I am delighted to welcome Catherine McNamara to the blog, with her short story collection 'Pelt'. Over to you, me dear!
I had a gallery in Africa. It was tiny. As big as a garage no more. With Nigerian sculptures and Kuba cloth and silver jewellery from Ethiopia. It was a fun thing – I’m no fine arts graduate – and I confess I overpriced the sculptures I liked most so I could pay them off and make them mine.
I earned some money, which went out the window to buy more sculptures, cloth and jewellery, but I was queen of my art garage, looking out of my little window onto the street, with a huge rusted ship’s anchor parked on the hot concrete outside. On rough nights at the bar we ran next door I used to lay out a rug from Mali and fall asleep.
Many years later I came back to Europe (I live in Italy) and found I was writing story after story set in Ghana where I had lived. A pregnant Ghanaian woman tries to keep her German lover when his estranged wife comes to town. A failed doctor comes home to see his mother treat his dying step-sister with disgust. A village boy is aroused by classy French photographs. Even a sex worker – poor Janet in ‘Janet and the Angry Trees’ – is enlisted to care for her Italian lover’s elderly parents!
What to do? I’m not an African (just the mother of one) and most of the stories are set along the seams between worlds, between ‘the world of tin and the world of glass’ (‘Infection’, Pelt and Other Stories). They speak of the cross-over between modern African and European cultures, the long arm of historical exploitation and the residue from this in terms of migration, displacement, new structures of exploitation. Young men with brittle prospects. Young women with a savvy knowledge of the world who might do unsavoury things.
How to write of all of this without being a crafty traveller, a further exploiter of a continent that is not yours?
Among the first questions I knew I would be asked, this is the one that makes me feel a little queasy. I know I can talk all I want about the rusty ship’s anchor outside my shop and the way the doctor never came when I was having my baby (getting oily palm nut soup after birth wasn’t my idea of champagne but the plantain afterwards was good), but I remain a suburban chick from Sydney who grew up on The Monkees and Gilligan’s Island. I can try, I can borrow, I can mimic. It’s a little scary. What I do know is that my efforts in telling a tale from the interior land of someone else’s nation – even if I called it home – must transcend place and nail the idea of story on the head.
Tricky Vanessa has also asked me to provide you readers with a treat. Vanessa has asked that I think of a scene within the book, and think of a painter who could possibly paint it. Well, Vanessa doesn’t know that I used to run a gallery, that my walls are crammed with paintings and masks, and that I have been walking about the house for a good while now trying to connect my stories to my décor. It is driving me nuts. But here goes.
There is a swimming pool scene. It is rather saucy but I would love it explained with David Hockney flatness, although I would ask a Ghanaian painter friend (Kofi Agorsor) to do the deed. A young pregnant Ghanaian woman is breast-stroking down the pool towards the palms. There, with his big feet and his printed drawstring trousers, is her German lover Rolfe, who is canoodling with his estranged wife Karina, come to town to reclaim her man. The swimming girl is like a big swollen frog jerking in the water, insecure and embarrassed, approaching the Europeans. I can see Rolfe’s very big feet, sketched with Lucian Freud abandon.
(Note from V: Will you look at this guy's work... isn't it fab? http://www.agorsor.com)
Lust and dirt from a world of places
Two foolhardy snowboarders challenge the savagery of mountain weather in the Dolomites. A Ghanaian woman strokes across a pool in the tropics, flaunting her pregnant belly before her lover’s discarded wife. A sex worker is enlisted to care for her Italian lover’s elderly parents. Hit by a car in Brussels, a young woman returns to her doctor boyfriend. And in Berlin, Celeste visits her suicidal brother Ray and his partner for the very last time.
Pelt and Other Stories lingers on the cusp between Europe and Africa, between ancient sentiments and modern disquiet.
Thanks so much for having me Vanessa and good luck with your new project!
‘Pelt and Other Stories’ may be ordered directly from the Indigo Dreams Bookshop, or on Amazon or from the Book Depository. Or from Waterstones or your local independent bookshop.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia and Ghana. Her collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’, semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize, was published in September 2013. Her stories have been published in Wasafiri, Short Fiction, ‘Wild Cards’ a Virago Anthology, A Tale of Three Cities, Tears in the Fence, The View from Here, Pretext and Ether Books.