I think, if I’d read this book between the ages of 14-17, it would be my favourite book. Not that it only has young adult appeal. I still found that the laid-back protagonist, who doesn’t seem particularly fazed most of the time to be on the road with a vampiric older man, haunted me. She just has a way of observing things, where her cynicism is sometimes littered with cracks, and the reader slowly catches on to how she might be feeling underneath the bravado.
She’s in love with this man, Gunther, and we’re never really sure about whether he loves her the same way. Obviously, there is a naïve quality to her adoration, even though she acts with strength and maturity. He’s not predatory, but multi-faceted. During the novel they trek across America, visiting his friends. She’s on the run from nothing, really, and looking forward to something. He’s always been like this.
Kirsten has been living in Australia for quite a few years but is from New York. She is an artist as well as a writer (see the piece called Toy Skunk pictured above). Her writing is fiercely perceptive at times, without ever seeming contrived. The novel manages to catch teenage restlessness without being angsty. Many parts are downright hilarious. Some parts are heartbreaking, but they don’t come across this way because the character shrugs them off. This seems to make them more apt, more round and more appealing for the reader.
Kirsten likes to read ‘widely, and erratically’. She says ‘I love finding second hand books and reading things that are 100+ years old. I also love edgy, modern books. I just have to like the way they’re written.’ She also loves animals and will read widely about them.
She has two manuscripts, the other being a children’s novel. Both have been longlisted for the Australian/Vogel Award – in 2006, and 2007. The Ice Age was chosen for the Pathways for Publication Masterclass at Varuna this year – this is where I met Kirsten and heard her great readings of parts of the manuscript. Annette Barlow, (publisher, Allen and Unwin), said of The Ice Age: ‘The narrator’s biting, dry tone has all the exuberance of youth, originality and smarts, and her voice easily sustains the momentum throughout the full length of the book. It is her voice that we hear, and her eye we see through, in this very ‘art-house’ coming-of-age story.’
I’d have to say I’m not sure I agree with Annette about it being ‘art-house’. If marketed as a young adult novel I think it could actually attract a very wide, if slightly ‘cultish’ audience. It does perhaps deal with a lot of older themes (sex, drug use etc) but as I said, I would have really related to this book as a teenager. Teenagers like rawness and honesty in their reading. They also like humour, sarcasm and lust! I agree with Annette though that the voice of the novel is incredibly strong, and it is so charming.
Here is a short extract:
He’s wondering where to drop me. And he can’t find a place. The world is too ugly, too plain. Every town is an empty blank. And the cities, well, they’re full. As long as Gunther’s acting like some weird detached dad, I’m his little girl. He says it’s a sad state of affairs when the apparent predator is the protector. I don’t understand what he gets all heavy about. We like it here with each other. I don’t want the world to close in, but if they do, surely they’ll see the innocence. Who said “All’s fair in love and war”? I hope that applies here. I don’t want him to give me up.
Once I dreamt he was a dragon, flying over all the strip malls with me dangling from his beak, by the back of my shirt. He was swooping down over all that bleakness; the parking lots, the fatties waddling to their cars with mouths full of burgers, spitting crumbs… the litter, the rust, the neon, looking for a place to drop me.
And when I say something clever… Gunther likes it when I get a little insolent. He fixes those blinding eyes on me. They’re like headlights. Standing there in those beaming spotlights, that starts a little jump in my chest.
Krissy Kneen is hoping to turn parts of her blog Furious Vaginas (plus more material) into her published erotic memoir. It is part of her ‘Erotic Project’, a multi-platform adventure that includes her collection of erotic fiction Swallow the Sound, which I very favourably reviewed, and a young adult sexual memoir Desirous. Tied in with the young adult book she plans to start an online discussion for young adults on sexuality.
I am a very big fan of Krissy’s work. She is an incredibly literary writer. The posts on Furious Vaginas are often soul-shattering. They are raw and often sad and always beautiful. She has incredible skill as a writer, and it shows that she is writing about a topic that is very close to her heart. You may even say that the topic consumes her – that she is compelled to write about it.
‘Reading Krissy Kneen’s Swallow the Sound is akin to sitting in a dark theatre of sense. Across the stage in front of you appear stories stripped of all pretension, delivered in writing as rich and lean as you’ll find anywhere. And they do it fearlessly, because they were made by a fearless writer.’
Many of Krissy’s manuscripts have been recognised, but frustratingly remain unpublished. She has been shortlisted for the QLD Premiers Literary Award twice and longlisted for the Vogel once. She’s had an ASA mentorship, and support from Arts QLD and The Australia Council.
Krissy is part owner of micro publisher Eatbooks, which published Swallow the Sound. It’s a gorgeous volume, and she plans to follow it up with more collections. She says this project taught her much about the industry.
Interestingly, Krissy says many of the themes explored through dark sexualities in her work have to do with the passion that goes into the writing process and the shattering that occurs with every rejection. She says the solitary business of writing that creates and feeds insecurities is at the heart of much of her work. I believe this is one reason it also resonates with me so strongly, as well as the fact her work explores the most human of subjects.
Krissy likes Text and Scribe as publishers, but she says she has also read some ‘delightful’ Penguin books lately. She says – ‘then you pick up a McSweeneys and you just know it is a McSweeneys and you want to eat it’. She has high hopes for some of the small and micro publishers finding an audience in today’s market, as they are unafraid to take risks. And for poetry, she says you can’t go past UQP.
A short extract from a piece called obsessive (I’m afraid I have to bleep the swear because there is no disclaimer on my blog):
I thought that he was me. We were similar in many ways. We were both playful as monkeys, food fights, chases, games of backgammon, some of which ended in strange illegal moves that left us breathless with laughter. We were odd, awkward in company, prone to leaving a room in a sudden panic for no reason. We were both a little mad, we made nests in other people’s houses but we never seemed to settle anywhere ourselves. Once I threw all his clothes out of the window of a third story flat, and then he threw all mine, and then we were naked in the night, daring each other to run off into the park.