Writers ask Writers: Which writer would you like to be for a day?
This month in our Writers Ask Writers series, we are delighted to be joined by guest author Kirsten Krauth, author of Just_A_Girl, which was published in June 2013. You can read more about Kirsten and her novel here. She too is answering this month’s question:
Which writer would you like to be for a day?
My immediate answer was Truman Capote, as I wrote in reply to the same question for another interview a few months ago. Capote lived and wrote at a time when writers were celebrated, he spent long nights partying in New York and arranged the infamous Black and White ball while still producing work of staggering quality. In Cold Blood is one of my favourite books, and I’d love to one day write some non-fiction in that style. But before I could write that post, Annabel Smith sent me her post, and she too is a Truman wannabe! So, I decided to write about someone else instead.
It’s hard to pick one writer. There are some, like Virginia Woolf, whose minds I’d love to be in, but she also had a very severe mental illness that ultimately took her life, so it felt wrong to say I’d like to be her for a day. But when I began to look through many of the writers I love, I realised that so many of them have had difficult lives. I’m not a big reader of poetry, but the exception is Sylvia Plath’s work, which I adore for its ability to show how it feels to be mentally ill – but again, I can’t in all honesty say I would want to live her life, even for a short time.
In the end, I decided to choose Mary Shelley. She had lots of trauma in her life, but she had one wonderful summer that would change her life and propel her into literary history – and that’s what I’d love to experience.
When I recently appeared at the Margaret River Writers Festival, I was part of a ‘book club’ panel where four authors – including me – had to read and discuss a classic book – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. It’s a novel that I assumed I had read, but I quickly realised I was mistaken when it began set in Antarctica! The book itself had fascinating themes and metaphors, but, like many classics, was written in a style that didn’t necessarily grab me. Regardless, the image of Dr Victor Frankenstein and his monster is known almost universally (usually from terrible movies). But what’s more intriguing than the book itself is the story about how Mary Shelley came to write it…
In 1816, the 19-year-old Mary Shelley was holidaying in Geneva with a group of other writers: Percy Shelley (her husband), John Polidori and Lord Byron. It is said that the weather was terrible, and the group were stuck in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva. Unknown to them, a volcano had erupted, blocking the light and making temperatures fall, and it was in that atmosphere that the rained-in group decided to have a competition to see who could write the best horror story.
“But,” as Mary wrote in her diary in 1816, “it proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house.”
Mary initially struggled to come up with an idea for her horror story, but then one night began to have terrible dreams…
“When I placed my head upon my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think… I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.”
Oh, to have been part of that group of thinkers and writers that strange summer in Italy, lazing around a beautiful villa on Lake Geneva talking about books and stories. And what a feeling it would have been to have dreamed Mary Shelley’s dream, the one that, twelve months later, would become one of the most famous works of literature in the world:
And now, over to the other writers:
Amanda Curtin would like to be… Katharine Susannah Pritchard
Sara Foster… JK Rowling
Annabel Smith … Truman Capote
Emma Chapman… Ernest Hemingway
Natasha Lester… Joan Didion
And our guest author, Kirsten Krauth, would like to be… Leonard Cohen
How about you? Are there any writers who you’d like to be for a day?