Kirsty Gunn: My Katherine Mansfield Project

Yesterday was International Women's Day and I spent it at the Words by the Water Festival of 'words and ideas' in the beautiful Theatre by the Lake looking out over Derwentwater in Keswick.

Skiddaw from Derwentwater. Photo copyright David Welham, 'I Love the Lake District' FB
I had the real pleasure of chairing an event by the New Zealand writer Kirsty Gunn, who was talking about her latest book from Notting Hill Editions, called 'My Katherine Mansfield Project'.

It is a patchwork of fiction, memoir and reflection, written over the several months she recently spent in Wellington, New Zealand - the city where both she and Katherine were born and brought up - the city they both left as young women to come to England to become writers.

The resulting book is completely unclassifiable, in terms of genre, and is beautiful to read. The reflective sections are perhaps closest to the essay format - journeys of exploration through Kirsty's thoughts and feelings as she confronts both her past and Katherine Mansfield's, as well as her responses, in fiction, to some of Mansfield's most seminal stories.

It's one of my favourite books by Kirsty Gunn, partly because of the Mansfield link, but also because it is a wonderful piece of writing.

I also like her novella The Boy and the Sea and I'm an admirer of her most recent - Scottish - novel, The Big Music.

Kirsty is currently living between London and Scotland, where she is Professor of Creative Writing at Dundee University, so her reflections on the idea of Home and Belonging were very interesting.  She knows very well the feeling of returning 'home' only to find that you are a stranger in your own country.

Notting Hill Editions are a wonderful 'boutique' publisher - I met the managing editor after the event and was very impressed with the passion and the dedication.  They produce beautiful books.  Take a look. 

The Words by the Water Festival is on until Sunday with a wide variety of writers talking about their work.  There's something for  everyone.  I'll be back on Sunday introducing novelist Sally Vickers, who is giving the Royal Literary Fund lecture this year.


  1. A great place in which to spend International Women's Day. You've inspired me to explore Kirsty Youngs work. But first, I have just started Travelling to the Edge of the World - wow! So beautifully written Kathy and I am fascinated by it. I love it already and think it's the kind of book that Notting Hill Editions should be publishing. I too have nomadic instincts and am looking forward to travelling with you.

    1. I'm so glad you're enjoying it, Avril! Yes, Kirsty Young is well worth exploring - she is sometimes quite experimental.


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