A lot of why I wrote was to please my grandfather
The time: 26 June 1996 The place: Sandwell District General Hospital, Birmingham The woman: AL Kennedy, novelist
Tuesday 14 January 1997
My father and I didn't get on terribly well for quite a long time, and when I was 10, 11, my parents got divorced. I didn't see my father for about 15 years, kind of by mutual consent. There's not a huge amount of animosity, it's just one of those things. The steady reliable element was my grandfather, for all that I didn't see him that much when I was growing up in Scotland; he was in the Midlands and I'd see him for a fortnight a year, slightly more after my parents got divorced. But I had that physical relationship you have with a father-figure. You'd stick your hand in his coat pocket and it would go down to the elbow. A lot of my memories of him are as the person that's bigger than you and is between you and everything that's unpleasant.
When I saw my grandfather that Christmas, I took lots of photographs, and we said goodbye, in so far as you do without making each other very depressed. But I did think that I wouldn't see him again. Last year was very peculiar, with judging the Booker prize and moving house, and at the end of that, very suddenly, when he was having the last set of tests before the operation in June, I got a phone call from the hospital saying he was 'very poorly'. So I flew down to Birmingham and had missed him, he died while I was flying.
He knew I was on the way, and thinking about it logically, the excitement of anticipating that I was coming probably killed him, because his heart stopped. So I probably killed him. I wish I'd been there. Equally, I don't know if he'd have liked it, because he liked his privacy.
I had a very surreal taxi drive with this woman who just couldn't hear me, and she was driving along terribly happily and said, 'Ooh, what are you here for?' And I said, 'Well, I think my grandfather is dead and I'm about to find out.' And she couldn't hear, so she was going, 'Oh, that's nice.' A very happy cab driver and I didn't want to depress her.
When I had seen him at Christmas, I was suddenly very aware in the way that you would probably be aware if it was your father, that most of the men I like, that I find attractive, are very like him and look very like him, or like the way I remember him looking when I was younger. And they have the same gentleness and the same very evil sense of humour. And bearing in mind I've always believed in demonstrating that I had a completely suicidal streak with relationships, it came as a very pleasant surprise that there was, somewhere, hidden away, this very nice model. Because my grandfather was an extremely pleasant man, had a very modern relationship with my grandmother, he did the housework and they both worked.
So that was sinking in, and then ... you can't anticipate how you will feel when you walk into a hospital and it's obvious someone is dead, and they have to get the right person to tell you. So you speak to about four people, and they say, 'Oh, well you'd better speak to so-and-so,' and you think, 'Can we just get through this and can you say the stuff.' Even though you know what they're going to tell you, when they tell you, you are gutted. It's an extraordinary, terrible feeling. And they were terribly nice, I just wandered around the hospital howling for a long time.
Because he was recently dead, I could go and see him, which I was very glad of, because he was like a very bad model. Everything that was him was absent - which made it real that he was dead. It also made it real that if you're inclined to believe in the soul, or something other than the physical presence of a person, it was very clear that whatever he was - it was not there. It was not bound up with the meat of him.
I was lucky in that we'd finished all our business. I'm terribly bad at saying anything of any importance, and it means that often with anybody I care about I don't say thank you, or whatever. I'm still crap at it but I will try. If it means writing it down, then that's what it has to be. With my grandfather it's all right, because we understood each other. I'm quite tactile, I'd much rather touch people than talk to them, in so far as it's socially acceptable, but I find that's become more extreme. I probably decided I'll try to do better with the people in my life.
He was very supportive of my work; I think he wished I didn't use so many rude words ... He was pleased there was anything I could do, because I was such a waste of space without any prospects. It made him very happy; for the last five or six years of his life he wasn't worrying about what would happen to me.
I feel extremely scrambled most of the time now. I like to be very self- contained, I'm used to being self-sufficient, but if things that were part of your support go and you didn't know they were holding you up, first, it means I was never self-sufficient, and second, part of what was holding me up is no longer there. I have no children, there is nobody with whom I am intimate, there's no way of expressing love except through friendship; the only place to put it is in the writing, and a lot of why I wrote was to please my grandfather.
He got enormously depressed when his wife died, because he loved her hugely, they'd been together for 40 years. And then he rallied, and made his own life, which was wonderful. I'm terribly afraid of never being in another relationship again, which is not entirely unlikely, but equally there's the fear at the other end: 'What if I was, and they dropped dead and I'm all by myself and I'm a woman, so it's more likely they would die first,' and all this stupid projection. .
This is too big for me to write about. I write about death most of the time anyway. Partly in the back of my mind, I knew a person I loved very much was going to die. I try to keep my conscious mind away from what I do. The basic thing is to make something nice for people that I love, that's the only good reason for doing anything. Not that I produce stuff that's pleasant, but some people like unpleasant things, so that's all right.
It's almost more important to please him now that he's not here. He was the one person who was completely satisfied by me being me, always, the most accepting man. He kept a lot of photos of me which I'd never seen. I always thought I was an exceptionally ugly child but he has pictures of me looking like a very nice little girl, but it's weird, because you think, I look like all the children I hated at school because they were so attractive.
I always tend to think I have to justify my existence, when it's unnecessary. Presumably if I felt terribly satisfied and I didn't have to justify being here then I would stop writing, which wouldn't be very good because then I'd starve to death.
At the moment I will cry at almost anything - I went to see the new Star Trek film and I was weeping buckets for no reason at all. And it will happen completely unpredictably; sometimes I talk about him and it won't upset me, sometimes I can't talk about him at all. I think about his life with my grandmother, who died about six years ago. He was a terrible one for putting things off, he was always going to do things for himself and he always ended up doing things for other people. With him it was always that he was going to go into business for himself, but he got married and had a child, my mother, he had a personal life. And I'm the reverse of that, I have a professional life and I don't have a personal life. It's made me more aware of the things I miss. If there has been a man in my life, he was the mann
'Original Bliss', a novella and 10 short stories, by AL Kennedy, is published by Cape on 30 January at pounds 14.99
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