Kathy Lette describes herself as “Mischievous, feminist and deranged” in our latest Author Interview
Bestselling Australian writer, Kathy Lette was born 11th November 1958. As a teenager Kathy co-wrote ‘Puberty Blues’ (1979 – a strong autobiographical, pro-feminist teen novel about two thirteen-year-old southern suburbs girls attempting to improve their social status by getting involved with a gang of surfers. The book was later made into a film in 1981, and then into a mini-series). After several years as a singer with the Salami Sisters, a newspaper columnist, and as a television sitcom writer, Kathy turned her hand to writing novels once more in 1988, beginning with ‘Girls’ Night Out’. Other titles you may have come across include: ‘Men- A User’s Guide’ (2010), ‘Dead Sexy’ (2004) and ‘Mad Cow’ (1997). Since starting out as a writer, Kathy’s novels have been published in 17 languages around the world. As well as this Kathy also appears regularly as a guest on BBC and Sky news, and often writes plays; one of her novels, ‘How to Kill Your Husband (and other handy household hints)’ (2007), was even turned into an opera by composer Alan John in 2011! Kathy now lives in London with her husband and two children. Her latest novel, ‘The Boy Who Fell to Earth’ is released in paperback on April 11th. Her Quick read ‘Love is Blind’ is also out now.
Q) How would you describe yourself in three words?
Mischievous, feminist, deranged.
Q) Something a lot of people may not know about you is that you helped write the 500th episode of ‘The Simpsons’ (aired Feb 2012) called ‘At Long Last Leave’, which you describe as “the most fun thing I’ve done”. Was it a strange experience being a part of a series that has been running for so many years? What made it so fun?!
If I have any skill as a writer, it’s putting down on paper the way women talk when there’s no men around. It’s a great male myth that women aren’t funny. I think men only say this because they’re terrified what it is we’re being funny about. My books have all had a feminist message, but hopefully they also disarm with charm. Laughter makes even the most difficult subjects, palatable. I have also written three plays, two non-fiction books, quite a few film scripts and I also used to write sitcom for Columbia Pictures. I worked on a show called ‘The Facts of Life’, which was a huge hit in America. It was bigger than ‘Mash’. Columbia Picture executives read one of my books, ‘Girls Night Out’, and flew me over to inject some fresh energy and humour into their scripts. So, when Julian Assange was going to be the cameo in the 500th episode of ‘The Simpsons’ he asked me to rewrite his dialogue. I thought my best line was when Marg is trying Julian’s marinade for the barbecue. She tells him it’s delicious and asks for the recipe, to which Julian replies “I never reveal my sauces”.
Q) One of your self-admitted career highlights was a three month writer’s residency at London’s Savoy Hotel in 2007. You had a £1200 per night suite at your disposal and you even had the opportunity to create your own cocktail – the ‘Kathy Cassis’. Asides from lots of sleepovers with your girlfriends, what work did this residency actually entail? And would you do something similar again?
Most writers in residence programmes are run in prisons. But the Savoy was keen to rekindle its literary links, because, as you say, the hotel has been home to a minestrone of famous scribes – Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola, Mark Twain, Somerset Maugham, Hillarie Belloc, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Fielding, Rudyard Kipling.….Kathy Lette – a natural segue I told myself! In the literary world, news that an Aussie had landed the coveted gig, went over like Pavarotti over a pole vault.
My duties as resident writer were as light as a Savoy soufflé – I was required to host a few literary dinners. I lined up a delicious human menu comprising Stephen Fry, Salman Rushdie, Richard E Grant and the late Sir John Mortimer – all writers with wits so sharp they should be registered at police headquarters as lethal weapons. This left me three gloriously free months in which to get to know the hotel’s glamorous history. My natural haunt was the American Bar, where I took my girlfriends, Ruby Wax and comedic co to help me perfect a personalized cocktail, as you mentioned in your question. I also spent a lot of time in the Savoy Grill, where a dish was named after me, Kathy Omelette. Legend has it that out of all the famous regulars, the guest who caused waitresses to drop the most plates was Clark Gable, dressed in his American Air Force Uniform. On the day of Winston Churchill’s funeral, his table was left unlaid with just a vase of flowers from Chartwell, his family home. Carried away by all these flamboyant tales, I was inspired to throw a pool party and entertained my guests with the British synchronized swim team. The mezzanine Art Deco pool was actually my favourite place to play. Long-term friend Danni Minogue and I would get our nails painted in this cool, green grotto as we watched my kids swimming. Now that’s the way to baby sit! The hotel also proved very handy for children’s homework. Concierges have to answer every question – theatre tickets, restaurant bookings, museum times… When stuck on a maths equation my kids would simply ring down to reception. One evening, we had five Concierges looking for the square root of the Hypotenuse. (I didn’t even know it was lost!)
It really was the best four months of my life. But that’s the only trouble with being the Savoy’s writer in residence – parting is such suite sorrow. And yes, yes, I would definitely do it again. I am still their roving ambassador and am in the bar so often, they’re going to string up a hammock!
Q) What top three things would be on your bucket list?
Eating fugu fish. It’s a Japanese delicacy which is a palate orgasm, apparently, but can also be poisonous, so it’s like gastronomic roulette. A whipped cream orgy with George Clooney and Hugh Jackman and Johnny Depp. Space travel. (Yes, I do have a head for heights…and I don’t just mean social climbing!)
Q) You’re an ambassador for Women and Children First, Plan International and The White Ribbon Alliance. What can you tell us about this charity?
Women are still runners up in the human race. In the developing world girls are fed last and least, and one woman dies every minute in childbirth, meaning the daughters are pulled out of school and put into domestic slavery or prostitution. One in three women on the planet will be beaten up or raped in her life time. In the more ‘enlightened’ West, women still don’t have equal pay we receive only 75 pence in the pound. We are still get concussion hitting our heads on the glass ceiling, plus we’re expected to clean it whilst we’re up there. The three charities I support, help women find their feet and their voice.
Q) What can you tell us about your novel ‘The Boy Who Fell to Earth’ which was released March 2012 and is now out in paperback?
‘The Boy Who Fell To Earth’ was my most personal book ever, because it was inspired by my son. I didn’t want to invade his privacy without his permission, so waited till he was 21, to reveal the heartache and hilarity of raising a child with Asperger’s. It really is a love letter between mother and son. I felt rather raw and exposed, writing and talking about something so personal, even though it’s a work of fiction. But the amount of letters and emails and tweets and facebook messages I’ve received from other parents thanking me for putting their experiences into words, has convinced me that I’ve done the right thing. And so many people are affected by special needs, you know. One in five children has some form of special needs. One in a hundred is on the autistic spectrum. Not to mention all the undiagnosed adults walking around. I’ve been saying to women in my talks, “Listen in Ladies. If your husband is obsessed with football or trains, if he doesn’t make small talk and misreads social situations… there’s a very good chance he has undiagnosed Asperger’s.” And they all laugh and nod and gasp with recognition!
Q) What can you tell us about ‘Love is Blind’?
As well as ‘The Boy Who Fell to Earth’, I have penned a Quick Read called ‘Love is Blind’, a 20,000 word mental espresso about facial prejudice. It’s out now and only costs a pound.
Q) You’ve said “All I do in my books is write down the way women talk when there are no men around”. What sort of feedback have you had because of this style of writing you adopt?
Women like the fact that I can put into words what they’ve been thinking, but might not have the chutzpah to say out loud. And for me, well, writing is so much cheaper than therapy!
Q) Kindle or physical book?
I prefer a physical book, the smell, the texture, the permanence… What happens if your Kindle battery runs out before you find out who dunnit in the “Who Dunnit”?
Q) In September 2009 you teamed up with Radox and wrote a splash-proof book, ‘All Steamed Up’, which was released online for free as part of their Be-Selfish campaign. The idea was to encourage women to be more selfish with their time and to re-energise themselves by pausing their hectic lifestyles once in awhile. What do you personally do to take time out of your busy schedule and relax?
All mothers tend to put their children first. Your guilt gland throbs if you don’t! But the mother of a special needs child tends to go into Martyr Mode. It’s very easy to let your own life dwindle to a speck. But I don’t think this is healthy. I’m a great believer in grabbing joy wherever you can. Which is why I’m often to be found swinging from a chandelier, champers in hand, loudly laughing at life. I relax with my women friends. To me, your female friends are your human wonder bras – uplifting, supportive and making each other look bigger and better.
Q) What is your biggest fear?
That someone will steal the epitaph I’ve made up for my headstone, which is “Finally, a good plot.”
Q) One last question, World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
I don’t feel at ease in a house with no books. Books bring life. But it’s important to pass them on. Back packers tell me how they share books on the road. They read it, then leave it at the next hostel, but sign their names in the back. I’ve had dog eared copies of my books find their way back to me with hundreds of name scrawled on the end pages. It gives me great joy to think of my books moving across borders, with no passport, and hopefully, bringing comfort and joy on a cold and lonely night.
Excellent interiew – Many thanks Kathy!