A L Kennedy: The Pressure to Write Review

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A L Kennedy, Sue MacGregor
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An audience with A L Kennedy is never less than an interesting pleasure. One of Scotland’s most lucid and perceptive authors, she also brings her considerable gifts to essay writing, stand-up comedy and other forms of creativity.

No surprise, then, that the RBS Main Theatre was pretty well stowed for her appearance at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. It transpired we were lucky to have her even for an hour, for not only is Kennedy, as ever, on her busy round of appearances, book signings and all the other stuff writers have to do these days to earn a crust, but she is also temporarily homeless.

That revelation was briefly brushed aside as Kennedy launched into a truncated version of a diary piece she recently premiered on BBC Radio 3, about her time in a writer’s retreat in the US.

Her tribulations with a tribe of tiny woodpeckers and their distracting effect on her efforts to write provided some twenty minutes of pure (the term is used advisedly) entertainment.

However, out of the woods and back in the UK, Kennedy discussed with Chair Sue MacGregor her present peripatetic situation. Her mother living in England, Kennedy has decided to move to London to be nearer her. Nothing perhaps illustrates the differences between England and Scotland more clearly than their very different property laws. Kennedy’s experience of this has resulted in her belongings residing in storage whilst she resides where she can, relying on the hospitality of friends.

Yet even in this precarious state, Kennedy derives humour from the situation, which is probably the only sane response.

Speaking of the writer’s craft, Kennedy described the authorial act as ‘Saying something to someone while they’re not there’, which for this reviewer echoed Adam Phillip’s observation that ‘Knowing people is what we do to them while they’re not there’. There’s an implicit idea in both that trust is important; that writers trust readers they will never meet to understand what they write, and we all trust those we are not with at the time to still be the people we imagine we know when we meet them again.

Both are acts of imagination, and Kennedy railed somewhat against the disabling effect of literary criticism, in so far as it attempts to tell us what we already know or are struggling to discover about what we read.

Yes, another fascinating (again, used advisedly) hour in the company of a fine writer and human being.

Show: Monday 13 August, 11:30am