Working with Words: Jaye Kranz
Jaye Kranz writes across radio and film; fiction and non-fiction. She also writes novellas, short stories, music and lyrics. Her work has featured on ABC RN, the BBC and in the Monthly magazine. Jaye chatted with us about weird reviews, morbid but brilliant advice for writers and her fantasies of sidling up to Simone de Beauvoir in pre-war Paris.
What was the first piece of writing you had published?
You mean other than the hand-bound, sprawling, social-realist Depression-era story I ‘published’ in the Grade Five? In my early twenties, I had my first my short story, ‘Gravity’, published in the HarperCollins anthology RePublica. Scrolling down the contents, I remember wondering if there had been some kind of mistake, but at the same time feeling hugely fortunate and excited to be in the company of so many writers I admired.
What’s the best part of your job?
I write across a few mediums and there are ‘bests’ in all of them. I love having an excuse to get in touch with anyone, anywhere, who’s willing to talk to me about a subject I’m covering. It’s such a pleasure to hear someone talk at length about something they know intimately. I recently spoke to a plant biologist on sabbatical in Bordeaux about the phenomenon of senescence; to a poetry therapist about the therapeutic application of poetry from Ancient Greece to modern-day Brooklyn, where she practices; and to a Californian astrophysicist about an ambitious endeavour in the 1970s involving the world's largest radio telescope, binary code, and an ‘urgent’ message that would take 25, 000 years to reach its destination.
What’s the worst part of your job?
The screen time.
What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?
When people I don’t know go out of their way to contact me from far-flung places to tell me my work has given them something or helped them in some way. For me, nothing could feel more significant than that. In those moments, the effort feels worth it. The upheavals of the creative life jostle into some kind of sense and the work feels like it’s off living its own life, having its own escapades.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Worst: My primary school teacher advising me to change the egregious way I grip a pen or I’d never be a writer. (I've never managed to change it.)
Best: My Year 10 English teacher telling me never to submit something pretentious like this ever again to her or anyone else as long as I intend to write.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?
Some surprising (and welcome) things were said about the debut album I released in 2013 under the moniker Brighter Later. One of the stranger reviews read:
All we can do is steer you towards this greatness like someone is puppeteering you with a Sony PS3 bluetooth controller. Do you sometimes feel like the old lady that walks in front of you and zigs and zags around in your identical path as you try and get past her is doing it on purpose? Well, that’s someone with a PS3 remote controller moving them right into you path. That is usually an unfortunate turn of events. This album is the complete opposite of that. It is exactly down the road and path you want to travel. Get listening and find yourself at Brighter Later.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
My partner is used to the fact that when I’m having a difficult time with my work, I invariably mention the urgent matter of water aid. Something to the effect of: What’s the point in doing this when I could be doing that? People are suffering because they don’t have access to clean, sanitised water. We call these my ‘water aid days’. It would probably be something in the broad area of social justice.
There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?
I take the view that you should always remain a student of your craft. A good deal of learning can happen inside an institution, absolutely. The contribution of a great teacher or mentor can reverberate over a lifetime. Ditto the people you meet there, the conversations you have, the work you’re exposed to ... The rest of the learning will happen everywhere else, every day of your life, for as long as you maintain the desire to learn.
I love having an excuse to get in touch with anyone, anywhere, who’s willing to talk to me about a subject I’m covering.
What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?
Read copiously. Make sure your passion for language, literature or whatever you’re writing is sturdy enough to withstand the considerable headwinds of misery and self-doubt. And though this sounds morbid, I find the advice of the brilliant Annie Dillard to be emancipating: 'Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?'
Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?
Both. But when tethered to my desk for extended periods, there’s a marked spike in the online quotient. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of time I can ‘get out into the world’, and the amount of books I buy.
If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I suspect the answer to this would vary from one book love-affair to the next. Right now I’m reading Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs. And though she’s far from fictional, whenever I read that she’s gone to this or that fabulous dive bar with Sartre and their coterie of colourful friends in pre-war Paris – and stayed there all night eating and drinking and having heated discussions about life, philosophy, literature, politics, human nature and everything in between – I can’t help but wish I could have sidled up to their table for a night.
What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?
I remember being thunderstruck at the age of 16 when I discovered Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar and her poetry. That someone could write with such immediacy, such intensity, that it felt like she was pushing language along a thin edge and when you read it, you teetered on that edge with her. For all the lugubrious and tragic elements, it seemed teeming with life and humour — all at once. She emboldened me and deepened my love for words.