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
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