By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
I’m 54. I’ve done lovers, husbands, children; I’m on to grandchildren and living on my own. I don’t need to go through all that life stuff so much. There’s a lot of messy stuff that’s out of the way now.
I read that you started writing fiction in the ’80s after you flunked the oral exams for your doctorate at the University of Dundee.
It was a very political thing that happened to me. It had very much to do with departmental politics and was very unfair. I say that from a cool distance. Only much later did I realize that I was totally devastated. Academic writing and study had been a very creative thing for me. That’s where I put a lot of my energy. Somehow everything I had been doing just disappeared. That very same university offered me an honorary doctorate last year and I wrote an incredibly polite letter back saying, “Thank you very much. But actually I would like my real one.” [Laughs.] I heard nothing back.
What happened after that?
I moved back to England. At the time I was incredibly pregnant. I then had a baby and transferred for a second time into motherhood. I was incredibly domesticated; I knitted, sewed, baked, made jam and preserves, kept house and wondered why I was getting so frustrated. I started writing very personal fiction, very kind of, “Oh, God. My life is awful” kind of pieces. My doctorate was in the history of the short story since the world began, ending in America in the ’60s and ’70s. Because of that I was very aware of what made a good story. Then the first thing I ever sent anywhere won a big magazine competition. That was how I became a writer, really. It was a very slow burn. That was from first putting pen to paper around 1982 to winning that competition in 1986 to a novel accepted in 1994.
In your first week of college you formed the Dundee University Women’s Liberation Society. But you once said, “There’s no sisterhood. Women are their own worst enemies and behave very, very badly in some circles and in particular the media.” What’s up with that?
The British media is foul — there’s no way around that. After [I won] the Whitbread there was a lot of really snotty stuff. It’s very difficult for people to put me in a box. The worst was the Express. There was a female reporter and she was very nice and pleasant and was wanting to ask me about my family and my childhood and all that crap. My mother used to help out part time in my parents’ [surgical supply] shop. [The reporter] said to me, “Did you feel that because your parents worked that you were neglected in any way?” I kind of went, “No,” because it never even crossed my mind as a child. In the written interview it comes out, “I asked her if she felt neglected as a child and, though she denied it, a pained expression crossed over her features.” [Laughs.] It was like, “FUCK YOU, LADY.”
At The Guardian, which is our most intellectual newspaper, [the reporter] was talking about my hair, my nails and my clothes. She came up with a great line: “Meeting Atkinson is like expecting to eat Yorkshire pudding and instead getting sushi.” Many of these lines are burned into my brain. They were just bitchy, really. In France, I’m just a writer. But in [the U.K.], I’m treated as a woman rather than a writer. There’s a lot of gender politics here that people don’t notice because it’s so subtle. You don’t take it. You’re given it. You do an interview and everything is about your hair.
ONE GOOD TURN | By KATE ATKINSON | Little, Brown | 432 pages | $25 hardcover
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