A L Kennedy at Edinburgh book festival: ‘Please don’t self-harm during this reading’

Article published on Aug. 13, 2012
community published
Article published on Aug. 13, 2012
I discovered A L Kennedy about two months ago. I was hiding in the corner of a hotel lounge somewhere cold and wet in the north of Scotland. She was talking on the radio about staying in a celeb-studded hotel in LA (or was it Vegas?) with what I would quickly learn was characteristic self-deprecation. It was love at first sound.

I am now sitting in a giant, blue, Royal Bank of Scotland tent at the annual Edinburgh book festival. I am hiding again – this time in the middle of the audience, because apparently Kennedy isn’t so keen on journalists. I also avoid sitting in the front left hand corner. In a 2009 interview with 'The Independent', Kennedy remarked that this is where the mad people usually sit.

‘There is something of the night about A L Kennedy,’ claims ‘random quote no. 1’ on the Scottish writer and stand up comic’s website. However, as she walks onto the stage, I can’t entirely agree. Her large glasses might make her look somewhat owl-like, but otherwise her slim figure and pink shirt is entirely at odds with her slightly macabre tales. Missing her trademark red scarf, she looks nothing like the androgynous Doctor Who that I had imagined.

A L Kennedy (Image: (cc) chrisjohnbecket/ Flickr)Kennedy – it is jarring to hear the host Sue MacGregor calling her Alison – is like one of those friends who is full of hilarious stories of dreadful things which happen to her, leaving you in stitches but mildly uneasy about her mental welfare. When MacGregor mentions that Kennedy’s attempt to buy a house in London had gone wrong, the author’s response is a resigned ‘Well it would, wouldn’t it?’ She is no more positive on the subject of herself, remarking drily, ‘I wouldn’t inflict myself on people I care about.’

So it might be surprising that the author of six novels is actually very upbeat. Kennedy goes off on tangents and then tangents of those tangents, so that when she finally comes full circle and answers the original question, we have all (interviewer included) forgotten what that question was. This being the UK and August 2012, several of those tangents pertain to the Olympics. ‘People are amazing,’ enthuses Kennedy. ‘We don’t always see that in the British media. Now we’ve had two weeks of seeing that people are generally nice and with minimal training can be extraordinarily nice. Yet we’re always told to be scared of each other!’ She pauses. ‘Politicians want us to dislike each other as much as they dislike us. Then they could agree on what to do with us. Kindness is the glue which keeps us together. You know, we’re not all fat idiots wanting to have sex with our relatives. It takes a lot of weeding to find the people who go on reality TV: that’s not the average. The average is the last two weeks: commentators who know what they’re talking about, discovering new things and people generally being excellent.’

Her conception of writing seems to tie in with this theory of kindness. ‘When you write, you’re trying to make something as beautiful as possible for someone you’ll never meet.’ She admits that it can be toxic to spend all your time in a universe of your creation, but it’s clear that Kennedy is absolutely passionate about what she does. Currently homeless, she shrugs that writing is her home, ‘an additional interior world’. This is probably a good thing for a writer who figures that she spends 70% of her time away from home (when she has one). My new fact for the day: if you leave a can of baked beans for long enough, it will become spherical and dangerous. Tidying out her cupboards before selling her Glasgow flat, Kennedy realised that the limit was probably about seven years. While she says she can and does write anywhere, she admits a certain fondness for her former study. ‘I was really sad when I repainted my study to be able to sell it. It was the colour of congealed blood. I found it comforting.’

At the end of the reading, there is time for questions. The hands in the front left hand corner go up.

Image: (cc) chrisjohnbecket/ Flickr