A Life in Two Acts: An Interview with Kathy Lette
Kathy Lette’s first book, Puberty Blues, immediately established her as a prominent voice in contemporary feminism and Australian literature. Since that critically acclaimed classic her further 12 bestselling novels have interrogated many further aspects of life as a woman, from marriage to menopause, parenthood to pregnancy – all evoked with incisive wit and unrelenting charisma.
In her most recent novel, Best Laid Plans, she touches on the experience of raising a child with autism, a subject about which she is refreshingly candid and passionate. Her son, Julius, will be recognisable to any fans of Holby City, in which he plays Jason Haynes. In all, Kathy’s career shows that serious issues are best understood through wit, irony and charm and she makes no exception with her stage show Girl’s Night Out, which comes to The Theatre Chipping Norton this month. In advance of her arrival to Oxfordshire, Kathy talks about feminism, the evolutionary status of men and what we can expect from the near future…
Your first novel, Puberty Blues, painted a picture of 1970s Sydney where the male of the species seemed to be disproving Darwin, do you think that subsequent generations are reversing that trend?
I’m pleased to report that Aussie blokes are finally flopping onto the shore and evolving. When I was a surfie girl growing up on the Sydney beaches, we weren’t allowed to surf. We just had to mind the boys’ towels and massage their egos. Females were little more than a life support to a pair of breasts. But after my novel Puberty Blues (and the movie directed by the brilliant Bruce Beresford) came out, surf school enrolment was suddenly dominated by young girls. It just goes to show you the power of literature.
Do you think that things like social media and technology make communication between mother and daughter harder? Do you think it poses new and unique challenges for young women, or is it simply a turbo-charged form of the same old patriarchy?
I love that expression – ‘a turbo-charged form of the same old patriarchy’ – well put. When I was growing up, the generation gap was Grand Canyon-esque. Our parents had no idea what we were getting up to. That gap has shrunk (we’ve been there, smoked/dropped that, right?) but it’s hard for us to understand the constant pressure of online perfection, bullying and trolling.
You’ve advocated for a wide range of issues, one evidently close to your heart is autism awareness and the inclusion of people on the autistic spectrum into public life. What are the remaining challenges for breaking down these barriers so we have more success stories like your son, Julius?
I just wish we could all learn to think outside the neurotypical box. It is well known that creativity is associated with a variety of cognitive disorders. HG Wells was so eccentric he had only one school friend. Albert Einstein took a job in a patent office because he was too disruptive to work in a university. Isaac Newton was able to work without a break for three days but couldn’t hold a conversation. Experts now believe that Mozart, Van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Orwell, Thomas Jefferson, even Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and many famous composers and other artists were on the autism spectrum. One in every 68 people are on the spectrum. Their handicap may be less obvious than those in a wheelchair or wielding a white stick, but they still need and deserve help and the promise of a life not wasted away in a bedsit living on benefits. People with Asperger’s may not contribute in conventional terms but that doesn’t make them less valuable and it’s up to us to help them flourish, starting with stamping out the bigotry that excludes people with disabilities from mainstream life. Plus they can give back to society in the most fascinating ways. I see autistic people as the garlic in life’s salad. And how dull it would be without them – a case of the bland leading the bland. I don’t like the terms ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’. I prefer ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’. And these extraordinary children have so much to offer, it’s criminal to squander their considerable talents.
What can we expect from your show Girls’ Night Out?
Well, I firmly believe that women are each other’s human wonderbras – uplifting, supportive and making each other look bigger and better. My show is a celebration of women – our humour, our camaraderie, our wit and warmth, irreverence and mischief. We laugh all the way through, but then we also have some hugs and sadder, more intimate, sharing moments – then we end up at the bar, swinging from a chandelier with a toy boy between our teeth, just like your average girls’ night! Do we have anything more to look forward to in the coming months? I’ve just started a new novel about menopausal women behaving disgracefully. It seems to me that for women, life is in two acts – the trick is surviving the interval. And then our motto is ‘adventure before dementia!’ So, I’ll see you all in the bar.
Kathy Lette’s Girls’ Night Out comes to The Theatre Chipping Norton on 16 March.
Image © Neil Cooper
Related Articles: “Different, New, and Quite Dangerous”: An Interview with Jo Noble