Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Wind Angels

HOT columnist Sean O’Shea interviews writer Leigh Kennedy who was born in Denver, Colorado, but now lives in Hastings. She has written two novels, The Journal of Nicholas the American and Saint Hiroshima, and two short story collections, Faces and Wind Angels.

Sean talks to Leigh about her inspiration for Wind Angels, the process of writing, and how she came to live in Hastings.

Sean O’Shea: Like me you straddle two cultures. Do you feel at home anywhere?

Leigh Kennedy: I have felt at home in the UK since arriving in 1985 and now have British citizenship.  I love visiting family and friends in the US, but would feel exiled if I had to go back. In particular, when I moved to Hastings in 1991, I knew that this was the home I’d been searching for all my life.

Sean O’Shea: What brought you to Hastings and what are some of its advantages for the writer?

Leigh Kennedy: While living in Wiltshire, I took several opportunities to visit Hastings and loved what I found, but the decision to move was also practical, based on house prices and family needs.  Advantages for a writer – so many!  The fantastic meditative walks with our cliffs, parks, the beach or even residential roads.  The cultural life is lively here in all art forms and the town is full of creative people. It’s a big enough place for people-watching yet small enough to feel part of a community.  There used to be so many second-hand bookshops, sadly gone now.  Although it’s great to be able to find books online, there’s nothing like the unexpected finds from browsing.  It’s also close enough to London publishing to go for lunch or events without having to live there (you might guess I’m not a big city person).

Sean O’Shea: What was the inspiration for your most recent collection of short stories, Wind Angels?

Leigh Kennedy: It includes stories that I wrote a long time ago as well as just a few years ago, so it’s hard to generalize.  The stories are diverse: a telepathic tow-truck driver, a woman who believes her boyfriend was sent by Fate, a foreigner at an English language school, a man who is sent strange mementos from a former lover, a flower fairy recruited to look after a special soul, a woman who is inundated with frightened bats, a society of helping people who can hardly see themselves as individuals any longer, the haunting of the hill where the Trojan War was fought… and others.  The title story was inspired by the floods of 2000 and is about a drowned town coping with a changed world.

Sean O’Shea: This collection has been very well received and described by one reviewer as a master class in short story writing. Would you like to comment?

Leigh Kennedy: What a lovely thing to hear!

Sean O’Shea: How would you describe the process of writing?

Leigh Kennedy: I’m a slow writer.  A story usually starts out as a random thought about a character or situation and lives in one of my notebooks for some time, ideas hanging around in the back of my mind, accumulating bits and pieces.  Sometimes what I thought were separate ideas collide and stick together.  It takes me ages and many re-workings to get where I feel ready to give up and declare anything finished.  For those who are interested in the technical:  the notes are by hand, sometimes paragraphs and pages by hand, but generally I type at a computer.  If I’m feeling stuck, I get out my electronic typewriter because it sounds writerly and the urge to make that Hemingway noise keeps the fingers going, like messing about on a piano.

Sean O’Shea: You mix SF and non-SF and have described yourself as a genre-jumper. Could you elaborate on this?

Leigh Kennedy: When I was 18, I encountered science fiction and fantasy as a genre and set to work writing it.  It wasn’t as respectable as it is now – especially in film, TV and games — and there were only a handful of women SF writers then.  All my first published work was SF but I also write more realist, non-genre fiction.  I don’t like forcing writing for marketing reasons, so just let the stories come out in whatever form feels most natural.

Sean O’Shea: How do you find your characters or do they find you?

Leigh Kennedy: Strange thing that – they do seem to arrive in my head without asking permission first!  Although any writer would find it hard to create characters without interacting with actual humans, I steer away from writing about real people or writing autobiographically – it’s more fun to make it all up!  Many characters are myself in different roles, as if I were an actor being nastier, kinder, smarter or braver than I ever could be.

Sean O’Shea: If you were to choose one female writer and one male writer that has most influenced you, who would you choose and why?

Leigh Kennedy: Oh, no! How can I choose just one?  Well, going back to my teenage years, my favourite writer was John Steinbeck, who created complex characters and was a campaigner for social justice.  I haven’t re-read him for years, so it’s hard to know how to judge him now, but he inspired me to write.  And George Eliot is magnificent.  She wrote mountain ranges and seas compared to others’ hills and ponds.

Sean O’Shea: For someone unfamiliar with your work, where would you recommend they start and why?

Leigh Kennedy: Either of my collections, Faces or Wind Angels. The stories are so varied that there might be something that would appeal to readers.

Sean O’Shea: Your most recent collection has had quite a gestation period during which time you were also raising a family. Are these demands difficult to balance, and are your fans going to have to wait long for your next literary creation?

Leigh Kennedy: Actually, I believe my children had a positive effect on my writing, but my bread-and-butter job of indexing has dragged me down.  It would have been better to do factory work than to have a job reading and typing all day.  I went through an exhausted spell in which I gave up writing some years back but pulled out of it, though I still have periods where work interferes.  I’m in the final stages of a novel which has taken years so far, called The Lincolnshire Fragment, set in Hastings, Eastbourne, London and, uh, Lincolnshire.  After that, another novel which I abandoned several years ago is nagging to be rewritten, and short stories are lurking in the notebooks.  Just a few weeks ago, I woke up with a whole plot of a novel in my head!  I’m feeling quite energetic with ideas – but my output is still steady but small.

Sean O’Shea: You are also a musician. What is the role of music in your life?

Leigh Kennedy: I love playing music!  It has a lot of the benefits you don’t get with writing: playing with and for other people in real time, and the immediate pleasure of making good noise.  My spirit would starve without making music.

Sean O’Shea: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by Hastings Online Times.

Leigh Kennedy: Thank you, Sean.

o          Wind Angels, Leigh Kennedy’s most recent collection of short stories, was published in 2011 by PS Publishing.


Posted 17:50 Tuesday, Nov 27, 2012 In: SOS

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