A L Kennedy spends a lot of time on trains, travelling up and down the country from one literary festival to the next, across the American continent from literary festival to literary retreat. She crosses oceans on ships, thanks to her underlying fear of flying. This means she does a lot of her writing on the move or in hotel rooms. She also teaches creative writing at Warwick University, appears on television panels and performs as a stand-up comic. As a writer who paid less attention to her physical welfare than to the demands of her writing, she has also suffered for her art. Thankfully these days her health is better, although there are still doubts about her workload. She was recently on the panel of judges for the Granta Best of Young British Novelists 2013.
That is the backdrop for a series of blog posts, originally published in the Guardian, now collected into this volume alongside some essays and the script of her one-woman eulogy to Words. A show I had the pleasure of seeing and I am delighted now to possess the script!
I can’t think of any book that would have been better company as I recently gallivanted up and down the country between Glasgow and London on both West and East Coast Lines. Because A L Kennedy is one of those authors I make a beeline for at any literary festival. She is sassy, funny, and not afraid to voice an opinion. She has an immaculate sense of timing. This is A L Kennedy writing as A L Kennedy (not one of her tormented fictional characters). Her voice is undiluted and as I read it was just like I was listening to her.
The blog posts follow the creation of an unnamed novel, though the timeline indicates it was The Blue Book. From the days of research through the first draft, the painful rewrites, the crafting of the words to publication. The genesis of a novel: a child is conceived, born, reaches adolescence (and drives its author demented) but is still nurtured into adulthood before making its own way in the world. Insights given as to how an idea forms into a narrative; the analysis of each sentence. For example:
A man walks into a room
We’re off then. He’s a man definitely a man, not a lady, or a unicorn, or an urchin – not even with urchin-like characteristics – unicorn-like, then? Does he seek out virgins? Not that I’m aware of. Was he at any time a lady? Nope.
Slowly a paragraph builds and along comes the following suggestion.
The light of the universe hightlights his broad cheekbones.
Right, I’m filling a sock with room-service supplies, taking you imto a bathroom and hitting you with it, until you either get a grip or die like the useless weasel you clearly are. Light and highlights? Because we love useless and meaningless repetition? …. AND DON’T EVER LET ME CATCH YOU SLIPPING POINT OF VIEW LIKE THAT – WE’RE IN CLOSE THIRD. HE CAN’T SEE HIS OWN SODDING CHEEKBONES, CAN HE?
Laugh out loud funny in parts, there are also serious and eloquent defences of the life enhancing and sustaining power of the arts in general and words in particular, alongside evidence of the role of community workshops in helping participants build a sense of self-worth. Kennedy pours her passion, honesty and humanity into every piece and thus delivers a masterclass on writing, on blogging and the realities of her life as an author.