Cate Kennedy, the competition entrant’s best friend

23 May

Okay, the fantastic Peta from has posted a request for me to speak about Colette, and she went above and beyond to lend me a thick collection of the authors works. While I am going through and reading the stories, I thought I’d just revisit the work of Cate Kennedy. I know this is the third time I’ve spoken about Kennedy on this blog, but for study purposes competition wise, studying her work is the school equivalent of sneaking into your teacher’s office during lunch time and photocopying the answer sheet.

Kennedy’s work shows up everywhere in Australian print compilations. It is no surprise to find a short story of hers in any Australian anthology published in the past ten years. I am surprised that she doesn’t have more of her own story collections in publication. Looking online for some of her work however, I could only find two stories by her. I would think that the online environment could be quite useful for the short story writer. If one could have a few award winning stories around online, I would have thought it would increase sales of work. I know that many copyright holding industries are still trying to get their head around what operating online means, but I would have thought the ability to read short fiction online would lend itself to the form of the short story, perhaps even revive it commercially in some forms.

Of the stories I did find of Kennedy’s online, one is her story, Black Ice, which was published in the New Yorker. Being published in the New Yorker is a tremendous achievement for an Australian writer, but I believe Kennedy has written better than the one they printed. Perhaps the story doesn’t feel completely Australian; it feels more American. Perhaps that is why the New Yorker chose it, and I have difficulty relating to it as much as some of Kennedy’s work that is set in Melbourne.

At any rate, you can read it here,

and it certainly features some of Kennedy’s trade marks, such as her clever similes, and ways of circling round a topic.

Perhaps what makes Kennedy so good to study for competitions, is that she is one of the few writers who restricts herself to under 3000 words, the amount many Australian short stories dictate as the maximum word count. She would have learnt her style from entering many competitions herself, and it shows through. Writing anything under 3000 words can be very difficult as stories tend to demand much more space. In the 3000 words her action is compacted. Sometimes her characters are waiting for what will happen, be it the results of a medical test, or the time when they have to reveal a secret to someone.

Her use of dialogue is particularly good in such a tight space. Her characters talk to each other often, but they never say all that much, as though the mundanity of life is just as important as anything else that could be said. I’ll leave with a link to the only other story of hers I could find online, if anyone knows of some legally accessible free stories by Cate Kennedy online, let everyone know in the comments section. I wish that Kennedy had a website of her own, linking to her work.

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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Kennedy, Cate, Uncategorized


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