Behind the Story with Kate Cayley | Book*hug Press

Behind the Story with Kate Cayley

Today, Kate Cayley is taking us behind “The Summer the Neighbours Were Nazis,” a story from How You Were Born!

I’m fond of the background of this story because I think it illustrates how most stories are cobbled together, a weird mixture of overheard conversations, small scraps, memories and of course pure imagination. But I’m not sure it’s possible to create a story that’s truly from your own brain. We just aren’t that inventive. Yet we do invent. I think I like best the line in Seamus Heaney poem “You are neither here nor there/A hurry through which known and strange things pass.” It describes how unstable, how fleeting, any formulation of a self is. Which also seems true of writing. You clutch at things as they rush by, and then try to fit them together.

Anyway. This story is one of the oldest in the collection. I wrote it when I was still teaching theatre classes to children (one of my side hustles in my twenties and early thirties). There was a boy in the class who fascinated me. A strange, nervy, very intelligent, very anxious child, who was obsessed with the second world war. I loved his oddity and how content he was in it. His peculiarities were a source of joy to him, not trouble. Shortly after I stopped teaching, my wife and I bought our house, an estate sale, cheap even for 2008 (I’m still pinching myself at our stupid luck), which we gutted ourselves. As we tore out the late owner’s life, I wondered about the neighbours on the street, what they must think of us, what it was like for them to have these interlopers. Around the same time, a woman I knew slightly described her own neighbours, two Polish men whose relationship and history was mysterious to her, who were hoarders and very hostile. They cultivated a cedar hedge around their house and yard, to make sure no one could look in, and her young children speculated about what happened on the other side. And those things grew together into the story, while, I hope, changing enough to make for respectable fiction.

–Kate Cayley

Kate Cayley is the author of three poetry collections, including Lent, a young adult novel, and two short story collections. How You Were Born won the of the Trillium Book Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. She has won the O. Henry Short Story Prize, the Mitchell Prize for Faith and Poetry, and the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction. She has been a finalist for the K. M. Hunter Award, the Carter V. Cooper Short Story Prize, and the Firecracker Award for Fiction, and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize and the CBC Literary Prizes in both poetry and fiction. Cayley’s plays have been produced in Canada, the US and the UK, and she is a frequent collaborator with immersive company Zuppa Theatre. Cayley lives in Toronto with her wife and their three children.

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