About Kate Katharina

Kate Katharina wltm people with stories for literary fling and maybe more.

Kate Katharina WLTM …

Tree-loving, anxiety-riddled Irishwoman, GSOH, seeks literary fling with stranger on the Internet. Specifically, to read first 20,000 words of her novel and discuss if desired.

Ideal respondent is dispassionate enough to crush dreams if necessary but with no vested interest in doing so. Trolls (though the most loyal of all readers) need not apply.

Detailed feedback not required, and novel relationship may be terminated with no hard feelings. Long-term literary relationship not ruled out, as long as LSH approves.

And now in plain English:

Writing a novel is torturous! I’ve no idea if what I’ve done is any good at all. But you might! If you’re one of the lovely people who’ve been reading and commenting on my blog over the last few years and feel like you’d like to get your literary teeth into something rough and ready, please let me know! You can e-mail or tweet me. Send a pigeon if you will!

Also, if you enjoyed reading about Frau B, you might find it interesting. It’s not about her (I promise!) but it’s set in a nursing home. I can’t guarantee anything but I hope one or two bits might make you smile.

I don’t need any fancy literary criticism. I’d just like an honest answer to the questions: Did you like it? Hate it? Something in between? And: would you read on? If you can also say why, then we could be literary friends for life!

Also: the reason I’m looking for strangers is because friends are too nice. They say kind things because they know the truth might make you throw away your quill or close over your laptop forever in despair.

 

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How building a kebab empire has changed my life

Some people spend their free time mastering new skills: Swahili; the piano; embroidery. You know the type.

I play a game on my phone called ‘Kebab World.’ It’s taught me more than any of the above ever could.

In Kebab World, you’re in charge of a fast food joint. And when I say fast, I mean it. Especially as you advance through the levels.

It’s a one-woman operation. You’re in charge of cooking the chicken, preparing the salad and maintaining the drinks machine. And of course, keeping the customer satisfied.

It can get pretty stressful! But it’s in times of adversity you learn the most. Having made it all the way to level 27, I’ve acquired a fair few life lessons along the way. Apply the following hard-won tips to your own life for a happier, healthier you:

You can’t please everyone! Sometimes, when my kebab joint gets really busy, the customers begin to sulk. Their expressions become dour, and – sometimes if you’re not quick enough – they walk out before you’ve finished preparing their order. Of course you don’t want that to happen! But if you’re doing your best, don’t sweat it. Focus on pleasing the customers who still have smiles on their faces. You’ll make your losses back in tips.

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Cut your losses! If you mess up an order, don’t hold onto it in case the next customer wants your messed-up meal. Assume no one will. Bin it and move on.

Invest in yourself! If – like me – you are naturally frugal, this may be the most important lesson you learn. As you make money in your kebab shop, you’re given the option of upgrading your operation. You can buy a new Ayran dispenser, or invest in an additional grill. You can even buy larger quantities of parsley to give your kebabs a healthy twist. Do it! As well as enabling you to work faster and more efficiently, the upgrades will keep your customers intrigued. Meaning more tips, and more money to invest in exciting things like additional serving space.

Rest and recharge! Sometimes, when I’m on the U Bahn home from work, I subject myself to a second shift at the Kebab joint. This is rarely a good idea. Without a clear head, it’s impossible to make smart business decisions and offer service with a smile. Double-jobbing is a no-no. Go to work well-rested and motivated, and before long, you too could find yourself in command of a kebab empire.

The festival that won my heart

There is something in the air in Listowel. For me, it was the smell of wild garlic and the way the leaves hanging over the River Feale caught the light.

The tiny town located in Ireland’s South-West has a population of under 5000. But it has produced John B Keane, Brendan Kennelly, Bryan MacMahon and a host of other women and men of literary as well as musical note. The writers’ festival was a glorious excuse for a reunion with two schoolfriends.

On the first morning, we took a walking tour. Our guide – a spirited and brilliant man of advanced age (the son, incidentally of the late Bryan MacMahon) – brought us to the Garden of Europe. The grounds, dating back to 1995, feature a monument to John B Keane, as well as Ireland’s only Holocaust memorial.

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Morning’s walk in Listowel

Gesturing to the impeccably-kept lawns behind him, the guide said: “This used to be a dump. A place you’d come to shoot rats.”

It didn’t matter if it was true or not. It was about the twinkle in his eye and the implication that the town had stayed humble.

The line between fact and fiction is appropriately slippery in Listowel, where the truth lies between the lines. Perhaps this is the reason that so many of the writers who came said it was their favorite literary festival, by far.

Or perhaps they like it so much because it is a place where they are allowed to exalt the ordinary. During a tea party hosted by none other than Colm Tóibín, he described a conversation he had recently overheard between an older person and a staff member in a Vodafone store.

“Now, I don’t want to send texts. But I want to receive them. Now, if I just turn it off, it can’t do anything, can it?  It won’t ring, will it?”  The utter terror of technology, Tóibín said. He wants to put it in a story.

For me, the days in Listowel were characterized not by terror but by awe. There was the surreal moment at a panel discussion when I recognized the shape of Margaret Drabble’s head in front of me. Later she turned around, and the man beside her (my former English teacher, who would be interviewing her later) introduced us. “I taught them very little,” he said, typically self-effacing. “Well you instilled a love of reading if they’re here,” she said, not missing a beat.

I sat beside the extraordinary artist Pauline Bewick during another event. She had a notebook open on her lap, full of striking, colorful sketches. Beside her was her daughter Poppy, herself an artist who, unlike her mother, works slowly and produces work that is startlingly life-like. They were a beautiful pair, gazelle-like, other-worldly and unassuming despite their huge success. I told Pauline about how our English teacher had inspired us to love literature. “You know that leaves me with a lump in my throat,” she said. “It really does.”

Another highlight was the poet Colette Bryce, who – to my shame – I’d never heard of. A Derry-born wordsmith, there was something about the gentle strength with which she read that lured me in. I bought her selected poems and was giddily excited when she looked up after signing it and said in a Northern lilt: “Thanks for coming, Kate.”

Edna O’Brien, of course packed the room out. I couldn’t even see her from where I was sitting. But I could hear her distinctive voice, and felt its warmth. “Enchantment is the novel’s most important quality,” she said. “It’s what matters most.” A literary titan whose work Ireland once banned, she would know.

On our last night, we went to see Forgotten, a one-man show written and sublimely performed by Pat Kinevane. It took place in St Johns, a church on the town’s main square converted into a theatre.

My friend, himself a playwright, was seeing it for the second time. It was an intense, exhausting, brilliant performance. When it was over and we filed out of the church, the sun had gone down and the last of the light stretched across the sky.

I noticed my friend had a certain glow about him; a kind of exaltation was written across his face. “This is what good theatre can do,” he said as we waited for the 11 o’clock bus back to Killarney. “It’s what Edna O’Brien was taking about,” he said. “A piece of art can enchant.”

 

Dear Meghan

Congratulations and commiserations!

I mean it. And please, before you mark as spam, let me explain.

I’m delighted for you and Harry! You seem like lovely people and I think you’ll make each other supremely happy. With your generous spirit and his understated sincerity, you are perfectly paired to advance the good causes you both believe in. I think the world will be a better place for your union.

But my God, I’m sorry for all the fuss!

I got married last year and I cannot imagine what it would have been like to order a latte and find LSB and me staring back at me in the froth! Or to log on to the BBC website only to find an aerial map informing the world of the locations of our ceremony, reception and after-party. Not to mention having a special edition of marmite dedicated to our nuptials.

And then there are the people who have been camping on the streets draped in Union Jacks for days just so they can get a glimpse of your dress. I mean, I suppose it’s flattering in a way. But between you and me, it’s kind of creepy too, right?

I know you’re an actress, so you’re used to the limelight. But the strange thing about this role is that it’s public property and you don’t get to slip out of it when the credits roll.

As Britney can tell you, everyone will want a piece of you. And the more they get, the more fragmented you will become. I’m sorry in advance for the gross Paparazzi hounding, the continuous digging into your past, and the obsession with your body and the fabric you drape over it.

I read today that sales of a certain brand of sunglasses shot up by 1000% percent after you were spotted sporting them at the Invictus Games.

1000%. I mean, come on! Do people think a pair of tortoiseshell specs are going to increase their odds of marrying a prince?

You don’t need no Spider-Man to tell you that with great power comes great responsibility. You’ve more than proven that with your humanitarian work and the causes you choose to champion. You’re exactly the kind of pubic figure the world needs. But you’re also just a regular gal called Meghan Markle who should have the right to marry a nice lad without millions of uninvited guests streaming the event into their living rooms.

I know you must be dying to get to the end of this so you can do your mascara and practise your speech. But please, before I sign off, let me share with you the one piece of advice I wish I had got before my own wedding day.

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sharing: the biggest challenge of the day

Do not miss out on the cake! I mean it, you need to wolf it down! Do not dilly-dally pretending to be all polite like I did. My biggest wedding regret was not eating more than a sliver on the day. Take it from a married woman: nothing lasts forever. You might look at the perfectly iced masterpiece and think it’s for life. But before you know it, in the blink of an eye in fact, there’ll be nothing but lemon and elderflower crumbs left on the silver serving plate.

Amid all the madness, it’s important to cut to what really matters.

Best Wishes to you and Harry!

Lots of love,

Kate

(Kate Katharina. Not your sister-in-law. That would be a bit weird)

xxx

Their spines contain their highlight reel

Here I am on a Monday morning in the Staatsbibliothek.

With my folders and flashcards.

And the Microsoft Word document open before me.

Surrounded by faces scowling in concentration, I am blank as a slate.

Here, where minds bathe in luxury, anything is possible.

All it takes is the scratch of a pen, the tap of a key, the turn of a page.

“Read over document as a netural, distant reader might,” it says on my to-do-list.

I breathe in. And out. And in again as I begin:

It was the day everything began to change and bit by bit, the threads of Dora Danckelmann’s past became unraveled…..

I scroll through the document.

Then 40 minutes later, the verdict.

The neutral, distant reader shakes their head apologetically.

They are neither kind nor unkind.  Neither my champion nor my challenger.

Their task is indepenent arbitration.

The words (all 54,375 of them) the reader says carefully, refuse to dance together.

Some shoot out in vulgar bursts. And others crawl too carefully along.

Too uncertain and at once too brash to form a bond.

Less than the sum of their parts.

I thank the reader and survey the truth:

The story has no flow. In 54,375 ways, it has steered off course.

A sorry tribute to its source.

It doesn’t work. Not because I am in the mood for self-destruction; but because it’s the plain and simple truth.

My story isn’t any good.

Not yet.

The shelves around me bulge with books. Thousands of them, forced into neat rows.

Like soldiers in waiting.

Their spines contain their highlight reel. The anguish that made them, rubbed away like sadness on your Facebook timeline.

Their polished boots ready for inspection, ready to deny the battles they’ve seen.

Like them, I’ve got no choice but to soldier on.

54,375 ways I’ve gone wrong. 54,375 ways to make it right.

One word; one battle at a time.

Why you must read The Land of Spices

In my final year of university I took a class on Irish women’s writing. Among the works on the reading list was Kate O’Brien’s The Land of Spices. Years later, whenever anyone asks me to name the book I wish I’d written, it’s the title that slips effortlessly off my tongue.

Why?

Because it’s everything a novel should be: beautifully crafted and full of psychological insights. Tender yet unsentimental; political but not polemical.

Published and promptly banned in Ireland in 1941, it’s the story of a nun whose life is unalterably shaped by a scene she encounters as a young woman. It’s also about how a little girl with a troubled background awakens in her the very sensibilities from which she has tried to flee.

Re-reading this book as I try my hand at writing something of my own has been a humbling experience. How does she do that? I ask myself. How does she jump across time so smoothly? How does she find the words to describe those micro-moments that occur as we assess each other during a conversation? How does she examine a distant relationship with such subtlety? How does she manage to convey the landscape of Irish nationalism so unflinchingly?

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I don’t have the answers; if I did, I’d have written my own Land of Spices. But I do have some relatable quotations to share, which I hope will spark your desire to read this thoroughly perfect book:

When you feel guilty for judging someone harshly, then overthink the situation and appear disingenuous and defensive when you apologize:

She was ashamed of her earlier severity with him … She racked her brain for a way of expressing friendliness and repentance …. But he thought he saw a further thrust at himself in this self-explanation – and he was still rankling with dislike of her.

When blind faith assaults the intellect:

That was the point of the vow, she would tell herself ironically- for can there be obedience without conscious subjection of the brain?

On being alone in grief:

She stared ahead at nothing visible to others.

On the paradoxes of Irish identity:

The Irish liked themselves and throve on their own psychological chaos … They were an ancient martyred race, and of great importance to themselves – that meagre handful of conceptions made a history, made a problem – and made them at once unconquerable and a little silly.”

On fighting the urge to interfere and allowing a person to heal themselves:

For she was confident that a soul, left to itself, has good chances of recovering in some measure from any sickness – whereas rash manipulation may establish a deformity.

In the end, The Land of Spices  was banned because of a single, eleven-word sentence.

It’s a pretty essential one: not the kind you can leave out.

But don’t worry: I won’t share it here. (Spoiler alert)

I guess you’ll just have to pick the book up yourself – and enjoy the exquisite writing of a woman who deserves pride of place in Ireland’s literary canon.

 

*** PS – For anyone who wants to see and hear Kate O’Brien, this from RTE’s archive might be of interest: http://www.rte.ie/archives/2016/0201/764550-kate-obrien-the-early-years/

 

First Dates Germany: bluntness at its best

Words can’t describe the joy I felt when I discovered that First Dates Germany is a thing. It was yesterday, and my life hasn’t been the same since.

If you’re unfortunate enough never to have heard of this show, here’s a quick summary: strangers meet for a date at a restaurant owned by a flamboyant, semi-famous chef; the encounter is filmed and dissected by a snarky voice-over with a penchant for puns.

The Irish version debuted on RTE back in 2016 but tragically – while the episodes are available online – you can’t watch them from abroad.

That said, I have (obviously) seen enough episodes while back on the old turf to make a meaningful comparison with the German version.

Here, based on several glorious hours of binge-watching,  are my first impressions of First Dates: Ein Tisch für Zwei:

The Teutonic reputation for bluntness and practicality?  Firmly upheld. One woman praised her date for his attractive personality but rejected him on the basis that he simply wasn’t “optically” up to scratch. Another factored in the cost of the airfare that would be required for a long-distance relationship between Cologne and Zurich.

And when it comes to paying, there is far less beating around the bush. One young man leant back luxoriously when the bill came, waiting for his date to pay up. “I like to be treated,” he said simply, as if this was all that was required for a free dinner. It worked.

“Can I pay?” another man asked his date.

“Sure,” she said.

No “Ah, God no.” “Ah go on.” “No, we’ll split.” “No I insist.” “Oh go on then.” “Are you sure? Next one’s on me.” “If there is a next time: oh God. How presumptuous.” “Thanks ever so much. You’re too good.”

If you think it’s all about reason and logic on the German dating scene though: think again! These people are obsessed with star signs! In fact, asking prospective love interests their Zodiac sign appears to be a standard first-date question. This, of course, presents plenty of opportunities for some astrological banter too. Take last night – for example – when a Pisces (the German word for it is Fisch) ended up ordering – you guessed it – fish.

Staring blankly in the face of compliments is also common among participants in First Dates Germany. “You have lovely eyes,” one date said to another last night. No“ah stop” in response. No “yours aren’t bad either.” Not even an embarrassed glance to the side. Just silence and a long, impassive stare back at the admirer.

Altogether, First Dates Germany does not have the delicious appeal of the Irish version, with its self-deprecating and often highly witty participants. But the candor offered by the Germans offers its own unique comedy and charms.

Consider me hooked.