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Interview with Kathy Lette

Kathy Lette is the author of ten novels including Nip’n’Tuck, Girls’ Night Out and Dead Sexy. Her latest book, To Love, Honour and Betray, is published by Black Swan.

Why do you write?

I only write because it’s cheaper than therapy.

What other novelists do you admire?

All female novelists who are also mothers. We should all just get a Booker Prize for finishing a book. Working mother – now there’s a tautology. We juggle so much we could be in the Moscow State Circus! I also read a lot of books by the Cliterati ­Fay Weldon, Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler and, of course, all literary legends from Jane Austen to Colette.

Describe the route to your first novel being published…

I grew up as a surfie girl in Australia. The men at the time disproved the theory of evolution ­– they were evolving into apes! They saw women as little more than a life support system to a pair of breasts. I penned my first novel, Puberty Blues, with a girlfriend, for our girlfriends, to give them some objectivity on their lives. The book was rejected by all the mainstream publishers. It was finally published by a small feminist press ­ and went on to become a huge bestseller and then a movie directed by cinematic love god, Bruce Beresford.

When did you realise you were a successful writer?

When I realised that I was always buying lunch for my other writer pals. Who was it that said that the poor have more children, but the rich have more relatives?

Has having an agent helped you?

Most writers I know suffer from terrible debt-lag, brought about by too much partying (writers give very good hedonism, although we call it ‘research’ you understand) and an allergy to accountants. To really make money you must get an agent.

I know most people think that if an agent fell into shark-infested waters, the SHARKS would have to wear chainmail suits, but hey, who cares, as long as they’re biting on your behalf.

A few years ago my agent Ed Victor, wrote a dieting book. So, now HE finally knows what it’s like to lose 15% of gross!

Describe a normal working day…

I like to write long hand first because I’m addicted to stationery. But as a deranged mother, I can’t stick to a schedule. If I get half an hour between stopping my son from disappearing up the stairs with the maths tutor between his teeth and chasing my daughter’s over-amorous suitors around the house with a cattle prod, I just write then, either at the kitchen table, in the dentist’s waiting room, at the bus stop, anywhere and everywhere. As a mum of course, the main thing I write are cheques.

What else do you do connected with your books?

I’m technologically illiterate. I prefer smoke signals and carrier pigeons. But many female readers do write to me. I think if I have any gift as a writer at all, it’s putting into words what women are thinking but not saying out loud.

I just write down the way women talk when there are no men around. It’s still a man’s world. Women still don’t have equal pay – ­ we get 75 pence in every pound. We’re still getting concussion hitting our heads on the glass ceiling ­ and we’re expected to Windowlene it while we’re up there. Any woman who calls herself a ‘post-feminist’ has kept her wonder bra and burnt her brains.

What’s the biggest highlight of your career?

My tenth novel is out in paperback. It’s called To Love, Honour and Betray. It’s a comic, occasionally caustic take on divorce, love, toyboys and mothering a teenage daughter. Like all mums, I adore my progeny. But there are days you’re tempted to shove them back into the condom vending machine for the refund. I’m so keen not to have any more children; I’ve put a condom on my vibrator.

The protagonist in my new novel has a fantastic survival guide for mums, actually. When your daughter is hitting you and kicking you and saying, ‘I wish you’d just die!’ Take a big swig of wine and a drag on a cigarette and say, ‘I’m doing my best darling!’

What’s the next big thing?

My previous novel, How to Kill Your Husband ­ and Other Handy Household Hints is being made into a telly series by Andy Harries, producer of Cold Feet, The Royle Family and The Queen. And I’ve just written the world’s first waterproof novel, so that women can let off steam, literally, in the bath.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring novelist?

Anyone can be a writer. You just need something to say and an original way to say it. But be warned. A writer’s life is rollercoaster-ish. Some books sell and others flounder. I left school at 16 and have been financially independent since then. (The only examination I’ve ever passed is my cervical smear test. I’m an autodidact. Obviously, it’s a word I taught myself.) Consequently, I have often been very, very broke.

They say that money doesn’t buy happiness. But, private jets, Jacuzzis ­– I’d like to experience the kind of misery money buys! Yes it’s lonely at the top, but I have no doubt the shopping’s better. I’ve been broke and I’ve been flush. Money is better than being broke – if only for financial reasons.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

Writer’s block sounds like a penitentiary for writers who missed their deadlines. Or a pun-itentiary, for writers who overuse wordplay. But no, I don’t have time for writer’s block. The tax department is a great literary motivation.

Is there a book you’d have liked to have written?

The Kama Sutra. I would have so enjoyed the in-depth research. Oh, and Vanity Fair, ­ the most savage satire about a woman who climbed the social ladder, wrong by wrong.

Have you ever had to deal with rejection?

Rejection is an occupational hazard. In L.A. you can take a rejection course! I nearly enrolled, but then thought, oh dear! What if they reject me from the rejection course? Writing sitcom for Columbia Pictures in 1988 taught me not to be precious about my work. Lines, jokes, scenes were all rejected on a daily basis.

All those shows we love, like Seinfeld and Fraser and Friends, are actually written by about ten people. They lock you in a windowless room (which I use to call the gag gulag) where you make jokes all day. It’s like being a stand-up comedian, except sitting down.

The hilarious writing staff I worked with were all Jewish. I became so Jewish when I worked there – ­ big hair, high shoes, talking with my hands – that I feel guilty that I’m not!

Final word …

I would just say that being a writer is the best job in the world. Not only can you impale enemies on the end of your pen, but you get to work in your PJs all day, drink heavily on the job and have affairs and call it research.

But I principally became a writer as it involves no heavy lifting. Except for those writers who lift whole sections of other people’s work and then call it their own. But hey, you can’t have all work and no plagiarism, right?