Award winning author and now on the Granta 'Best of Young Novelist' list, Joanna Kavenna, was recently in Bangalore as part of her world tour to showcase new British writing through a collaboration between Granta and the British Council.
Speaking to City Express, Joanna says that she has been writing extensively since the age of 13. "When I was very small, I was writing quite a lot - plays, poems, short stories, etc. I began writing novels when I was about thirteen or fourteen, but not with the sense that they could ever be published. I did probably write around eight novels by the time I was in my early twenties, but I only showed one book to publishers and they were quite kind to me, even though they rejected the idea," says Joanna.
Growing up in the UK, Joanna has lived in countries United States, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, all of which led her to write her first published book, The Ice Museum, a travelogue. Her subsequent novels, however have straddled various genres.
"When it comes to my novels, I think the genre thing starts because there's always this one category that intrigues you or annoys you. So you enter the genre to explore it. For example, my first published novel, Inglorious, was very much about this big old tradition of male narratives in big cities and their experiences within them. You get them from Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe, etc. I just had the idea that it would be fun to put a female character in the same genre that has historically remained exclusive to women, and that's how that book came about," she explains.
The book Inglorious, apart from winning many awards, was also labelled by many reviewers as chick lit. Did the labelling disturb her at all? "It depends on the cover you see. Sometimes publishers publish books written by women under these chick lit covers. And it's a bad idea because if you make the reader pick up a book, by telling them something it's not, they're bound to complain. It's also something about writing by women. You don't have male writing or female writing, you should just have writers. But I think that reception towards art is still archaic, and comes with a sexist outlook, which needs to change," says Joanna.
An excerpt from her newest novel Tomorrow appears in the current edition of Granta. "It's about the last 20 years. It's about the digital revolution that people have been going through and it takes characters through these various cities," explains Joanna.
Mother and Novelist
Joanna is also a mother and she affectionately talks about her experience of motherhood and how it affects her writing. "It gave me the great inspiration for one of my novels, The Birth of Love. I think there are key new experiences in life and I love that source, to be able to write about such experiences. So, as topics of writing, its been great. When it comes to actual writing though, there's never enough time; they're always stopping your work," she laughs.
In Bangalore for just few hours and she already found her source for future writing. According to her, she loves to 'collect locations', which will later probably figure in her novels. "We drove through Cubbon park and that was quite a lovely experience. And we came to Bangalore by train, which was also a fascinating experience. But I definitely have to come back and explore further.