A Coffee With Kathy

12 Mar

“Women are human wonderbras – uplifting and supportive and making each other look bigger and better.”
This is the motto of Kathy Lette, pioneer of women’s rights and women’s fiction, who wants to take more women with her to the top. Sitting down with Kathy Lette is like hanging out with your best girl friend. She is larger than life, although diminutive in stature, and immediately puts you at ease. We are here to talk about her new book, writing in general, and life in specific.
Kathy on South African Women
“They are all the fs: funny, friendly, frank, forward, flirtatious, fabulous and very welcoming”. (Ok so very doesn’t start with an f, but we’ll let Kathy get away with it.) She is thrilled to be in South Africa, and loves the women here. And it seems South African women love her, as do women all over the world. She is a perennial bestseller in Australia, as well as her native England.
Kathy is in town to launch her new book, To love, honour and betray. Like all of her fabulous, forthright novels, it deals with issues every woman faces – this time the issue in the spotlight is around disparaging teenagers.
Kathy on Writing
In answer to the question I ask every writer: what gets you going on books, what is the spark, she says “Something starts burning me up”. When an incident or situation in her own life makes her angry, she then sounds her friends out to see if it resonates with them. If it does, hey presto, it’s another book!
That’s how her book Mad Cows (one of my personal favourites) started. Kathy was pregnant and angry at how hypocritical society was. Women without children were considered failures, but those with children were relegated to the corners of society. She was “burned up” about the silence surrounding motherhood, the lack of information, and the fact that no one had told her how hard it would be. Writing about her situation was Kathy’s way of breaking the silence.
Once the idea is set, the characters come. Like Kathy herself, her characters tend to be a little bolshy, a little more than real. “I try to be the puppet master, but sometimes they have a mind of their own”. She likes to play with stereotypes, and allow her characters to act out women’s real fantasies – normally the darker kind around revenge and justice.
Kathy on Women’s Rights
As far as women’s rights go, she says she is part of the generation that is supposed to have it all – but actually they just do it all. “Women are still doing 99% of the housework, even though we are doing 50% of the jobs”. Her husband is a human rights lawyer, and in her own way Kathy is campaigning for women’s rights. She says human rights are hard to compete with – every time she wants her husband to do something, she has to prove her case to be more important and worthy than hundreds of people on death row. Her husband is very supportive though – “I lower his tone and he raises mine.”
Kathy on Relaxing
Luckily, when her husband is too busy saving the world, she does have some fairly amazing friends to hang out with. Whilst she raves about the value of female friends and the joy of a good girls’ night out, her best friends include Stephen Fry, Richard E Grant and Salman Rushdie, all of whom she says are very emotionally aware for men. And Barry Humphries, who is “practically a girlfriend”.
Also, since Kathy left school at 15, she has a lot of reading to catch up on. “I’m busy reading Jane Austen, the Brontes”. She loves discovering classics that other people may have grown up with. A modern favourite is Anne Tyler. Kathy also belongs to a writers “coven”, where female writers such as Joanna Trollope, Jilly Cooper and Faye Weldon, amongst many others, gather to show female solidarity and moan about bad reviews. (There’s a lovely piece about critics on Kathy’s site.)
Kathy on “What Next”
“Disgustingly rude” and “filthy fiction” is how Kathy describes In Bed With, a collection of fiction that she has just finished editing. The Sydney Morning Herald’s review said “an unusually well-edited book. Unlike the cold-eyed and mechanistic aura of most porn written by and for men, where sex is often represented as a matter of precision engineering, most of these stories are informed by a comic sweetness; the humour and eroticism are grounded in human nature.” I have already ordered my copy online!
“Men tell set jokes; women’s humour is confessional and cathartic, anecdotal and revealing”
Kathy is a joy to be around, and full of witticisms that are quicker than my ability to jot them down. She celebrates women with almost every word, praising how funny women are, despite what men may think. She supports women, and uplifts them and…wait, she’s just like a wonderbra! As I leave she is recommending a theatre for a play of mine.
Is it any wonder I want to be Kathy in my next life?


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