Renowned author Kathy Lette chats to Rachel Quilligan about women, writing and her new novel, ‘Courting Trouble’.
Kathy Lette is the queen of quips, spouting witty one-liners with barely a blink.
“I grew up around those beautiful surfie girls with the blonde hair, long legs, breasts that arrive five minutes before they do — I’m a Bonsai brunette whose bra cups don’t runneth over, I had to develop something else otherwise the Pope would’ve been ringing me up for tips on celibacy,” she says. “I call it the black belt in tongue-fu.”
It’s this biting humour and cleverness that has made her so successful as an author and personality, though Lette is not without her regrets.
“When I was 27 or 28 I was in LA writing a sitcom and I cast an unknown actor called George Clooney,” she says. “He asked me out and I said no! I said, ‘I’m a writer, I don’t go out with actors – you put other people’s words in your mouth and you don’t know where they’ve been’.”
She adds that now Clooney is marrying a human rights lawyer — who is a junior to Lette’s husband — things may come full circle.
“I’ve written him a letter explaining what it’s like being married to a human rights lawyer – and I said to him, while our spouses are off saving the world, if he’s feeling a little lonely and he needs someone who understands, I will be there for him.
“That’s the kind of self-sacrificing person I am. Where is my halo?”
This easy humour spills into her new novel Courting Trouble but is balanced by meatier themes of crime, women’s rights and a moral dilemma.
“It’s got wit and grit and I really like that combination,” says Lette. “I don’t want something that’s just froth and I don’t want something that’s just totally meat. I want meat, veg, a little bit of dessert and some champagne!
“I hope I’ve pulled it off. Even in a dark situation you always undercut it with a joke, it’s like strapping a shock-absorber to your brain; it’s a coping mechanism for us.”
The story centres on an all-women law firm started by main character Tilly and her mother that takes only cases brought by women.
“I wrote it with a TV series in mind, so I’ve got big character arcs like unrequited love,” says Lette. “But each book will have its own crime to be solved and a moral dilemma.
“Readers love to have a ‘what would you have done’ so they’ve got a lot to talk about in book group.”
With so much talk about feminism and women’s issues in the news and on social media, Courting Trouble naturally taps into this modern dialogue by drawing from current events.
“It’s been a very hot topic in Britain at the moment, how women are cross-examined in rape trials, because we’ve had women suicide after that brutal cross-examination,” Lette says. “It’s time we readdress that; but, as I always do, I try and do it with humour, disarm with charm, and just take the reader along rather than trying to lecture.”
Lette also has a more personal experience that drives her to delve into the topic.
“I was on the jury on an indecent assault trial in the 90s,” says Lette. “I knew this woman was telling the truth – why would you make that up about a stranger? But we had a really corrupt judge (who was years later tried for fraud) and he misdirected the jury and told us that we couldn’t convict because there was no DNA evidence.
“I wrote to her after the case and said ‘I totally believe you, but the jury weren’t going to be swayed because of what the judge said’ and she wrote back and said ‘Thank god you wrote to me because I was so depressed I was almost suicidal. I was made to feel that I was the perpetrator, that I had done something bad.’
“Years later in 2009 I was watching TV and up pops the face of this man — he went on to be one of the most notorious rapists in British history. He raped 100 women. He used to attack them on their way home. And I thought — if that miscarriage of justice hadn’t happened in 1996 we could’ve saved 100 women from the most brutal attacks. So it really stayed with me.”
And as for the online movement that detracts from feminism and tries to downplay the issues facing modern women?
“If it weren’t for feminism they wouldn’t even have the space and the freedom to say those things,” Lette says with an eye roll. “It just makes me so crazy. If they were any more moronic you’d be watering them once a week.
“Some of those women have all the benefits of feminism but none of the battle scars. They don’t realise how hard other women fought to get them the vote, to get them maternity rights, to get them sexual harassment rights at work – all those things have been major battles fought by feminists.
“I think any woman who calls herself a post-feminist has kept her Wonderbra and burnt her brains because we still have a long way to go.”
Courting Trouble is published by Bantam Press and available now (RRP $32.99).