[Interview] Kay Green

Kay Green's stories have been appearing in literary magazines and journals and for nearly two decades. Fifteen of the short stories appear in Jung's People (2004), her first collection of short stories, while others have been featured in anthologies that include The Elastic Book of Numbers (2005).

Her poetry has been published in literary journals such as acumen, Iota, Envoi and Orbis.

In addition to writing, Green has edited anthologies that include Digitally Organic: An Earlyworks Press Poetry Anthology (2007); Porkies: Pigtales of the Unexpected (2006); Survival Guides: An Earlyworks Press Fiction Anthology (2006); Routemasters and Mushrooms: An Earlyworks Press Poetry Anthology (2006); and The Sleepless Sands: Earlyworks Press High Fantasy Challenge (2006).

In a recent interview, Kay Green spoke about her writing.

Your first collection of short stories, Jung’s People, was published by Elastic Press in 2004. How did this happen?

Fantasy and mythology are my favourite areas of operation. When Jung’s People was proposed, I had published several pieces for Trevor Denyer’s Legend -- a magazine of Arthurian and traditional fantasy. Andrew Hook had the splendid idea of looking for writers who were beginning to make a name for themselves in a particular area in small press writing and giving them a first chance at assembling a book of their own. It was a great opportunity for me.

Since then, as well as the launch of my own book, I’ve attended three other Elastic Press launches -- two of anthologies I had work in and one for Nick Jackson’s Visits to the Flea Circus. (I would have attended more but for some reason the train service always do engineering works when I decide to go to London.) I love them because they are full of small press people -- the individualists, the ones with the ideas you won’t see in the top 100 fastsellers.

For me, one of the stars of the Elastic Press stable is Gary Couzens who first attracted my attention with his story "Eggshells" which he calmly writes from the point of view of a pregnant woman -- and it works. A rare skill in a man, that. I think his anthology, Second Contact is still available at Elastic Press.

Two of your stories have also been runners-up for the David Gemmell Cup. Which two stories were these? Did you write them specifically for the competition?

They were written in the early ‘80s. One, "Time to Learn" was republished in Jung’s People -- the other was called "Coming Home", I think. It’s never been published so it’s only a memory now. It was (I now find) a good prediction: it proposed that we never would go for all-out nuclear holocaust but rather exhaust the civilised world with an ever-increasing patchwork of ‘small wars’. It came second in the David Gemmell Cup competition in 1990, and I won £30.

Getting money for writing was a new and exciting idea for me at that time. I didn’t write the stories especially for the competition but entered them because I liked David Gemmell’s work so rather cheekily thought, ‘well then he’ll probably like mine!’

What would you say are your main concerns as a writer?

You. Me. The individual. We are monkeys who learned to tell lies -- I mean stories. It's where imagination came from and I believe a good story can do more than a million statesmen could to improve our situation.)

How is this so? How can a story change a situation?

I think that although we’ve developed a great tradition of being logical and intellectual, when you look at what we (as a species) actually do, we react to our feelings, our stories, our music, and this is at least as important as our science and our ‘thinking’. We only think about what we should do. What we actually do comes from the heart. Our actions are influenced by our stories and our religion in the same way that they are influenced by our schooling and our news reports. We don’t really distinguish that much. It’s not the outright lies on the news that annoy me -- they are easy to spot -- but the pernicious, flawed story-telling is terrible.

I detest stories that treat war and cruelty as simple entertainment and I celebrate those that do the opposite -- the realist stories that show humans as thinking, seeking beings, the fantasies that value the creative and the magical over the destructive.

My generation grew up with Genesis story-songs (the band, not the bible) and J.R.R. Tolkien. We thought we were good, peaceful folk who’d inherited a tired and flawed world. Many of us are having great difficulty coming to terms with the fact that war, racism, sexism and all the rest of it didn’t end when we grew up. Now, we are beginning to realise that the stories we read weren’t really perfect. The race problems are endemic in Tolkien for example. We’re still working on it. That’s how people use story. David Gemmell was a progression from the Tolkien stance in that his female characters thought and acted in the world and had sex-drives. I’d like to see more fantasy-lovers moving up another step and trying Ursula le Guin.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with them?

Cruelty, violence, poverty, bureaucracy, the end of the world (and the things I don't understand about my PC).

A couple of years ago there was a murder in the park opposite where I live. The police advised women not to go out alone until the case was solved. It was never solved. They never rescinded the advice, and I was living alone. If I’d done as they asked I’d still be trembling behind the sofa. I dealt with the fear as we all usually do, by swallowing hard and ignoring it.

On a larger scale, let me extend the ‘my generation’ theme. We knew that the foolish old people had built up a nuclear arsenal that could kill us all at any moment. We grew up over-shadowed by the Cold War and all the fear that went with it. Have you seen those old American newsreels of kids practising protecting themselves from nuclear detonations by covering their heads with their school jackets? I remember hearing about government leaflets going round in the U.K. explaining how to make yourself a last-minute nuclear shelter from a couple of doors. I don’t know if it was true but we all believed it and the television dramas of the time were all about the few who survived the nuclear holocaust we were waiting for.

We thought we had the answers though, and if the world was still there when we grew up it’d all be solved. Now we’re trying to tell ourselves the escalation of torture, internment and war around the world is all the fault of politicians whose names begin with ‘B’. The trouble is, it’s our fault now and we need to read, write, think about it, and when we’ve worked it out, we need to DO something.

I think the folks who grew up with Tolkein (and who are now consuming Harry Potter) have a head start on the ones who grew up on the spy-stories of the post war era -- but we still need to solve a lot of problems so we’re still looking for better stories.

By the way, I know story-weaving is only a small part of what needs to be done but it’s my part so I’m allowed to go on about it and ignore re-negotiating third world debt, outlawing detention without trial and all the other things that need doing.

What will your next book be about?

I've got a bad case of multi-tasking at the moment. I'm just finishing an exam course guide for teachers, editing an anthology of literary fiction for my own press -- Earlyworks Press -- but as for my own work, when I manage to get back to it I'm working on a novel set in 'the Dark Ages', concerning some of the people who recorded the stories for us at that time.

It’s been bubbling around everything I’ve done for two or three years. It carries aspects of our culture and history into an arena where modern minds can relate to them. People need an on-going mythology to define themselves or measure themselves by. That’s what culture is; and I feel that the speed and power of commercial ‘myth-making’ these days is allowing the few who control the mass media to steal our culture from us. I’m trying to fight back.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Deciding what to do about names and place in Welsh and old English with variable spellings and pronunciations, most of them quite mystifiying to modern readers' eyes. What would you think of a character called Goleuddydd?

The most difficult points nearly always contain the most enjoyable. Consider 'Yspaddaden' It sounds something like 'Yuspadathen' and is the name of the hawthorn giant. I love it.

Are you going to retain the Welsh and Old English names or are you going to 'modernize' them?

I don’t know about modernize, but I want to make sure the result is comfortable and readable. You know, Shakespeare was vulgar, popular entertainment in his day. He’d be astonished at the effort people have to make to understand his jokes these days. If the world and the language change, you have to change texts to keep them ‘the same’ in effect.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Finding out about me! Sometimes I look back at things I've written ten years before and think 'oh, so that's what that was about!'

Writing, reading, thinking -- they’re all the things I do in between ‘doing’ that help me to process and understand the world and my part in it -- see the monkeys comment above -- I think most people’s minds are usually at least 5 years behind on understanding why they do what they do. The ‘conscious’ intellectual part of the human brain is a recent addition tacked on to the front end. The huge, ancient organism behind it is in the driving seat far more often than we realise. Its language is what we experience in our dreams. I believe that failing to understand its workings is the root of the violence and destruction around us. This was C. G. Jung’s message to the world, and the stories collected in Jung’s People are my contribution to carrying his work onward into my generation. And for me personally, writing is an incredibly useful way of focusing and checking up on what’s really going on at the back of my mind.

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