Masters Series: Cate Kennedy

Kate travelled to Castlemaine to record this interview in person with Cate Kennedy in her beautiful home amongst overflowing bookshelves. The day was a total joy and involved cake, op-shopping, visits to beautiful spots around town, much perusal of the bookshelves and Kate being sent home with homemade jam and books for her kids.

Kate attempted to edit down this episode, she really did, but Cate Kennedy just shares so much writing wisdom it was hard not to leave it in full. Settle in with a cuppa if you can.

Cate Kennedy has published several collections of both poetry and fiction. Her story collections Like a House on Fire and Dark Roots are widely studied in Australia and her poetry collections include The Taste of River Water, Signs of Other Fires, Joyflight, and Crucible and Other Poems. She is a two-time winner of The Age Short Story Competition, and a recipient of the 2013 Steele Rudd Award, the 2002 Vincent Bucklet Poetry Prize, and the 2001 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, among others. Her highly acclaimed novel The World Beneath, won the People’s Choice Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2010 and she is also the author of travel memoir Sing and Don’t Cry.

Kennedy works as a writing teacher and advisor on the faculty of Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program in Portland, Oregon, and received her PhD in Creative Writing from LaTrobe University in 2021. She lives in Castlemaine, Victoria on Dja Dja Wurrung country.

The conversation covers:

  • Cate’s early reading habits and reading for pleasure
  • How Cate gets the feeling of ‘dancing over to the desk’
  • Using an avatar of self in writing which Cate also discusses in this recording of a Words In Winter event
  • The importance of limitations and constraints. Cate says: ‘I like a small canvas’
  • The problem of rescuing characters instead of making things worse for them.
  • Writing the short story Cold Snap – published in the New Yorker as Black Ice. Cate says: ‘Limitation is a marvellous thing in fiction. Marvellous.’
  • Cate’s rousing speech on giving up people-pleasing at Jacinta Parson’s launch for her book A Question of Age
  • Cate reads a new poem ‘DIY Flatpack Therapy’
  • They also visited the amazing exhibition ‘Return’ – photographs by Helge Salwe and words by Cate Kennedy
  • Cate’s love of collaboration and her various collabs with singer and musician Jen Lush

Books Cate picked up at the op shop

Cate’s advice for writers:

  • Keep going. The map is made by the walking.

A special note: Cate sent an email after the convo lamenting that she hadn’t passed on the following advice – her favourite – from Annie Dillard from her fabulous book on writing The Writing Life:

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Cate recommends:

Lisa MooreDegrees of Nakedness and Something for Everyone

Claire Keegan – Small Things Like These

4 thoughts on “Masters Series: Cate Kennedy

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