Stephen Kelman Interview

Stephen Kelman
interview by Claire King

Stephen Kelman is the author of the critically acclaimed Booker shortlisted novel Pigeon English and was shortlisted for Lutonian of the Year 2011. He always types out text messages using full words.

Stephen, first of all thank you for giving up your time to talk to us at the end of this whirlwind year. You’ve been fêted as a ‘Luton-boy made good’. How would you describe life growing up?

I grew up on the Marsh Farm housing estate in Luton. It wasn’t what you would call a privileged upbringing but it was better than many. I had both parents at home, and they both had jobs. My mum worked part time so she was there for me when I came home from school.

Your debut novel, set on an estate just like the one you grew up on, won great acclaim. How has it been received at home? If you went to talk to the children in your old school, would they consider you a success?

It’s hard for people to appreciate success that is not in a field they are interested in. Where I grew up it’s tough enough getting people to read…
Recently my friend, the local hardware store owner, proudly presented me to a customer as a local boy made good, and asked if he had heard of my novel. The reply was “Sorry, mate, I don’t even read the newspaper.” Writing and publishing a book is far removed from that reality.

What kind of aspirations do children in that area now have?

Their aspirations are more in the field of music or drama.

Match the Intro Round

 "Lately I go surfing early in the morning, before starting work." 
Julian Barnes.

Did Booker winner Julian Barnes really say that?!

Welcome to our little Xmas quiz.  Just for fun can you match the 10 answers given to our question, Tell us something about yourself, to the list of names below.  Good Luck ! 

"I look perfectly normal on the outside, considering how weird the inside of my head is."

"55, married but separated and in the process of getting divorced, no children, living happily with partner in Fife. Merrily writing away to produce a book every eighteen months or so. Hobbies include music and hill walking. Driving a wee diesel hatchback these days after an attack of green guilt made me sell the fast cars. Gave up flying too, mostly for the same reason but also because I just got bored with the security rituals."

"I'm 37, married with a son, and I live just off the A6 in Derbyshire."

"Lately I go surfing early in the morning, before starting work."

"Six foot two,
Eyes of blue -
Will that do?
Faulkner said a writer's obituary should consists of the line: 'He wrote books, then he died.' Not a bad anonymity to aim at, but nowadays impossible. So: born in Leicester, studied modern languages at school and university, became a lexicographer (so not afraid of words) then read for the bar (so not afraid of lawyers) then became a journalist and novelist. Supports Leicester City (so not afraid of defeat.)"

"I was born in 1969 and grew up in Greenwich."

"Hi. I'm twenty seven years old. I'm quite slim, with brown hair and brown eyes. I currently live in Manchester and have been single for about a year. I guess I'm looking to meet someone easy-going, funny, a bit silly. Nothing too serious at first, just getting to know each other, and then see where it goes from there ... "

"Hmm, let's see. I'm a Gemini to the core, hot or cold, love or hate. I have red hair (or ginger hair as you'd say) but I'm not a true redhead. I have both the complexion and temperament of a redhead so I have been correcting nature's mistake every six weeks since I was 13 years old. I'm married to Nick, a former punk rock boy now a librarian at ABC News. We have one daughter, Willa and are about to adopt a second child. Oh, also, I lived in England for a year when I was 16 as an exchange student, living with a family outside of Leicester and doing O-levels at a school in Countesthorpe. It was one of the best years of my life."

"I am a late developer as a writer. For the first thirty odd years of my life I worked in engineering industry, for the last fifteen years in and around the oil and gas industry. I’m married with two sons by a previous marriage and two stepsons. We live in the North Tyne valley."

"Um, born and raised in Kansas, mid-July, so I'm a Cancer. Turn-offs include... oh wait. I have no idea how to answer this question."

Julian Barnes
Iain Banks
Tom McCarthy
Mari Strachan
Chris Killen
Paul Torday
Dan Rhodes
Markus Zusak
Jessa Crispin of
Gayle Forman

Photo credit: jma. work
Mince pie image by - christmashat

Calendar Guys: A Naked Muse for All Seasons

Wild Women Press have produced The Naked Muse, a calendar for 2012. Fourteen male poets have been photographed in their bare finery by thirteen female photographers to raise funds for the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the world's leading funder of type 1 diabetes research). Catherine McNamara interviews participating poet John Siddique.

Did you ever think you would be a Calendar Guy?

It is not something I had ever considered at all, and on reflection perhaps I never assumed would be a possibility as the society I grew up in and to some extent still live in has very different aesthetic values from what I present through my body. I’m not tall, I appear to be South Asian if someone goes by skin only, I have body hair and I’m not young or skinny… and growing up nothing was ever reflected back at me that gave me a sense of belonging in that way. Books were the only country where I felt welcome and so books are my home.