AL Kennedy ‘It is all ter­ri­ble but you can’t de­spair’

The award-win­ning author talks to Lisa Al­lardice about re­vis­it­ing Sain­tEx­upéry’s The Lit­tle Prince and the joy of mess­ing about in boats

The Observer - The New Review - - Books -

AL Kennedy was once de­scribed by fel­low Scot­tish writer Ali Smith as “the lau­re­ate of good hurt”. She is the author of seven nov­els, seven short story col­lec­tions and three works of non­fic­tion. Born in Dundee in 1965, she has lived in Glas­gow and London, but has now set­tled in Es­sex. She has ap­peared twice in the Granta best young Bri­tish nov­el­ist list and in 2007 won the Costa Book of the Year award for her novel Day. Her lat­est book, The Lit­tle Snake (Canon­gate, £9.99), is a novella writ­ten to mark the 75th an­niver­sary of An­toine de Sain­tEx­upéry’s The Lit­tle Prince.

What was it like to re­turn to Sain­tEx­upéry’s much-loved clas­sic?

If you read The Lit­tle Prince as a grownup it is pretty bloody sad. You think: “Oh shit, it’s about death.” There’s a funny snake and a snake that kills him. So I thought, I’ll do the snake be­cause I quite like snakes.

The Lit­tle Snake is in­cred­i­bly mov­ing, yet joy­ful. It made me cry. Has it had that ef­fect on other read­ers?

It does make peo­ple cry. It came out in Ger­many first and 50% of the time, dur­ing read­ings, we’d have to stop be­cause too many peo­ple would be cry­ing. It is about the in­evitabil­ity of los­ing ev­ery­thing you care about. The rest of it has to be quite joy­ful oth­er­wise you couldn’t read it. I hope. With some sub­jects, such as death, you have to look at it out of the cor­ner of your eye. You have to have a bal­ance, you have to have the salt and the sweet.

Did you in­tend it to be for both chil­dren and adults?

It’s for very young peo­ple up to old peo­ple. I don’t have any chil­dren, but it is all the things I would have wanted to say to a child, with­out com­pletely bur­den­ing it and screw­ing it up. In Ger­many, the woman who is my Ger­man “voice”, whose hus­band has died, said she was go­ing to buy it for her young daugh­ter. I don’t want there to be chil­dren with be­reaved par­ents, but there are and maybe it’s a way of talk­ing about that.

Would you de­scribe it as a mod­ern moral­ity tale?

It prob­a­bly can’t not be moral, which is al­ways go­ing to be

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