The Stella Prize chats with Cate Kennedy, author of Like a House on Fire
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.
Stella: Is there a writer you aspire to be like?
Cate: 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.
Stella: What book would you take with you to a desert island?
Cate: 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.
Stella: What’s the most beautiful word in the English (or any other) language?
Cate: In English, I think luminous is perfectly onomatopoeic. It’s a word I use far too much, according to my editor. I also loveesperar 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.
Stella: How do you know when a story is finished?
Cate: 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.