We sent Pat Triggs to find out more about this talented young author.
The first thing to note about Tim Kennemore, not the most important but the first, is that she is not a “he”. She hasn’t always been Tim. The name arrived at one of the eight schools she went to. “I had it foisted on me by friends. There was some sort of rule; we all had to have one syllable names. I liked it. It felt like me. Now everyone calls me it.” What about her original name? “I don’t talk about it. Even some of my closest friends don’t know.” There’s a quiet, amused satisfaction at creating a mystery. Also perhaps a more fundamental need to keep an inner self hidden. Anyone who plays around with words and creates characters knows the magic power of names. Give away your name (or your face – Tim hates being photographed too) and they’ve got you.
In any case Tim Kennemore isn’t concerned with self revelation. She’s an observer – an acute, funny, deadly, detached observer. And her books are the product of that detachment. The Middle of the Sandwich, her first book, is a school story about the summer term Helen Keates spends in a village primary school, sandwiched between time at a private prep school and going to a London comprehensive. The school is drawn in detail from a real school where Tim spent a year when she was ten. “I remember everything about it; how the days were, how it all worked. It was so different from all the other schools I went to, so small, only about sixty or seventy of us. I wanted to write about the school, creating Helen was just a way of getting there.” Many of the characters are also drawn directly from memory – some so thinly disguised that she hopes none of the originals are readers of children’s books. Other memories were useful too. “I had an awful lot of being the new girl; being the one who didn’t know things, feeling shut out. It’s awful.” Is Helen based on herself” “Heaven’s no. She’s so wet. She’s so much nicer, more obedient and nicely behaved than I was. I suppose she’s like me a bit in that she’s an only child, and she’s got some of my sense of humour. But that’s all.”
Although she remembers this small country school fondly Tim hates the countryside and paradoxically it was “the awful feeling of being stuck” in a village outside Southend that made her start writing The Middle of the Sandwich. “I did it out of boredom.” But there was something else too. “I wanted to be good at something. There was nothing else I could do – I had no qualifications, no training. I thought I could write. I had to drive myself to do something. I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen after chapter one; that would panic me now.”
That was in 1979. Five years or so earlier when she was about seventeen she had sent the manuscript of her first novel to Faber (I’d always wanted to be published by Faber. They had all my favourite authors – Antonia Forest, Helen Cresswell, Catherine Storr.” She had a letter back saying more or less, “no, not really; but keep trying.” What about writing at school? “What they liked you to do for school wasn’t the sort of thing I liked doing. I could do what they wanted competently, but not with any interest. I didn’t think of it as writing and I wasn’t doing any of it for myself.” For her own amusement she wrote send-ups to make her friends laugh. She’s good at that. Each of her three books is different but across all of them you will find her particular brand of humour: a delight in word play, a touch of black comedy, a love of jokes, and send-ups in every form from the gentle sarcasms and ironic observation of Sandwich to the full-blooded satirical bite of The Fortunate Few. She analyses her strengths and weaknesses. “I’m good at conversation and dialogue. I’m good at humour, bad at action. And I’m totally hopeless at description. I don’t even attempt description especially of places. Plots aren’t my strong point either.” But she’s working on that. “Wall of Words is the best plotted book I’ve done. All the strands came together beautifully. It was very pleasing.”
How did she come to be published? One publisher was interested in The Middle of the Sandwich if she could cut it by a third. So she did – ruthlessly. “I went through it taking a third of the words off each page. I think now I overcut it.” When that editor decided that she couldn’t take it after all “because of the recession”, Tim sent it to Faber along with The Fortunate Few which she had just finished. Both were accepted. Which was just as well. “I was just on the point of giving up.” She is not the sort of person to go on writing seriously with no prospect of being published; although the motive behind The Fortunate Few was pure enjoyment.
“I first thought of it while watching Robin Cousins win the European Championships. I decided to write an Absolutely Terrific book about skating.” As it turned out, the story Tim found herself writing wouldn’t work with skating. “It had to be something where you could have teams all over the country – and there just aren’t enough ice rinks.” The teams became young girl gymnasts in a future where gymnastics is the number one spectator sport and Big Business. The book is a funny and chilling extension of some aspects of sport today. “It’s based on the current football system. I’ve made it be about gymnastics but I don’t think it could ever happen in that sport. I’m sending up journalists and advertising as much as anything.”
The Fortunate Few was written in twelve days and not specifically for an audience of children. The other two books are very definitely for children. “It never occurred to me to write anything else. Apart from pure satire writing for adults doesn’t attract me.”Wall of Words, to be published in March is the longest book so far, “174 pages – a proper length.” Among other things in it, “Kim, Anna and the boy next door have a morbid obsession with embalming, spontaneous combustion, amputation and things like that. When they discover their teacher’s husband is an undertaker… It’s black humour but gentler than Fortunate Few. Great fun to do.” There are also lots of graffiti jokes; “but all there legitimately because it ties in with the plot.”
That book was written in five or six weeks before Christmas 1980. “My editor told me to slow down so I hardly wrote anything in 1981 except some short stories.” They are to be published in 1983. So far there are three school stories and three more in the `future satire’ form. “I think I must be obsessed with exploitation because they are all about that in a way.” So there has been a lot of time for Tim’s other interests: watching sport (“I’m fascinated by all of it. It’s live drama, happening to real people and there are terrific tensions.”) Ice-skating (“I skate four times a week at Queens Club – for fun I write send-ups of what’s going on there.”) listening to music (“rock and classical, nothing in between.”) and the radio (“I’m addicted to Capital.”) and reading (“I couldn’t manage without books.”). And for having half a thought about the next story. “Something about journalism I think. And set in a school – where else? A school newspaper – think of what you could do about free speech… ”
The Middle of the Sandwich
0 571 11678 7, £4.25
The Fortunate Few
0 571 11732 5, £3.95
Wall 0f Words
0 571 11856 9, £4.95
All published by Faber.