Kitty Fitzgerald is an Irish novelist, poet, and playwright. Her previous works include Small Acts of Treachery, Snapdragons, and Marge.
Author biography courtesy of Miramax Books.
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Some fun facts from our interview with Fitzgerald:
"I was the last butter maid in Devon, England, in 1975. I won the skipping race at school every year from the age of 6 to 11. I can stand on my head for a long time."
"After a long walk in the mountains, I like to sit and stare at an open fire while eating toast and drinking tea. I don't like bullies. I enjoy singing. I hate housework. I adore dogs but dislike people who turn dogs into toys or substitute babies. I don't eat pork! I dream a lot, often epics and recurring ones. I especially like to dream about flying. I hope that greed and fundamentalism of all shades don't destroy us."
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In the winter of 2006, Kitty Fitzgerald took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In the 1960s, I went to the cinema to see the adaptation of Harper Lee's book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and came out a slightly changed teenager. Instead of Ten Pin bowling and Beat Nites, I developed an interest in books, films, and what was happening in the world beyond my small arena. My dad then bought me Harper Lee's novel, and I understood how different were the experiences of reading a book and seeing a film. In a book the words encouraged you to conjure up the characters and see them in your mind's eye. In a way they became your individual creation.
The characters of Scout and Boo Radley dragged me into their world. Scout was a girl like me who was struggling to come to terms with the complexities and irrationalities of the adult world. I was enthralled by her intimate narrative, intrigued by Jem and Atticus and fascinated by the strange Boo. That line on the opening page -- He said it was the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out -- hooked me in right to the end. I could feel the atmosphere -- almost smell it -- I never wanted the experience to end.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
This is very difficult, to select only ten out of all the books I have loved and admired. But here goes, in no particular order:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- See above.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing -- The structure of this novel intrigued me. It said, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules -- you can make a novel any way you want. The notebooks were a way of dealing with different time zones, of moving backwards and forwards in the narrative and I considered it very stylish. I enjoyed the intimacy of the female characters and the way women were center stage, as well as the honesty in the emotional life of the characters; the way their internal and external landscapes were investigated.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck -- Here I was drawn into the lives of two very different homeless men, George and Lennie, whose complex relationship fires the narrative. The idea of the "journey" has always fascinated me, and very early on Steinbeck hooked me into the main characters search for a place to call their own. Yet, all the while there were signs within George and Lennie's relationship, that something dreadful was going to happen and they would never find peace. A masterly telling of a tale, with unforgettable characters.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë -- I studied this at school and shocked friends and teachers with my antipathy toward Jane and sympathy for Bertha Mason. Whatever the reason, Rochester had married her, brought her from her home to England, then disapproved of her behavior and locked her up. Yet she was portrayed as the monster: Oh sir, I never saw a face like it. It was a discolored face -- it was a savage face.
Rochester was a potential bigamist, Jane an adulteress, and yet because they were seen as "civilized" and Bertha Mason was the black outsider with mental health problems, I was supposed to root for them. I think this novel tapped into my own feelings of being an outsider when I moved to England, so much so that I very quickly got rid of my Irish accent.
Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban -- The use of language in this novel really thrilled me. I kept asking myself the question: How on earth did he construct this? That, together with the post-nuclear holocaust culture, the use of symbolism, and the fabulous Burnt Arse Pack always lurking was an amazing and shocking reading experience. And laced behind all of this was a warning, an omen, that this, or something very like it, could be our future. Storytelling and imaginative use of language of the highest order.
Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy -- Again I was attracted to a central female character who is diagnosed with mental health problems, mainly because she hates the world she lives in, where the women around her are battered, abused, and have no security. Also I liked the structure of the novel, taking place both in the present and in the future, cutting between the two to great effect. The future world held out hope and the way Piercy described it was incredibly believable. Creative structure and interesting characters in both time zones.
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels -- This novel took my breath away. Lacing some of the worst horrors humans have committed on each other, with such lyrical and poetic language and also such hope is a monumental achievement. Again the unusual structure fascinated me. Fragmentary and yet so contained, ambitious and yet so intimate and moving. She made me look at a history I thought I already knew in a totally different way. A writer of extraordinary power.
The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien -- A surrealist masterpiece of the absurd. It is a thriller, a satire, a treatise on an imaginary philosopher, and a vivid portrayal of an afterlife involving an elevator. Turning his back on traditional narrative and logic, O'Brien nevertheless created a page-turner that illustrates an uncommon imagination and a wonderful way with words.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson -- I'm so glad I didn't read this before I started writing Pigtopia because it floored me with its brilliance. In this work, Carson mixes myth with a poetic and passionate narrative to create a wonderful story which as daring as it is unforgettable. Humans with wings have been created in fiction before, but Geryon is in a league of his own.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez -- No one can create the atmosphere of place quite like Márquez. He describes heat in a way that makes the reader hot; he describes betrayal in a way that hurts; he portrays love, loss, upheaval so that it is almost happening in front of you. Yet no matter how I try to really study the form of his writing, I always get drawn into the storytelling.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?The Third Man -- So beautifully structured and filmed. All those shadows, the chase in the sewers, the unrequited love and the brutal side of human nature exposed. Two scenes are unforgettable: The one on the Ferris wheel (the cuckoo clock moment), and the scene where the light in a window reveals Harry Lime to the audience for the first time. Magic.
Babe -- Of course. A brilliant story and great creatures, an emotional roller coaster, and pigs!
Most of Hitchcock and the Coen brothers' films -- Because they are brilliant at manipulating their audiences.
Baghdad Café -- Bizarre but wonderful. A film about finding your freedom.
The Myth of Fingerprints -- Such a slow pace, but wonderfully observed and incredibly revealing about the nature of family relationships and the pain we can cause each other.
Alien -- Because it scared me to death.
The Jacket -- Frightening but potentially possible. The best time-traveling film I've seen.
The Matrix -- I loved the whole concept, the sets, the costumes -- apart from the last ten minutes or so, where the guns became the real characters and they're very boring.
The Philadelphia Story -- The original. It's just such fun, and really quite daring for its time. I think I've seen it on about twenty occasions.
Don't Look Now -- Beautifully shot and full of totems. Every time I've watched it I've noticed something new: Loss, love, fear, hatred, so many human frailties investigated, and the very best sex scene ever.
Alphaville -- Because it reminds me of being first drawn to film when I got lost in its bizarre logic.
I could go on and on, but I'll stop there.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I have very mixed taste: from classical to Gregorian chants, to Joni Mitchell to Jackson Browne,
Dylan, Supertramp. Little Feat, the Eagles, Maddy Prior, David Byrne, and the Killers.
I do like to find a piece of music that conjures up the mood of the book I'm writing. For Pigtopia it was Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3, "Organ." Some of which was used in the film Babe.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Brick Lane by Monica Ali, because it was a Christmas gift, and I want it to jump off my pile of waiting-to-be-read books.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to get unusual books that may not have hit the headlines. I enjoy nonfiction, especially modern physics and ancient history. I try to give books that I know will be read and appreciated by the receiver, but which they probably wouldn't have bought for themselves.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
Have breakfast; walk the dog; open the post; put the radio on; pace around the house; stare out of the window at the old priory which stands on a cliff overlooking the sea; make coffee; turn the radio off; read and edit what I wrote the day before; get started.
On the walls of my writing room I have photos, drawings, and paintings of places and people that are very important to me. On my desk I have a stack of notes on odd bits of paper, ideas and questions that have occurred to me about the current work in progress while I was away from my desk. Whenever I come to a long pause in the writing I look through these notes for inspiration.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
My first piece of writing was published in a magazine in 1983; my first novel was published in 1985. After that I was seduced by theater, radio drama, poetry, and film, until I got the overwhelming urge to write a novel once more. But it wasn't until Faber & Faber bought Pigtopia in 2005 that I began to get recognition as a writer outside of the North of England. Quite a long haul, wasn't it? To be a successful writer (I'm quoting fellow writer Val McDermid) you need three things: talent, the ability to work hard, and luck.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
My grandson, Jack. He has a wonderful facility with words but at the moment is more interested in music and football.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
It's never too late. Be optimistic; keep writing and perfecting your style; write with passion.
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