ARTicle Magazine

My literary inspiration: Kirsten McDougall

15 August 2017

Kirsten shares the experiences that inspired her new novel, Tess.

Kirsten McDougall

Image by Grant Maiden


Tess has just been published by VUP (RRP, $25.00).

Novels are written out of a variety of different motivations. My new novel Tess is partly written out of anger. Tess is a 19 year old who is very vulnerable and scared. She is running away from trouble when she meets Lewis, who picks her up and looks after her when she’s really sick. The problem is you can’t outrun yourself.

When I was 19 I felt very vulnerable. I felt I had no options or prospects – I was working in kitchens and had dropped out of university. I remember walking home at night and being followed, being terrified, and thinking – even when I get home, who will look after me? When will this stop?

I hear stories from 16 year old daughters of friends who tell me they routinely get cat-called and followed by men when they’re just walking along the street. I feel angry for those women now and for the young woman I was. My character Tess comes out of that anger. I admire people who can be activists or go into politics or publicly debate how they feel about the things that make them angry, but I’m not made like that. I can’t speak that directly.

"The novel allows you to be inside other people’s heads in a very private and personal way and I still find that magical and comforting, as a reader and a writer."

Fiction is the best way for me to express how I experience real life. The novel is a vessel for all complexities and messy contradictions of living. The novel allows you to be inside other people’s heads in a very private and personal way and I still find that magical and comforting, as a reader and a writer.

Of course, anger isn’t the only motivation for my book. Friendship and love are in there too, and grief, and my love of language – and the way people speak. But anger is one spark that started this book, and one thing you learn as a writer is to recognise when those sparks flare, and to grab them, and run with them.

Tess

Kirsten McDougall graduated in 2004 with a Masters in Creative Writing from Victoria University in Wellington. Her first book,The Invisible Rider, was published by VUP in 2012. She has published stories and non-fiction in Landfall, Sport, Turbine and Tell You What: Great New Zealand Non-fiction 2016. She was the recipient of the 2013 Creative New Zealand Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary, and won the short category of ‘The Long and the Short of It’ fiction competition in 2011.

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