2024 Stella Prize Longlist: Reflections
Katherine Brabon

What I learnt

Katherine Brabon reflects on Body Friend, longlisted for the 2024 Stella Prize, and tells us what her third book taught her about writing.

Body Friend is my third novel, and it was a very different book for me to write. My first two novels were inspired and informed by research, travel, and inquiries into other time periods and places. With Body Friend, my material was much closer to home. It draws on my lived experience of chronic illness and pain to create a work that is fiction, but the closest to my lived reality than any of my other work.  

In this sense, the book showed me how literature can be seeded in things we think we don’t want to write about, or that other people don’t want to read – the repetition of chronic pain, the limits of language, simply a body moving through a room and a city. I recall saying to a friend, when I was first writing fiction, that I did not want to write a book about illness and my own experience, for reasons still obscure to me. Perhaps I did not believe my experience to be “enough”, perhaps it was confronting, or I was too close to the worst periods of my illness to approach them with any notion of the aesthetic or literary. I think I had also internalised narratives about the body which suggested that my illness, arthritis, was something abnormal, even embarrassing, for a young woman to have. 

The book showed me how literature can be seeded in things we think we don’t want to write about, or that other people don’t want to read – the repetition of chronic pain, the limits of language, simply a body moving through a room and a city.

Body Friend

When I did begin to write Body Friend, my practice necessarily changed because I had changed my outlook, and this was a new kind of work for me. If I felt when I was younger that my experiences weren’t “enough” for literature, it was then a practical challenge to find a shape for a particular kind and quality of experience I knew well, but also knew would be difficult to convey: the absolute interiority of bodily experience, of pain, of illness.

More than any other, this book showed me how to be strictly faithful to the material – my raw and lived experience – even when this challenges what we expect of narrative. Illness is often repetitive, cyclical, plotless, unsettling, fragmented – I knew the book had to embrace these elements if it were to convey its essential truths. 

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