Kathy Page has
written six novels and is also an accomplished writer of short fiction.
Her story, The Second Spring After Liberation, won the 1994 Bridport
Prize. Her most recent novel, Alphabet, was nominated for the
Governor-General's Award in 2005. She has taught writing in Estonia,
Finland, the U.K and Canada and now lives on Salt Spring Island
(Canada) with her family.
with Kathy Page
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Kathy Page: This is
a reissue, so I 'm having to delve back two decades! I think they were
written over about three years, and it was at a time when I was very
interested in non-realist forms - myth, fairy tales, science fiction,
magical realism and so on. And of course I still am exited by all those
things, though it's not my only interest and currently I think it shows
much less in my work - it's all been displaced down to the structural
level, and this fascination of mine with radical transformation. But
the focus on realism, on verisimilitude in literary fiction and
especially in the North American Short Story (brilliant as many of them
are) can still drive me nuts (less so if it deals with about
experiences and places I'm unfamiliar with). But if you look around,
there are some encouraging signs - for example, Deepa Mehta's powerful
new film Heaven on Earth,
where the real and unreal are blended deliciously together, is very
exciting to see (it's a different medium, I know, but I saw it last
night and can think of nothing else right now).
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
KP: I pretty much wrote
each one for itself as it came.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
KP: I have strong,
almost physical feelings about structure. I listen to it and I think of
a book in a way that's perhaps similar to the way a musical composer
works. The title story of the collection is similarly composed, using
more points of view than would normally be recommended for such a tale
- an experiment really, but if you hear it, I think it works.
TSR: What does the word "story"
mean to you?
a shared dream... But here's a lovely quote from Robert Bringhurst's
study of Haida myth A
Story as Sharp as a Knife: "A story is in fact a sentence:
a big sentence, saying, or revealing, many things that a full list of
its components cannot say." Many writers have said similar things (for
example Flannery O'Connor "A story is a way to say something that can't
be said any other way.."), but his dry, technical take on it makes a
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
idea of the reader (or audience - one of the things I like about short
fiction is that it can work so well read aloud) is very important - not
necessarily in the early drafts, but certainly later on. I know that
many - or even most - writers say that they write for themselves and
wouldn't dream of taking a reader into account, but that seems odd to
me. I think there's a fear that you might be seen as pandering to the
reader if you think of him or her, but really the writer-reader
relationship is far more complex than that. It's not having your dad,
or your favourite writer or Ms Average sitting on your shoulder and you
thinking "Oh, dear, s/he won't like this" or the opposite; it's more a
matter of taking a group of people you don't know well, but happen to
be with, on a journey: you invite them to come with you, persuade them,
even - yet how it will be along the way is not entirely within your
control and nor should it be. And it's different every time.
So it's great when you hear from readers by email or in person and find
out what it was like for them. I live in a small community now, and
people regularly come up to me in the supermarket as I'm feeling the
tomatoes, and say "Hey, I just read your book! And the thing about it
was..." This is great, even when, as recently happened, the
conversation took place when I had just emerged puffy and drooling from
an hour with the dentist.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
KP: Apart from the
obvious, craven things such as did you like even one of them, I'm very
curious a) to know whether you read it front to back (see 3, above)
some other way, and b) if you had any favourites?
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
KP: I really like
that they are reading it. It's great to have As in Music back
TSR: What are
you working on now?
KP: I'm very busy.
I'm just finishing the hopefully final rewrite of my seventh novel, I
have two non-fiction projects and a collection of linked stories on the
go... and, as of last week, it looks as if I'll be writing a screenplay
for my novel The Story
of My Face.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
KP: Natasha, by David Bezmozgis (all good, but the title story is my favourite), On the Golden Porch by Tatiana Tolstoya (this is a re-read) and The Safety of Objects by A.M. Holmes