Dame Fiona Kidman, a Unity Books staple for many years, will be in-store discussing her new novel This Mortal Boy with Redmer Yska on Monday 2nd July (12-12:45pm) 2018.
Albert Black was the second to last person to be executed in New Zealand in 1955. He was just 20 years old — a young man who had come from Belfast under the assisted immigrant programme when he was 18. Kidman says she was 15 at the time, and the horror of the hanging and the bald newspaper reportage made a huge impact on her. Black’s final words, as the hangman covered his head, were, ‘I wish you all a merry Christmas, gentlemen, and a prosperous New Year.’ What was his story? Kidman went to Belfast to research this young man for her compelling and important new novel, This Mortal Boy.
Fiona took a moment out of her busy Damehood to answer our Unity author interview questions…
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I am reading Paula Morris’ False River, a collection of short stories and essays. I find we have a surprising number of things in common, not least learning to read in ways that surprised our teachers. I learned officially to read when I was in a hospital, from a visiting hospital teacher. I found Paula’s essays about her parents particularly moving.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
They vary over time. I could say Chekhov, Marguerite Duras, Charles Dickens, but that would put me in a time warp, the early influences.
Canadian writer Alice Munro still feels contemporary, although she says she has retired. Anne Enright and Sebastian Barry are two writers of the moment who I intensely admire. Perhaps it is the Irish in me (my father was Irish) but the way they tell a story and the fluidity of their language speaks to me to me.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Seamus Heaney’s Open Ground Poems 1966-1996; The Only Story by Julian Barnes; Driving to Treblinka by Diana Wichtel.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
I found Away from Her, starring Julie Christie, intensely moving. It’s based on the Alice Munro story The Bear Came Over the Mountain about a woman with Alzheimer’s and her husband’s loss event though she still lives. I have long contended that the tighter focus of short stories offer great possibilities for film adaptation, without the complexities that so many novels provide.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Almost anything by Alice Munro, but particularly Lives of Girls and Women. I mean she is a consummate fiction writer, no matter whether she is writing novels or short stories. She leads the reader almost unawares way into the aching realities of the heart in a way that as a writer I can only long to emulate.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
I am rather addicted to the bad girl Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. She’s an awful mother and gets her comeuppance for her indiscretions, but she is witty and crafty and bold. I like Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice too, simply because she breaks the rules. Neither of them are particularly admirable but they are not dull.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
Remembrance of Things Past. Marcel Proust. I know I’m in good company. Life’s too short.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
Alice Munro, Marguerite Duras, Sebastian Barry.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
I’d start with a light vegetable soup, followed by chicken Parmagiano, very Mediterranean, my current pièce de résistance , a cheese course, then a dessert which would probably have come from Moore Wilson’s cabinet . Lots of wine.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
They line almost every room of my house, and some are stacked on the floor beneath the shelves. I was a librarian once, so the shelved ones are organised alphabetically. I don’t do Dewey Decimal but I’m conscious of placing non-fiction in rough categories.
Photo credit to Robert Cross