The Stella Interview: Cate Kennedy

The Stella Prize chats with Cate Kennedy, author of Like a House on Fire.

Cate Kennedy 2013 longlist

Stella: How do you relax?

Cate: As C.S. Lewis once said, you can’t find a book long enough or a cup of tea big enough for me, so usually just the luxury of being able to read during the day is a great pleasure. To really relax I like everything on my ‘to-do’ list ticked off, something slow-cooking in the oven, a hammock, a cold beer and a good book waiting on the verandah.

Is there a writer you aspire to be like?

I love Alice Munro’s stubborn resolve to always write using the same basic, simple materials but use them to revelatory effect time after time. I think the body of work she’s built up over years will be a legacy of this virtuosity – I love this slow and careful consideration of subject matter and honouring of form.

What book would you take with you to a desert island?

I’d take To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a book I return to all the time, and I’m sure I could amuse myself on the island for many weeks, cutting up the narrative and rearranging it, making it into a libretto for an opera, pondering which of Harper Lee’s decisions were deliberate and which were instinctive – you name it.

What’s the most beautiful word in the English (or any other) language?

In English, I think luminous is perfectly onomatopoeic. It’s a word I use far too much, according to my editor. I also love esperar in Spanish, which means both to wait and to hope, and sounds, when spoken aloud, like an exhaled breath or a sigh – to sit breathing, waiting and hoping for something.

“I also love esperar in Spanish, which means both to wait and to hope, and sounds, when spoken aloud, like an exhaled breath or a sigh .”

How do you know when a story is finished?

I often find a character seems to want to do something, something that doesn’t always seem immediately understandable. Once I find a way to make the story finish with this action, I usually realise I don’t need to say anything else. It’s like the character’s just turned off the lights and left the room, and I feel (on a good day) the satisfying click of the door gently closing, for me and hopefully for the reader as well.

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