Kirsty Gunn writes short stories, novels and essays. She also directs and teaches, with novelist Meaghan Delahunt, WordPath Scotland, an online weekend creative writing programme. Gunn is the recipient of several awards and prizes including the Scottish Arts Council Bursary for Literature, the New York Times Notable Book award, and the Sundial Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year.
In her lyrical essay, My Katherine Mansfield Project, Gunn explores the ideas of home and belonging — and of her own deep connection to a place where every flower and gatepost seems embroidered with the memory of some story or another.
1. Why was Katherine Mansfield the writer you have always felt connected to?
I was brought up on the stories of Katherine Mansfield. The Doll’s House, At the Bay, Sun and Moon… these were part of my childhood. They furnished not only my imagination but my reality with their images, voices, people and worlds. I was brought up In Wellington and the stories were part of my lived experience as well as my dream life… That’s a powerful idea to pass on to a child, that literature lives in the midst of the life you are living…
2. How does making a home in words feel as practical as making a home in a house?
Writing is practical. I am always telling my students: Writing is practice. One is not born a writer. One is not inspired to be a writer or to write. One is not necessarily gifted or talented or whatever. One merely practises at writing, doing this thing, over and over, as one might practise the piano. We write (and read, of course, equally important) to become good writers. For me, making writing is to make a kind of dwelling place for the imagination that then becomes a place in which I live.
3. Who are we when we ‘come home’?
The point of my book was to try and answer that question — as it is so very hard to answer. In the end, writing itself, and thinking about and reading Katherine Mansfield helped me discover a way in to begin answering the question…
4. Why did you choose to write a lyrical essay?
An essay is a wonderful way to think on the page. It’s capacious and generous — the very meaning of the word suggests “trying” after all, not finishing or completing or polishing, although of course one also does those things in order to finish the project. Also, because I didn’t know the answer to that question you’ve just asked… Well, the essay seems to be to be just the place to go to with a question!
5. Are you currently working on anything that you wish to share with your readers?
A collection of essays, and a collection of short stories. Writing one, always makes me think of the other. Just as reading books makes us think of writing, and writing turns us back to the books we love.
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