Kaite Welsh (@kaitewelsh) thinks her postman must hate her because she lives “on the third floor and I get a parcel of books every day.” Welsh is an author, journalist, the LGBT Editor of The List, Scotland’s best-selling entertainment magazine and the Chair of this year’s Green Carnation Prize, which celebrates LGBT authors (@TheGCPrize). We called her up at home in Edinburgh to talk about the reading life.
So, Kaite, how did you get involved in the Green Carnation Prize?
I’ve been a fan since it started in 2010. I’ve discovered so many authors through the prize: Catherine Hall, Kerry Hudson… I knew Simon Savidge [the Honorary Director and co-founder of the Green Carnation]. By chance, he was living in the town I grew up in, and I was back there for a visit. We went for a coffee and I was planning on asking if I could be involved in a future prize, and then he asked me to be a judge on the next prize.
Before I got involved in the Green Carnation Prize, I had been writing for the LGBT press and doing book reviews for…seven years now. So this is the first time that those two sides of my career have come together and they dovetail nicely with this. It’s fantastic to be promoting LGBT authors.
How’s the prize shaping up? Can you talk about it?
This year the judges come from lots of different backgrounds and were separated geographically. We mostly communicate by email. It’s going to be tough; what I’ve read so far has been absolutely brilliant. There’s such a breadth of genres: literary fiction, YA, crime, chick lit. It’s an embarrassment of riches at the moment, from large publishers to small.
I’m reading pretty much constantly. As a reviewer, I have a fairly hefty turnover of books. Three to four a week. I read very quickly. For the past few days I’ve been reading at my desk to make it feel more like work and to finish a few books off. I like to read on my sofa, looking out at the Edinburgh skyline, preferably when it’s raining, with a blanket, tea, and at least one cat.
(The picture to the left is Lovecrumbs, one of Kaite’s favourite places to read “because they’re right next to one of the best second-hand bookshops in the world and their rose and cardamom hot chocolate is to die for.”)
Trashy YA. The Gossip Girl books. Cecily von Ziegesar wrote the entire series and then rewrote the first one with everyone as a serial killer. What an exercise in genre bending. She barely changes the structure of the novel, and it works. But there are so many—Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. When I want some real down-time comfort reading, give me a series about overprivileged teens and their hijinks!
I just read Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens in one day. I want to find all the teenage girls in the world and give this book to them. There’s a plane crash on a desert island the only survivors are these beauty queens who have to learn to survive and defeat the obligatory bad guys. There are queer characters, a trans girl, the whole thing about being a trans woman in a beauty pageant. That has been my break in the judging process.
Jane Eyre. I was four and learning to read. My mum took her hardback off the shelf and read me the first few pages and explained them. I realised that if I could get past Spot the Dog, there was so much exciting stuff out there for me to read. When I was nine, I sat down and devoured it within a month. I was a passionate reader already but that was when everything clicked into place and I thought “All I want to do is this”. I still have that copy of Jane Eyre: a black and white Everyman Edition hardcover. The intro is by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar who wrote The Madwoman in the Attic. I asked my mom what “metaphorical castration” meant. She told me we’d come back to that later.
Tell me about other milestones in your reading life.
The Woman in White is the one book I’m genuinely obsessed by. It was mis-shelved in the teenage section in the library when I was about thirteen. I picked it up on a whim. Now I re-read it every year in September or October.
Wow. I rarely re-read books.
I’m not generally a re-reader either. When I read this one…it’s so complex, there are so many different narrators all of whom are unreliable. I read a different book every time I read it — I have a very different response each time I read it. My relationship to the characters has evolved in the fifteen or so years since I first read it. Wilkie Collins’ books are very queer; all his books are filled with non-normative sexual tension.
And then there are the Chronicles of Narnia. These are all books that have shaped me fairly early on but that shaped my reading preferences. Shaped my love of fantasy. I’m not that fussed with Tolkien. I enjoyed The Hobbit. I like Lord of the Rings. But I love authors like Terry Pratchett who take the conventions of a fantasy novel and then explode them.
It’s a fantastic time for female authors at the moment, discounting the usual patriarchal bull****. There are really strong female authors, like Emma Jane Unsworth, Kirsty Logan. I’m loving Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. I’m really surprised at how much I like Emily Gould’s Friendship. It’s a fascinating exploration of what it means to be a late twenties, early thirties woman writer. I just finished Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl. It’s staggeringly good. It’s such a compelling portrait of being working class and not having money. What it’s really about is how to break out of that cycle of poverty.
Th post originally appeared on the Audible UK blog on 19/08/2014.