Kathryn R. Lyster
author of The Inevitability of Stars
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in South Africa and lived there until I was twelve, when my family immigrated to Australia. My childhood was a mix of adventures in the wilds of Africa and the high-security living of suburban Johannesburg. It was a tough move for me personally, leaving behind my family and friends, everything I knew, it left me without a context. Sydney was strange and unfamiliar at first, but the freedom and openness really meant a lot. I won’t say that high school was a highlight, but I got to the end and out the other side.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve my childhood hero was still Joy Adamson, who lived with the lioness Elsa and wrote Born Free. I wanted to be out alone in the bush with lions, that was all I remember wanting for myself. Then Australia happened, and there aren’t many lions here, so I had to reevaluate. When I was eighteen I’d dropped the idea of being on the United Nations and I just wanted to be done with institutionalized learning. I wanted the world to make sense, which it didn’t at that age of course, but I enrolled in a professional writing degree – so I guess I wasn’t as lost as I felt.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen my mantra was ‘you only live once’. So I pushed lots of boundaries, was very rebellious and lived life to the extreme. Now I definitely believe in past lives, which I didn’t then, and it’s allowed me to take a much more balanced approach. Thank goodness.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
I have always been most drawn to books, over art and music. This is changing, but in terms of influencing my creative development, I love and have loved so many books. I love them for their whole beingness, for the complete things that they are – not just the words, but the title, the font, the cover, the paper, they utterly thrill me and speak to my heart. When I discovered Alan Hollinghurst, something inside me was ignited. I devoured all of his books in quick succession. When I was living in Brooklyn, New York, a few years ago I bought a second-hand copy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. I re-read it, and her poetry, and her memoir Seducing the Demon. Barbara Kingsolver’s book of essays, High Tide in Tuscon, probably changed my life. Big statement I know, but it affirmed so much about who I am and how I see the world. Next is anything written, spoken or sung by Jim Morrison. His poetry and the music of The Doors has profoundly impacted on my own creative openings. Oh that’s four!
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
The choice was easy. It was the natural progression of just writing and I have always written. I kept journals as a child, wrote extravagantly and unnecessarily long essays in school and the written word has always been my creative and emotional outlet. I am someone who likes to go deeply into things, and I’m always up for a challenge, so I think I’d only written one short story (that got published in my university anthology) when I decided it was time to write a novel. I ran a full marathon before I’d run any other race also, so I can confidently say that big mountains appeal to me. I’m exploring painting for something new, now that I’ve devoted so many thousands of hours to writing. I love colour and organic expression. I just can’t make anything look like anything yet, but I’ll keep at it.
My latest novel, The Inevitability of Stars, is a novel about being young, falling in love and navigating the space of identity, relationships and what it means to be human. It’s the story of two young lovers, Rip and Sahara, and their struggle to find their way in this confusing modern world. Set in Sydney and Byron Bay, the story speaks of what it means to have roots and lose them, how we grow against the past and in spite of our wounds and what it takes to heal. It has some metaphysical themes that deal with the notion of time, memory and reality. I’ve been told it’s a pretty wild ride.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
Mainly I hope people will enjoy reading my book. That’s the most important thing, that the experience is enjoyable and a little bit addictive! I want it to be one of those reads you can’t put down, because you care about the characters and you want to know what happens to them. I want people to take away a sense that there’s more happening than we know, that life is full of mystery, and that it’s it is far more miraculous than we let ourselves believe.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Natasha Illum Berg is my writing inspiration. Tea on the Blue Sofa is a superbly moving, haunting, humbling book. It’s only small, but every line on that page is crafted, blessed and she is why writers write. To capture the bittersweet experience of being alive, the ecstasy and torment. She is a true artist, I was flicking through the book yesterday and came across this: ‘Ochre, soft, like ankle-deep Tanzanian dust that lifts easily around you as you walk, in mockery of all that thrives on water.’ Wow. I want to keep writing so I can capture the heart like she does, in a fluid, achingly beautiful way that speaks of tears and colour-dipped sunsets.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To discover the secrets of the universe, of course. That is actually one of my goals, to do with how we can live brighter, happier lives. And I’ve always wanted to know what happens next, after we die. I’d like to master my own mind and fears, I want to feel at ease, I want to have time and freedom to create and love and laugh and revel in nature. I’d love to live on a beautiful property with a waterfall and I want to travel to the desert in America. It’s actually a question that has sort of thrown me because for so long I have been completely focused on writing my book, and then getting it published, it’s a bit surreal that’s it’s finally happened.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Keep writing. And when you’re not writing, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. You’re a writer whether you publish something or not. Nurture your creative process, commit to it, let it teach you about yourself, do not censor, write out all the things you want to say but are too afraid, give yourself license to emotionally purge again and again until there’s nothing left. That’s probably the point your imagination will be free enough to spark up and rock your world. And be kind to yourself, no matter what. Be gentle and know you are lovely and loved. Always.
Kathryn, thank you for playing.