In October this year, Australia will be hosting its very first short story festival, and it’s happening in my hometown. The inaugural Australian Short Story Festival will take place in Perth over the weekend of October 21st-23rd, 2016. The festival is the brainchild of Midnight Sun Publishing’s Anna Solding and Caroline Wood of Margaret River Press.
I recently caught up with Cate Kennedy who will give the opening address at the festival. Cate’s book Dark Roots, was shortlisted for the Steele Rudd Award in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and for the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal.
NLK: How did you start writing?
CK: Like most writers, I started out as an avid reader as a child, and tried to write poetry and short stories while still at school. Attending university (to study Professional Writing and Editing) seemed to crush the urge to create from me, so I had a long, 15 year hiatus of writing very little, but got back into it in my mid-thirties. There was a very long time between writing the first stories and actual publication.
NLK: Why are short stories satisfying to write?
CK: Because they’re mysterious, and difficult. There’s a strange, almost telepathic transference of emotional ‘freight’ that passes between the writer and the reader when a piece of writing works well, and a short story has to be able to pull that off without any missteps or flat spots. When you manage to execute this well, it’s very satisfying. There’s a feeling of every element being in place, as well-made as it can be.
NLK: What makes a short story successful?
CK: Skilful distillation, probably. The exploration of something large and unsayable rendered down into something small and suggestive, full of a reader’s own associations and insights. The constraints of the medium – its length alone – mean there’s form and discipline at work. When someone uses language with audacity and verve to make something memorable, it shows how capacious and inventive that form is.
NLK: What’s your favourite short story?
CK: I have a long, long list. George Saunders’s “The Tenth of December” is up there in the top ten, as is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter”. There are lots of short story authors I love: Raymond Carver, Jim Shepard, Alice Munro, Elizabeth Strout, Lorrie Moore, T.C. Boyle…hundreds, really!
NLK: What are you most looking forward to in relation to Australia’s inaugural short story festival?
CK: To tell you the truth, hanging out with other people who also love short stories, who ‘get’ my fascination with them, is going to feel like a short joyful holiday with my tribe. That’s going to feel festive enough, for me. Wherever people get together to share stories is cause enough for celebration and reconnection.
NLK: Have you been to Perth before? What was your favourite memory?
CK: In 2012 I came over for the Perth Writers’ Festival, where one of the highlights was meeting and reading with the late Dennis O’Driscoll, the gentle and wise Irish poet. My favourite memory was gathering for the “Women of Letters” session, which was intended to be held outdoors, in the Sunken Garden, before a thunderstorm interrupted play. Together – audience, organisers and performers – we ran to an alternative venue nearby and got the evening of readings underway. I remember very clearly the atmosphere of warmth and exhilaration of that night. I wonder, was it brought on by the climactic ions of the storm itself zinging through the air, charging us all with energy? Or maybe that’s just what the euphoria of storytelling can do…
Photograph courtesy of Cate Kennedy.