The essence ofsueeess ;

Kate Atkinson adopted Scotland as her homejust in time for Edinburgh to claim a Whitbread First i Novel winner. She speaks to Ann Donald.

The Edinburgh-based author Kate . Atkinson rccentlyjoined the prestigious ranks of previous Whitbrcad First Novel winners including Jeanette ; Winterson and Hanif Kureishi with her 1995 tragi-comic family epic Behind The Scenes A! The Museum.

A former legal secretary. home help and educational tutor who recently abandoned her native England after years of ricocheting between York and Dundee. Atkinson managed to beat off strong competition including Alan Wamer's‘ classic debut illm'vern Cal/(tr. The 44-year-old's multi-faceted tour de force so deeply impressed Whitbread judge Rachel Cusk that she felt moved to wax lyrical about the novel ‘reviving sotne of the best early English novel tradition. creating a wonderfully accessible. hugely readable and absorbing book'.

Not so. says the charismatic 44-year-

; old award-winner with a shake of the

head. Though the fatnily saga, which

begins in the l9th century. is set in Atkinson's birthplace of York. the author is apt to run a mile from any

allegiance with the Great English Novel. ‘We had a bit of barney over that.‘ she explains with a burst of

laughter. ‘Rachel told me she thought I was in the tradition of Stern and

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Kate Atkinson: ‘I don't read any English authors.’

Dickens and even the [A 'Iimes went

on about how Dickensian the book was, ;

but I don't like Dickens at all!’ In fact. for an author who states she

can never even contemplate living in 7 England again —- ‘I feel much more at

home in Scotland‘ comparisons with . contemporary English novelists are somewhat disparaging. ‘I don't read i any English authors and really dislike

; that type of middle-class. middle-aged. male angst novel that seems to go down very well in London.‘ says Atkinson. ‘lt‘s all pseudo intellectualism and not at all attractive.‘

For the author whose big break came in 1988 with a competition prize for rotnantic fiction in Minna/1's ()wn magazine. it is the unexpected admission that American post- modemists like Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover are the guiding literary influences on her work. ‘The American i post-modernists. Kurt Vonnegut's ; .S'lutighter/muse Five, which has been i an ongoing influence in my life. and.’ she pauses before adding with a smile, ‘Jane Austen'.

‘I really dislike that type at middle-class, middle-aged, male angst novel that seems to go down very well in London.’

Although she failed her PhD on the American pi\st--mo(lerntsts while studying at Dundee University. her . experiences of the city have proved to be latently useful. ‘l think Dundee has ; been hugely neglected. which is why I'm setting my third novel there.’ she 5 says with a positive smile. Skimming over her second novel Human Croquet she says: ‘lt‘s going to be a 70s hippy novel with lots of drugs. sex and not much rock ‘n' roll!‘ Nothing very Dickensian then. lie/rind The Scenes A! The Museum by Kale Atkinson is published in hurt/buck ' by f.)n:il>./et.’(1_vut £15. ‘1“) and in ; paper/Maw by Black Smut t1! {6. 99

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The List 12-25 Jan I996 83