Good Reading : May 2008
author profile Scotland, but says she was actually ‘made in Australia’. Her parents spent three years in Port Campbell,Victoria in the early 1960s where her father had an academic teaching post in psychology while her mother taught at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College. Kennedy remembers Dundee as being ‘dark for most of the year, cold, depressed, with high unemployment, quite an ugly town (ruined by planners) but in pleasant enough countryside’. Taught to read by her mother, she could write by the age of four. As a child she read ‘anything and everything: if I didn’t understand it, if it felt nice, if it sounded nice’, and she became quite partial to ee cummings (‘of course, the stuff that’s sexual you don’t remotely understand’) and the poetry of Spike Milligan. Noir writers such as Hammett, classics (Melville, Stevenson) and Raymond Carver are some of her adult favourites. ‘I love fiction but it’s hard when you write it, you get so picky. Most of the time you’re rewriting yourself and then you want to rewrite other people as well.’ Day, an outstanding, shattering read about the terrible effects of war on peoples’ lives, is currently being adapted as a film. Moving between the battles of World War II and 1949, it is a meticulously researched, intensely told story of the life of Alfred Day. ‘Alfie’ is a young, unworldly man like so many of his generation, who, without much political commitment or knowledge, signed up to fight for their country in order to pave the way to a better life for future generations. Jump to1949 and having survived his stint as a tail-gunner in a Lancaster bomber, and now suffering from post-traumatic- stress-disorder (PTSD), he volunteers as an extra in a film about the very war in which he took part. (Kennedy got this idea from the filming of The Wooden Horse in 1950 in which former POWs actually played POWs). Day is also a delicate love story and an homage to the role that hope plays in human life. So how does someone born in 1965 – with no family or RAF connections to WWII, except for a great-uncle who was captured by the Japanese and worked (and survived) on the Burma Railway – so convincingly project themselves, and us as readers, into the head of a traumatised tail-gunner and his world? Kennedy immersed herself in the London of the period by reading RAF training manuals, fiction and historical books from the period, watching RAF recruitment films, being on aircraft, looking at guns, pending time on period irbases and listening to ongs of the 1930s and 940s (such as ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’) which she has woven through the narrative. Although she has let he character of Alfie go, there have been some after- effects. ‘I feel an emotional attachment to bomber command now which is slightly peculiar. I get q arful now. I went back to an airbase when filming for the Costa. I hadn’t been back since about a third of the way through the book. It made me feel ill, very peculiar.You’re almost having PTSD by proxy. It’s very fleeting and it’s not at all the way it would be the way it would if it were real.’ Aircrew veterans keep turning up at her readings. ‘It’s quite odd – guys of that generation who were there, talk to me about it because they think I sort of know something just from having done so much research and from having written the book.They’re not stuck in their time, they’re people of our time and now people talk.You’re trying to make a real book, you’re trying to extrapolate feelings that feel real and you keep meeting people who are having those feelings and I kind of wish I was more wrong more often.’ Why write about WWII in particular? ‘I think because it’s just about far enough away to be moderately understandable. I think people usually underestimate how long it takes to deal with something like that. Now in Iraq, On accepting her Costa (formerly the Whitbread) Award, Kennedy said she felt ‘a sense of impending doom surrounding British culture’.