by Kenelm Averill
Issue #45 • September 30, 2004•Buy Now!
Edited by Hannah Tinti
It hung in the background like a toothache, the thought of his imminent flight in an airplane; it soured his mood and made his life a burden. On occasion he would forget, but would then take a sudden turn for the worse, so that he’d think about it vaguely, or even just feel it hover at the margins of his thought. Sometimes his heart would beat faster than it should for no immediate reason and he would find his forehead and chest dripping with sweat.
All these symptoms had worsened since the week began, and his worry was so great he could not focus on work. At Monday’s committee meeting he had cleared his throat loudly over and over again, and muttered to himself. And of course it went without saying, he could not sleep.
Now the moment had arrived. He sat in the little airport bus and let it move him through the sunlight, a large man of fifty-six with a wife and daughter beside him. Looking out the window he felt himself fidget and tug at his collar, then run his fingers through his hair. All around him the other faces appeared flushed and impatient.
Kenelm Averill was born in Greater London in 1973. He grew up just outside London and studied History and Politics at Durham University in the north of England. Kenelm has worked as a teacher and a civil servant and lived in London, Glasgow, Hampshire and the south coast. He published his first short story in the London Magazine in 2002, and his second in the London Magazine in 2004. Currently, he is studying a PhD in the area of history of political thought and ideology at the University of Sheffield. At night he works on writing fiction.
Q&A by Hannah Tinti
HT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
KA: At the time I wrote the first draft of this story, I found myself aware, at work and socially, of people who while seeming to be comfortable and reasonably successful, at the same time, appeared in a way desperate and full of self-hatred. There’s a long tradition in Russia of writing about these kind of situations—Bunin for example wrote about it—and in the States, but less so over here [in England], at least that I can think of.
HT: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
KA: I think the hardest part was the first few pages where I wanted to put something down about Irwin’s dislike of flying. That was very difficult because writing very seriously about fear is a real challenge. I think it went wrong at first because the writing has to be quite deadpan, or it won’t transmit the sense of nervousness.
HT: Irwin is so realistic. How did you make his character so convincing?
KA: Perhaps the person on whom he’s based sparked some sympathetic response in me. He’s influenced by someone I literally saw talking in a meeting for about half an hour, no more. His appearance and the sound of his voice were very distinctive. He seemed distracted and was saying his piece as if learned by heart—there was no life in it. It just so happened that a wife and daughter and a personal history just sort of popped up spontaneously later on in my imagination.
HT: Which came first to you in this story—the characters or the plot?
KA: Irwin was lurking in my unconscious after meeting this lawyer. Also I’d met the people on whom the other married couple were based, again very briefly, as it happened. They all seemed to me to be part of the same world, the same lifestyle, people who seemed successful, were a bit smug about themselves, but were full of all sorts of rage and hatred. The idea of taking them out and placing them together in another country was a way in to bring them onto the page together.
HT: Did you purposely use Caroline’s name so infrequently? Irwin often refers to her simply as “the woman”, making her seem more symbolic?
KA: Yes, I don’t know if it works, but I think the point of that was, he’s not used to seeing other people as separate beings with their own lives and secrets and memories. He thinks in two categories: social stereotypes to be sucked up to or looked down on, and furtive sex objects. She is the latter and so he can’t really think about her at all except as a projection of his own yearnings. He doesn’t know a thing about her. So that’s why he hardly even bothers to remember her name.
HT: What happens to Stephen and Caroline at the end?
KA: I think they were on the run in Britain for various shady dealings, and they felt nervous being there so close to another British couple. In my mind they end up settling down to run a seedy guest house in some far flung city on the other side of the world, while getting gradually ever-more sozzled on gin.
HT: Do you see this holiday as being a last hurrah for Irwin before he dies? Or simply a lesson learned?
KA: You’re right, I think it’s both. He encounters these strangers, even sneaks up on them and hears them talking about him, and the experience opens his eyes. He realizes other people have their own shared secrets and memories—to them he’s not much more than a predictable bore, he’s transparent to them. This realization of his own tiny place in the world makes him ill; but it’s not a wholly dispiriting thing because the world is then richer than he thought—it’s full of experiences and events. He’s coming towards the end of his life, but his horizons are enriched, although he’s not any ‘wiser’.
HT: How long did it take you to complete this story?
KA: I can’t remember, I think the first draft would have taken a week or so, but then little bits were added and subtracted over the course of several months. At one point it was getting overlong and I had to gut it, but then after that, some new bits were added. I think to take the form it is in now took a year and a half, though I was working on about ten other stories at the same time.
HT: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
KA: In her book Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor makes a lot of interesting comments. That’s definitely worth a read. Above all she seems to say, art deals with the concrete and the particular, the look and feel and smell of things; if it transmits ideas, it does so only via the medium of the tangible.
HT: What are you working on now?
KA: Fiction-wise, various short stories need reworking. Also I’m going back over a novel which has characters and prose in a similar vein to ‘Holiday’ but is a suspense novel, a novel about a crime.