got sent to Auckland Writers and Readers Festival and that was when Goldilocks realised that there’s blogging and then there’s FESTIVAL BLOGGING. Four days of frantic reading, writing, interviewing and panicking. Colours seem brighter, ideas come faster and she never once thought of porridge. As for beds – that was where you collapsed at 2am, all blogged out. Turns out that festival blogging is like blogging on steroids. And Goldilocks found that she liked steroids!

Youth, hair and flouncing dresses way off to one side here, I’m the Goldilocks in this story. And after much deliberation, here are some of the authors that I am really looking forward to hearing,  meeting and definitely blogging on at AWRF this year.

But first there’s the technology to master. So I took my new laptop to a wifi cafe for a trial run and prevailed on my waitperson to photograph me for this festival blog. In the first photo my nose looked too big. In the second my nose looked too…., you get where I am going with this. After the third shot, my waitron put the camera firmly back on the table and said:

You’re really excited about this festival thing aren’t you?

However did she guess?

Lettes be friends

Characteristically late for Kathy Lette‘s Press Literary Liaison last week I rounded the corner of a steepish Lyttelton Street and saw a woman in the distance. She was descending the hill in red heels high enough to require the support of an escort and the fact that she wasn’t from New Zealand was obvious a block away, I’m not sure why. Was it that she was wearing bright colours? Was it the shoes? The grooming?

How to kill your husband

Whatever it was, it was immediately evident that she wasn’t a civilian and it turned out to be the lady herself, resplendent in a suit featuring fabric printed with the latest book cover. Where do you get something like that made? I should have asked her but she was just a bit too scary.

It was an extremely polished performance and one that had obviously been done many times before, more stand up comedy routine than book reading, with a very nice class of name-dropping. Barry Humphries lives over the back in London, when he’s home Lette gets an email to say he is “poised at her rear entrance”. Donna’s fave Stephen Fry is another neighbour. Deep sighs greeted the story of writing for an American sitcom in the eighties and turning down a date with a young unknown because she didn’t “date actors. They put other people’s words in their mouths without knowing where they’ve been”. Years later, at home with two young children and covered in vomit she turned on ER and was transfixed by what she’d missed – George Clooney.

My favourite name was Nigella Lawson – Lette’s husband was engaged to her before he married Lette and she often wonders if he’s had cause to regret it, as she “uses her smoke detector as a timer”.

The one liners just kept on coming; these are a few that I remember. Breast feeding mothers are “meals on heels”, any woman who says she’s not a feminist has “kept her Wonderbra and burnt her brain”, she wrote Puberty Blues to show her friends they didn’t need to be “sperm spitoons” and when called upon to present the cups at a recent polo match she found Princes William and Harry are not averse to a bit of “flirtation and frottage”.

For women of a certain age (and they seemed to make up most of the audience) Puberty Blues was one of those passed from hand to hand books, still fondly remembered thirty years later. As Lette is about to turn fifty next up is Menopause Blues – how can she resist? I would certainly recommend seeing her if she comes out to promote it.

In the meantime all her books are amusing light reads, perfect for the holidays.