Katharine Kilalea and Emily Berry discuss architecture, psychoanalysis and the different types of exposure that come with writing prose and poetry.

 

Katharine Kilalea:

We’ve spoken quite a lot over the years – in person, and over email – so I’d thought this ‘conversation’ would be easy, but as soon as I sat down in front of the computer, rather than just asking the questions I’d like to ask (like you stopped writing for a while, why did you start writing again?) I felt the ‘writerly’ need to subject everything I think to endless revisions. It’s tiresome, this feeling of not being able to just speak/write freely. Then I remembered a conversation we had about a decade ago after one of Roddy Lumsden’s poetry workshops. We’d discovered that we’d both written for the London Review of Breakfasts. I’d spent a week or so writing a single review – hardly more than a few sentences – and was complaining that I wouldn’t write another because writing prose was too torturous for me. You said, I think, that actually you found it quite easy (or more relaxing anyway than writing poetry). So . . . Are you as cagey about this as I am!?

 

Emily Berry:

That’s so weird I said I found it more relaxing to write prose. I don’t think I find writing either poetry or prose relaxing, if I even know what the difference is . . . Do you mean am I cagey about this conversation or about questions about writing? I think it’s only right and proper to be a bit cagey about one’s writing process and also about ‘public’ conversations . . . Quite often people ask me, ‘Are you writing at the moment?’, which I guess is a perfectly normal question for writers to ask each other, and even though on the one hand I don’t mind answering the question I feel a bit icky about it, like they’ve just asked if I’ve had sex recently. I think I mentioned to you I have been tentatively writing some stuff but I’m having to almost keep it a secret from myself, I don’t know why. Because I actively didn’t want to write for quite a long time – it felt somehow intrusive. So now I am doing that thing that Thelma does at the beginning of Thelma and Louise where she takes a bite of a chocolate bar and then puts it back in the fridge and then takes it out again a bit later and so on, to pretend I’m not really committed to the whole business . . . So, are you writing at the moment? (haha)

 

Katharine:

 Nope. This is the only thing I’m writing right now. You know, I was lying awake last night agitating some problem when my mind returned to what you said about writing not being relaxing and a strange thing happened. As soon as I started thinking about how to write back to you a calm feeling came over me. I don’t much like this way of speaking, but it was a feeling of ‘presentness’ – as if I were in myself – a bit like getting a massage. I tried to work out why writing might or might not be relaxing in the abstract, which resulted in meaningless philosophising, so I stopped. But I did enjoy the feeling. It helped me sleep and reminded me that I do, on the whole, find writing relaxing. It made me want to work on something again. I liked the idea of writing in order to relax, and maybe even prefer it to the nobler reasons like writing for consolation, for truth, for revenge, etc. etc.

 

Emily:

That’s interesting because I feel like I remember you saying somewhere – maybe on radio or a podcast? – something about how the impulse to write was somehow connected to a desire to get into ‘something difficult’? Or to work with difficulty, unpick something. Maybe you were talking about ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’? Which made a lot of sense to me. It feels like work. But it sounds like what you are talking about is the fabled state of flow, when you’re totally absorbed in a given activity? I hear that’s something writers and artists get but I don’t know if that happens to me so often when writing. Though I should say that this type of writing (corresponding, emailing), is a totally different experience for me than writing a poem or anything more . . . formal (?) – I LOVE corresponding! But I still don’t know if I would say it’s relaxing, it’s more . . . exciting . . . But why I didn’t want to write poems was maybe to do with feeling that I’d over-exerted and over-exposed myself on some very deep level writing my last book and I needed to just stop all that and shut the door and not let anybody else in (even me). Do you ever get a feeling where you’ve been socialising a lot and there’s been a lot of talking, and when you go home your mouth feels sort of exhausted and full of the ghosts of all the conversations you’ve had? And you think, I can’t say another word. Like that, only with my writing ‘mouth’, wherever that is (what a horrible concept).

 

Katharine:

Over-exposure, yes, I know the feeling. It feels perverse sometimes, to constantly be ‘giving oneself away’. But there must be a pleasure in it, too, I mean, here we are exposing ourselves again! I suppose most people prefer to keep their thoughts and feelings in their own minds, but among writers – and there are a lot of us! – people are exposing themselves all the time, infecting everyone else with our issues. Did you enjoy ‘not writing’? Did you think you might give it all up and be, I don’t know, an interior designer or something?

 

Emily:

Not writing felt neither good nor bad, it felt sort of determined. I did think of doing something else – every now and then I think, oh dear this is a rather unhealthy pursuit isn’t it? What shall I do instead . . . shall I become a florist, or a Pilates teacher or something? But I sort of realise it’s maybe a kind of acting out against myself, and that there’s an inevitability about what I’m doing, and I just have to go along with it. I saw this Jean Rhys quote on Twitter yesterday that resonated with me: ‘It seems I was fated to write, which is horrible. But I can only do one thing.’

 

Katharine: 

On the subject of resonant quotes. We had a conversation recently in which I said that I’m more tolerant of novels than of poetry, that I don’t mind reading a mediocre novel but that when I read a poem I don’t love it makes me quite angry. You said, ‘It’s because you expect something from a poem. You expect it to make you feel something, and if it doesn’t make you feel anything you think it’s wasted your time.’ I was very struck by this idea you had about wanting poems to make you feel something. I actually lent it to a character in OK, Mr Field (I wonder if you noticed!) only the idea is applied to the sea . . .

 

Emily:

I did pay extra attention to the brilliant passage in which he is wondering why people are so interested in the sea because it made me think about my own (maybe former) compulsion to write about the sea . . . And it reminded me of the bit in ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’ where it says ‘the sea – of course it was – was marbled / and contorting’, there’s something about the exasperation there which for me prefigures Mr Field’s slightly contemptuous view of sea enthusiasts while simultaneously being in a kind of way quite affected by the sea . . . But this is perfect because I feel the same way about the sea as about a poem, if I look at the sea I do want it to make me feel something . . .

 

Katharine: 

As it happens, I’m on holiday in Cornwall at the moment, and I’ve noticed that when I look out the window at the sea all I get is a pleasant blankness or absence of feeling. (Though if, as you say in ‘Picnic’, ‘the mood of the sea is catching’, then this may just be because the weather is good and the sea is flat.) I love the sea but am very disinclined to write about it. But the sea seems (or seemed) to be a kind of portal for you – I have the sense that your sea poems just kind of poured out. They have a kind of speed in them, like they were written at the speed of thought. Actually I feel that sort of ease in your work more generally, so I was surprised to hear that you don’t get the ‘fabled state of flow’!

 

Emily:

Well I’m happy if that’s the impression . . . actually a lot of the poems in Stranger, Baby were collaged together out of short groups of lines written at separate times . . . so if there was flow it probably only lasted about three minutes each time or something . . . (P.S. Some of the lines in ‘Picnic’ were written looking out of the window in a house in Cornwall by the sea!) I’ve been thinking about how amazingly detailed and close-up OK, Mr Field is, and I kept wanting to hold onto these details but they accrue so quickly that as you read on they kind of merge into more of a feeling, the feeling of being inside your narrator’s mind . . . or the feeling of looking at the sea (trying to observe its parts but getting distracted by the whole . . .). I’ve been trying to compare it to your poetry and think about how it differs. I was going to say it feels poemistic, the way you might say something is novelistic, but that’s probably too easy since I knew you as a poet first, and I’m not sure it’s true. But the writing seems to me very different to what you find in most novels . . . And I notice things from your poems in there. Whole lines have snuck in, like ‘The air was blood temperature’, which is a favourite line from ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’ . . . How does a poem-y feeling differ from a novel-y feeling? Why do you think the transition occurred for you (from poems to a novel)?

 

Katharine: 

It does feel different to write a novel. Less pressurised, because it’s not quite so intense, and less exposing, because it’s a story about someone else and also because the narrative form – beginning, middle, end – is so at odds with the form of lived experience that a novel never really feels real. (Actually that’s why I prefer traditional novels to the kind of auto-fiction that’s being written at the moment, because it does have that inbuilt distance.) The transition from poems to novels happened because I’d reached a dead end in poetry. ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’ used me up and when I tried to write poems afterwards I felt like a jobbing writer (and there’s no worse crime, in my opinion, than writing something which doesn’t need to be written). So I gave up on the poems and then, suddenly, I was writing a novel. I’ve always wanted to write a novel. There’s something about certain novels which I sort of ‘live by’, if you know what I mean? Also, I’ve been in an analysis for some time and a big part of that is about being able to say things in a way which makes sense. (Whereas I think that what suited me about writing poems was that they didn’t need to make sense.) I always swore to myself that when I finished a novel I’d end the analysis. The two things felt connected, as if by writing a novel I was good enough at making sense to have ‘passed’ the analysis.

 

Emily:

What you say about feeling ‘used up’ after ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’ is basically a much shorter way of saying what I said above! I totally agree about the crime of writing things that don’t need to be written (although I suppose it depends who’s making the decision, haha. There are plenty of things I absolutely think had no need to be written – well, published – whose writers would certainly not agree . . .) But it’s interesting that novel writing gave you a way out of that feeling of ‘used-upness’. Actually the small amount of writing I’ve started doing is possibly closer to prose than poetry. Though not remotely a novel. I’ve actually never wanted to write a novel, in fact I would go so far as to say I actively do not ever want to write one.

 

Katharine: 

Curious . . . I suppose you mean you’re writing in paragraphs? Or are there ‘stories’ in them? I think poets are suspicious of storytelling – I suppose there’s a falseness about it.

 

Emily:

I don’t know what I mean . . . There are paragraphs and stories, yes, but I’ve previously written poems with paragraphs and stories where I didn’t have the same questions about what form I was writing in. It just feels different. I was trying to explain to someone recently how one type of anxiety I was experiencing felt different from another kind I had regularly, but it was impossible to clarify the distinction . . . maybe it’s like that. Why have you always wanted to write a novel? What is it about a novel? What do you mean by you ‘live by’ certain novels exactly? I think novels, the reading of them, is so important to me and has been ever since I was quite young – like a sort of security blanket – that I just don’t ever want to enter that territory as a writer in case it spoils it. I want it to be a safe place I can be in as a visitor.

 

Katharine: 

At its most basic level, being able to write a novel felt appealing because I’m a terrible storyteller, the kind of person who starts a story at a dinner party and makes everyone immediately feel anxious. I partly agree with the idea of a novel as a security blanket – I find it reassuring to come back to a novel night after night because I know what I’m getting into. What do I mean about ‘living by’ novels? I suppose novels seem to be full of ideas about life, or anyway, I’m always looking to them for clues about life’s problems. I remember, for instance, thinking that K’s hopeless pursuit of the castle had some kind of meaningful bearing on my own struggle, at the time, to fall pregnant (the novel’s advice, it seemed, was not dissimilar to the common sense wisdom that the only way to fall pregnant is to stop trying to fall pregnant, as if the only way to get what you want is by not wanting it. But how are you supposed to fool yourself at that very deep level?).

 

Emily: 

But I also look to poems for clues about life’s problems, don’t you? And then I think oh god why do these distinctions even matter!! What kind of person spends time trying to distinguish one anxiety feeling from another? Mr Field, I expect! It makes me think of his internal critic saying ‘You’re too sensitive’, or him remembering his mother telling him – I loved this! – ‘Nobody cares about one’s personal trials and griefs. One’s trials and griefs are boring.’ Which brings us back to psychoanalysis. I was struck by the role of Hannah Kallenbach in the book – this real person who becomes a projection and sort of disembodied voice in the mind of your narrator, a person he seems to experience as witnessing his life. When I read the book first, knowing that you are in analysis, I thought of that voice as something similar to the voice of an analyst, which is disembodied, since it mostly occurs behind one’s head. Did it function that way for you? I’m interested that writing a novel seemed to mark a kind of milestone for you. I would think of ‘passing’ analysis as being about having finally been ‘cured’ of life (although wouldn’t that be death?), or being certified an official competent grown-up or something (!) – do you think the novel is a more ‘grown-up’ form than poetry? I sort of think it might be . . .

 

Katharine:

Is a novel more ‘grown up’ than poetry? Trick question! It’s more conventional, perhaps, more accepting of compromise (I think that an analysis might see those as being two good outcomes). I suppose the milestone element for me, personally, was a shift from writing ‘from the heart’ – or the nerves, or gut, or wherever poetry comes from – to a more mediated kind of writing, one which I have more control over, maybe, because it’s got more ideas, or maybe more structure, in it. I guess what I wanted to find out with the book was something about intimacy, how to achieve it maybe, if it exists, what it feels like. Psychoanalysis thinks that you can get closer to somebody – or at least speak more freely with them, which surely amounts to the same thing – if you can’t see their face (which must be an aspect of writing also, since if you’re writing to somebody you can’t see their face). I noticed that when I’m feeling something really deeply, I’m often, at the same time, imagining myself articulating that feeling, as if to somebody else. Writing is a bit like that – articulating oneself to someone (everyone) else. I worry about the idea of feeling on my own – I don’t mean feeling isolated, I mean the idea of having nobody to tell my feelings to. (If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody to hear it etc.)

I’m thinking back to the two times I read Stranger, Baby. The first time was just after my daughter was born – days after – and it quite unmanned me (a gendered term, but a good one). I thought it might be something to do with me – my hormones maybe, or that, as a new mother, I was peculiarly sensitive to the idea of how important a mother is to somebody. I avoided the book for a year or so after that because I didn’t want to ‘go there’ again, and when I read it a second time it was equally affecting. I wondered whether part of what’s so moving is the feeling that, in the poems, a child is speaking. Of course it’s an adult writing, but the expression is of a child’s experience too, and because children can’t really express their experiences with clarity (because they don’t have the language) it’s like accessing previously mute territory. And maybe this is too neat, but it also occurred to me that there’s something about a book, as a format, which is appropriate for Stranger, Baby. Because if reading a book is entering into a sort of relationship with the book’s author – who is, of course, not there – then reading a book is fundamentally the experience of being with someone who is not there.

 

Emily:

I remember you texting me after you read it and I was very moved that you had read it at such a time . . . though it’s very strange to have written something where the sort of ‘positive’ outcome is that it makes the reader sad. Yeah, it did feel like a childish or childlike place those poems came from. Neither of those words has quite the right connotations, but I was partly trying to channel my childhood experience of my mother’s death, which I largely have no memory of, so it was a weird process. I was seeing a CBT therapist for some of the time while writing the book, and one exercise he gave me (which I’m not sure is typical of CBT) was to ‘revisit’ my child self in my head at a traumatic moment, and talk to my child self with my adult self’s ‘wisdom’. As with a lot of therapy I’ve had, I remain unsure what impact it’s had on my day-to-day wellbeing, but I found it very generative for my work! There’s a bit in Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? when she is recounting a breakdown and she ‘spends time’ with a very furious, volatile child self with whom she has to argue and negotiate through various things – it was a little like that, I suppose, only more . . . prearranged. I haven’t hung out with my child self for a while, I should check in with her and see how she’s doing.

 

Katharine:

I’m struck by this idea of the adult self comforting the child self. It might clarify something of my own response to the poems. I wonder if what was conjured up so uncomfortably wasn’t a loss feeling so much as a sort of caring feeling, the urge to comfort – which is such a strong urge! – and failure of being able to. It reminds me of a passage in Imre Kertész’s Fateless. It’s hard to explain exactly, but there’s a point in the book (which is about a boy’s experiences at a concentration camp) where one of the camp doctors discovers that the boy was brought there without his parents’ knowledge, and feels sorry for him. The story is repeated to other camp officials who all seem saddened by it. The boy notices, though, that his sympathisers seem to enjoy their feeling of compassion, even to seek it out, as if, he says, to reassure themselves that they’re still capable of it. The boy says he feels ‘embarrassed’ by the doctors’ feelings about his situation. Do you feel embarrassed for us?

 

Emily:

I haven’t read the book, but isn’t his embarrassment more about being the object of their compassion? That’s where the embarrassment lies for me, I think. To be in a position that incites compassion is necessarily to be in a very disempowering position.

 

Katharine: 

Actually, the boy wanted to say to them your compassion is misplaced, but he stopped himself because he could tell they liked the feeling . . .

 

Emily:

Wow. I think this boy is more generous than me . . . I think I also find it a bit troubling thinking about readers of books entering into a relationship with the author, which you mention above. I mean, OK, they enter into a relationship with the ‘author’, the writer of the words, but I try hard to distinguish that from the person of the author . . . but I suppose that’s what you mean about the author fundamentally not being there. I think you have to not be there, as a writer, or you wouldn’t be able to cope – it’s too intimate. Maybe one of the best things about writing (for me) is if you manage to transform a feeling that happened in your body/mind into something that can ultimately be taken into someone else’s body/mind as their feeling, but sometimes those feelings are sent back to you, and mistaken for yours . . . that’s maybe what I find embarrassing.

But it’s much easier to not be there when the book is more obviously a fiction, as with OK, Mr Field. (Which I keep wanting to call ‘OK, Mr Cross’ – I have absolutely no idea why! I don’t think Mr Field is particularly cross.)

 

Katharine:

Ha! Mr Perverse, Mr Repressed . . . like Mr Men books for adults.

 

Emily: 

I’m always wondering where the line is between ‘true’ fiction and ‘autofiction’ – does it exist? When I read a novel by someone I know, I can’t help trying to look for them in there – I tell myself off about it but I can’t help it! Richard Scott has a great line about this in one of his poems: ‘are you looking for me in these lines / like a urologist examines piss for blood’, and the answer to that is, yes, I am, I’m sorry!!! And I feel very uncomfortable when someone does that to my work. Do you feel Mr Field is 100 per cent made up (is that even a thing?), or are you in there a bit? For example the bits in there from your poems . . . and the voice, the style of meditating on things, feels very you (you the writer or you the Kate . . . I don’t know??) How did you create/come up with Mr Field? Did you do a lot of research or do you already know all that stuff about architecture, classical music etc? And what drew you to writing a male character? Was that a deliberate choice?

 

Katharine:

I can’t be far from Mr Field because I feel very defensive when people describe him as going mad! (Which, I’m beginning to understand, is how the book’s plot is generally understood, though I personally think of it as a kind of odd ‘coming of age’ story . . .) In one way, it’s true that his life gets more isolated and confused, etc., as the book progresses, but in another way, he started off as a mediocre pianist with a distant wife and ends up with a passionate attachment to both a dog and a stranger . . . Well, at least he’s passionate about something! I also identify with Mr Field’s frustration at, as you put it so well, not being able to transform the feeling inside himself into feelings that other people can take in. In fact, his jealousy of the fellow pianist whose playing always makes him terribly sad is not a million miles off the envy I’ve felt towards you! He did grow out of a sequence of poems I was writing about a House for the Study of Water, though at the beginning he was just a ‘state of mind’ so (as a friend helpfully put it) the book sounded like a Paulo Coelho . . . Deciding to set the book in the House for the Study of Water made it easier because the building – or how he moved around the building – became a kind of ‘plot’, or a way to write about a state of mind without anything having to actually happen. The music bits were quite easy as I played the piano as a child. As to his sex, I actually intended to write him as male then switch gender at the end, but OK, Mrs Field is an awful-sounding title.

 

Emily:

Since you mention the dog I’m now remembering how brilliant you are at writing about dogs. Their sort of heartbreaking personhood. ‘Sometimes, when I looked down and saw the dog lying on the floor with his legs tucked under him like a grasshopper, I felt an immense affection for him followed by a terrible sadness . . .’ In another exchange I would like to have a whole conversation about writing about dogs, please.

 

Katharine: 

Or the sea, or both.

 

Emily:

Coming back to embarrassment, since you mention feeling ‘defensive’ of Mr Field, is that to do with embarrassment? I don’t think I would have described him as going mad, but it does seem as though some sort of breakdown is occurring . . . on the other hand maybe any close analysis of an individual’s thoughts would make it seem like that person was having a breakdown . . . do you think you would have felt more ‘exposed’ if you’d written the character as a woman in the first person?

 

Katharine:

I do think I’d have felt more exposed while writing if Mr Field had been female. And perhaps making him male did ‘protect’ me by forcing him not to be me. The word breakdown is less pejorative than going mad, I like it. Breaking things down can even be positive sometimes . . . like a book I read by Christopher Bollas which described a breakdown as coming into contact with the fundamentals of existence. It’s a fascinating idea that a close analysis of a person’s thoughts resembles a breakdown – I wonder if the experience of a breakdown is the same as the experience of undergoing a close analysis of one’s thoughts? Psychoanalysis was a big part of your PhD research too, I know. But do you buy it? I ask because of course psychoanalysis believes that expressing oneself will make whatever bothers you bother you less. But in Stranger, Baby you say that writing the poems has brought no consolation. (Which reminds me of what J.M. Coetzee said in an interview: ‘Writing, in itself, as an activity, is neither beautiful nor consoling. It’s industry.’) I appreciate much of what psychoanalysis has to say, but I’m not sure it has all the answers . . . I wondered whether there’s an attempt, especially in poetry, to offer another way to understand the minutiae of subjective experience, as if to collate data (albeit in a less organised and less overtly therapeutic way than psychoanalysis) for some kind of alternative understanding of how the mind works?

 

Emily:

I am very into psychoanalysis as a kind of reading tool (reading books and people) but I don’t know yet what I feel about it beyond that. I’m very suspicious of it. I just finished the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn (have you read them?) which I thought were absolutely incredible. I felt like underlining practically every sentence. They follow one character through a traumatic childhood into haunted adulthood (basically his own life, I gather), and the framework through which the character’s life is viewed is very psychoanalytic . . . in one bit someone is describing to a child what psychoanalysis is and they say ‘it’s a way of getting access to hidden truths about your feelings’. I liked that, but sometimes I worry that there are no hidden truths, just different stories that make sense at different times. Hence poems. (Incidentally you saying above that when feeling something you are always simultaneously imagining articulating it reminded me of something St Aubyn says in an interview in the New Yorker I just read: ‘Even if I’m walking down the street on my own, I’m narrating the experience. It has to be described before it convinces me that it has happened.’ Maybe all writers do this?) I was reading Grazia magazine when I was having my hair cut recently and the columnist Polly Vernon said something about how in life you just keep having one epiphany after another and each time you think Yes! That’s it! and then shortly afterwards you realise, no . . . that’s not it at all. That is not it, at all . . .

 

Katharine:

I did read the Patrick Melrose novels, and must have loved the books because I read them almost in one sitting, but I wasn’t sure about the way Edward St Aubyn seemed to understand everything about Patrick Melrose’s life, as if he’d found (in psychoanalysis) a system which explained everything, and within which it all made sense. It reminds me of Le Corbusier. He developed a completely new measuring system for architecture, based on the human body, and resized the elements of his buildings to an apparently more human scale. It all makes sense, but when you go into his buildings everything seems a little small, the proportion just doesn’t feel right.

 

Emily:

I love that comparison. I’ve always been interested in (what seems like) the significance of architecture for you as a writer (the starting point of your book being that Mr Field has moved into a replica Le Corbusier house). My partner is an architect, as you know, so I’m generally intrigued by intersections between architecture and literature, which seem to happen less than one might think . . . is this something you have any thoughts about?

 

Katharine:

I worked in architecture for many years, which is how I learned about it. I’m not sure if architecture in itself especially interests me. I’ve found the theory around it fascinating – Peter Sloterdijk especially (I’m sure I’ve mentioned him to you before, I mention him to everybody). I am peculiarly sensitive to my environment, though. I remember visiting a part of the Cornish countryside I didn’t know very well, where something about how the bushes overshadowed the roads, and the farm houses looked down over the fields, made me feel like I was in a Daphne du Maurier novel, and I had to leave and go home. A ‘thinking space’ especially, has to be ‘just so’, nothing uncomfortable, nothing ugly, nothing messy. Half of my work day is spent preparing the environment to exactly the right degree of tidiness. I’m writing this from my new shed – more like garden room (which is what I spent my entire advance on!) ­– and it’s blissful. I know that you are sensitive to how spaces make you feel because I’ve had some wonderful descriptions from you in the past of interiors which you didn’t like . . . the mix of metal and plastic and hard blue carpet in uninspiring teaching rooms is my favourite . . . but you’ve also questioned rooms with dated interiors or chairs too far apart, etc. I hope you don’t mind my bringing these up – I totally get it! And you’ll remember the house which both you and I happened to stay in which inspired, at least partly, ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’ and your Arlene poems! I expect you’re better at saying what was so evocative about it . . .?

 

Emily:

I’m sort of the opposite, I mean, I’m interested in architecture in the sense that I love looking at it, but I don’t know much about the theory. My partner was telling me that architects are often very reluctant to acknowledge the influences or references in their design, preferring to arrogantly present everything as their own original vision, which seemed . . . significant somehow. That’s not like Jan Kallenbach in your book who feels that Le Corbusier has already done everything that’s worth doing . . . I feel like poets are very eager to talk about their influences? ‘Hennecker’s Ditch’ had a massive influence on me. I remember finding out that you had stayed in that house too and that it led to probably the darkest poem each of us have written?! I found that hilarious and comforting. I hope the person who lives there is OK! My poem ‘Sweet Arlene’, which was begun there, talks about a ‘mutilated floor’ and that’s how it was when I was there – one of the rooms was huge and completely bare with these scratched up old floorboards and nothing in it except a creepy vintage sofa bed. I think it was dark red velvet or something. You pressed it flat and it became this tiny uncomfortable single bed. I had a terrible panic attack in that room that went on all night and beyond. It’s very true I care a lot about how interiors ‘feel’ and I hate to stay anywhere that doesn’t feel ‘right’. Consequently I don’t stay places very often . . . Probably the truth is it’s my own interior that is not quite right. But oh my god, you have a garden study! What a dream . . .

 

Katharine:

Yes, it’s a secretive little room at the bottom of the garden with tall narrow windows so that nobody from the outside world can really get a view inside. I feel safely tucked inside, like a snail in my shell. Which is conducive to writing. As if, paradoxically, by enclosing myself in a room, I’m more inclined to ‘expose’ myself.

 

 

Katherine Kilalea’s novel OK, Mr. Field, is available now from Faber & Faber, and from Penguin Random House in the US.

Emily Berry’s collection Stranger, Baby is available from Faber & Faber.

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