Responses: Kirsten Reed
One of your own ‘on the road’ experiences…
I was seventeen, hitching a short distance (about forty miles; this was a leg of my journey for which there was no connecting bus). The sun was about to set, and I was starting to worry, as I stood by the roadside collecting weird looks and the occasional lewd shout, but no ride. Finally a maroon van pulled sharply into a driveway in front of me, stopping me in my tracks—as daunting as it was promising. The passenger door swung open to reveal an old man with dyed black hair in the driver’s seat, who asked me where I was headed through a hole in his throat. It was a little spooky. I was reminded of the hitchhiking scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, when his driver’s head morphs into a shrieking bug-eyed monster. Oddly, this calmed me, as I realised the probability of this old man’s head mutating was quite slim. Talking through a tracheotomy was probably as freaky as he was going to get. As I hovered outside his open door, the look on his face said ‘Stop judging me and get in the damn van already’, and I hopped in. His name was Pierre. He explained raspily and breathlessly that he used to be an actor, before the operation. After, he ran a restaurant. He chauffeured me to the door of my lodgings. In the course of the forty mile drive he’d offered me a job, given me a good luck talisman from around his neck, and insisted on giving me all the money in his wallet (thirty bucks) to help me along on the rest of my trip.
At first the speculation that I’d written The Ice Age under the influence of these two took me aback slightly. When I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking of anything except my characters and story. I mostly just mined my own life. I don’t remember much about On the Road or Lolita, apart from a few lasting impressions. What I recall most vividly is the unapologetic spirit of expression contained in each, which alone makes these books iconic. Given the intuitive quality of the creative process, pinpointing the inspiration behind my writing is an inexact science. I used to think all my ideas were completely original, until I came across a story about Helen Keller. She was told a children’s story via sign language before she learned to understand and communicate by this means, or any. Later, she penned the story, thinking she had written it herself. This always serves to remind me: no one creates in a vacuum. Plus if I am going to be compared to other authors, I have to acknowledge it’s flattering to have these two names crop up with regularity.
Cute Animals (here)
Not only did I trawl this link at length, I called my boyfriend over to look, too. (Puppy porn?) I once went missing on a family outing when I was about eight, and was later recovered in a paddock, hugging a calf. The only blog I follow on a daily basis relates to pit bull rescue. I have had pets I like more than most people. Growing up I read every animal book I could find. It’s official: I’m a disgracefully wholesome animal-loving dork.
Art vs writing
One, I usually I have to stand up, and end up kind of messy. The other, I get to sit down.
I love him. I discovered his work via a life drawing tutor in London. He looked over my drawings one evening, and noted I’d probably just been to the Egon Schiele exhibition in town. I’m actually kind of a philistine. True to form, I responded, ‘Who’s Egon Schiele?’ He was shocked, and confessed he’d been operating under the assumption my drawing style was a direct result of an Egon Schiele infatuation. He insisted I check out his exhibition. I did, and it totally blew my mind. It was cool at the age of seventeen/eighteen to note that someone working almost 100 years ago produced work at least, if not more, edgy, raw, rude, and emotive than any artist working today. There is so much skill and passion in his works, they seem imbued with some sort of life force. Looking at them, I felt present in the moment they were created. That, and he was just such a good draughtsman. I wished I could go back in time, and join the Austrian expressionist movement, the way most normal people wish they were alive to party in the 1960’s. I don’t have many refined cultural tastes, but those that I do possess, I deposited in the character of Gunther.
Eleanor Dark’s room
I felt like an imposter heading to Varuna, and a writer when I left. The honour of staying in Eleanor Dark’s room was palpable; I felt like I was being urged on in my quest to become a fully fledged author by her benevolent ghost. There was an autobiography of her on the shelf in there. I remember flicking through it one night, trying to get a sense of who she was, and how she went about the task of being an author. In the passage I settled on, she confessed to a suspicion she enjoyed gardening more than writing, and apparently she’d constructed all of the rock walls and garden beds around Varuna House. I found this reassuring, considering how much of my life is whittled away in contemplative hours of random pottering. The ratio of minor chores undertaken to actual creative work performed by me is probably quite staggering and best left uncalculated.
Edvard Munch ‘Vampire’:
Vampires are definitely the sexiest of all mythical creatures. David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger, I rest my case:
I remember being fifteen, watching Fame one afternoon on TV. A dorky, middle-aged teacher was consoling a lovesick high school student, and confessed he’d experienced the deepest, most profound love of his life when he was fifteen years old—at the time, he didn’t realise he would never feel that way again. This was contrary to the advice most adults were giving me at that age: that nothing I felt was real, and all things would pass. The implication was that one day I’d be embarrassed for caring about these things at all. We evolve as we grow older, definitely, but some experiences and people are precious, worth retaining, and their mark never truly leaves us.