Kate Tempest Speaks Up on the Importance of Culture in Troubled Times

Kate Tempest Speaks Up on the Importance of Culture in Troubled Times

If you’re already celebrated as a poet, a spoken word performer, a playwright and a hip hop musician, do you really need more strings to your bow? You do if you’re the sensationally accomplished Kate Tempest, who this year added “novelist” to her list of accomplishments, and whose Book Festival event was one of the programme’s hottest tickets. In front of a packed house, Tempest discussed with theatre director Ian Rickson her life as – in his words – “a pentathlete”. Tempest confirmed that, like many of us, she had long yearned to write long-form prose, but lacked the spark of inspiration. “My ego wanted me to be a novelist more than I had an idea that merited the form!” Once the idea came to her - to expand the backstories of characters from her Mercury Prize-nominated 2014 album Everybody Down into a patchwork of prose narratives she called The Bricks That Built the Houses - she experienced “the joy of having suddenly found that space in my brain”.

Joy is very much part of the Kate Tempest package, even if her material is often drawn from the darker side of life – poverty, abuse, social exclusion. “It’s love that sends you to want to write,” she told the audience. The connection between a writer and a reader, meanwhile, energises her in the same way as the response she gets from a live audience. “There has to be a moment when it can be read with the same passion with which it was created. That moment of reading is so important. It connects the circuit, and brings it to life.”

Political strife and division render such connection all the more important, Tempest said. Her passion is clearly sparked by the notion that the solace and enrichment brought by the arts is only for certain social groups. “I hate that they’ve become so elitist. They shouldn’t be elitist, they should be social… especially as the times get more and more terrifying.” Although Scotland, she said, might have less of a battle on its hands than her own home city. “It’s a very different situation – there’s more of a sense of community than there might be in London.”

And what about more personal battles? Does it drain her, or render her vulnerable, giving so much to so many different forms? “All being well,” she said, “it should give as much as it takes. If something’s wrong it exhausts you – but all being well, you should just be open, inhaling and exhaling life and experience.”

You can get hold of Tempest's novel The Bricks That Built the Houses in our bookshops in Charlotte Square Gardens.

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