Get to Know Them First: How You Were Born, Short Stories by Kate Cayley

October 14, 2014

The multi-talented Kate Cayley recently published her first short story collection with St. John's based Pedlar Press. How You Were Born spans various locales, periods of time, and many different people but all offer a bit of light in an otherwise dark world.

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The multi-talented Kate Cayley recently published her first short story collection with St. John's based Pedlar Press. How You Were Born spans various locales, periods of time, and many different people but all offer a bit of light in an otherwise dark world.

Read on to go behind the book! An if you're still looking for more books to read, get caught up on our Get to Know Them First series featuring fantastic first books from some of CanLit's writers-to-watch.

The Book

How You Were Born is a collection of short stories looking at the bizarre, the tragi-comic and the unbelievable elements that run through our lives. An aging academic becomes convinced that he is haunted by his double. Two children believe their neighbours are war criminals in hiding. A dwarf in a circus dreams of a perfect wedding. An eleven-year-old girl becomes obsessed with the acrobat who visits her small town. 

Each story examines, from a different angle, the difficult business of love, loyalty and memory. With elegance and restraint, in spare language, these narratives run the gamut from realistic to uncanny, from ordinary epiphanies to extremities of experience. These are dark stories in which light finds a foothold, and in which connections, frequently missed or mislaid, offer redemption.

The Author

Kate Cayley’s poetry and short stories have appeared in literary magazines across the country. Her play, After Akhmatova, was produced by Tarragon Theatre, where she is a playwright-in-residence, and a young adult novel, The Hangman in the Mirror, was published by Annick Press in 2011. Last year Brick Books published her first poetry collection, When This World Comes to an End. How You Were Born is Cayley's first collection of short fiction.

We asked author Kate Cayley about a few of her firsts ...

Tell us about the first time you realized you wanted to be a writer.

That was a sidelong and slow process. Looking back on it, I think I always did, in the sense that writing seems like the most immediate way to respond to my experience of the world. But knowing I wanted to be a writer took a longer time than it does for some--I think I was resisting the work of it, just how long it takes to make something even a little bit worth reading. I was a theatre director for years, becoming a playwright and poet by degrees, and so to fiction. Anyway, I thought it first on a subway platform when I was thirteen, then when I wrote a poem I liked at twenty (it was terrible, I believe), and so on at intervals until it went from being something I wanted to be to something I was, mostly by realizing that I needed to commit to the work of it, and the practical elements followed from that.


Was there something from the first draft of your book that got left out of the final book?

Yes, thank goodness! Two full stories got left out, and other large swaths of material, some character thumbnails that struck the wrong note, my tendency to overstate the case in describing, etc. The two cut stories were probably the most self-conscious in the collection (one based on a historical person, one a series of imaginary responses to an unopened letter), and I'm lucky to have had Alayna and Beth as my editors. They both combine qualities of generosity, of always reading to discover the intention of a work and to help it become what it fundamentally is, with a bracing lack of sentimentality. Nothing extraneous, down to the last detail. It's a gift to be read like that, with that much engaged kindness and criticism born of intelligent respect.

Was the final title your first title for your book? Share previous options here!

Yes. When I submitted it to Pedlar, that was the title. I toyed with "Young Hennerly and Other Stories" and "The Summer the Neighbours Were Nazis" but one sounded antiquated and the other possibly verging on cute. "How You Were Born" is the final story, as well as the first I wrote, and the only one with any roots at all in my own life (of course it's still fiction), about two women who want to have a child and are flying to Halifax to meet the friend who's offered to help them out. My eldest, who is six now, is pleased that the title refers to her, even indirectly.

Do you have your outfit picked out for your first author event/launch?

Not yet. I dream of some kind of very elegant brown tailored suit. I tried one on once in my twenties that was perfect but that I couldn't afford. Ten years on, still dreaming of it, and so realizing the dream of publishing a short story collection makes me feel like it's time to find that ideal brown suit. We'll see if it happens.

When was the first time you were on an airplane? Where were you going?

Going to travel across Europe, when I was eighteen. I don't think I've been more excited in my life. I now hate flying, but that one time was perfect.

What was your first pet?

A vicious white rabbit vaguely reminiscent of the rabbit in Monty Python. Snowdrop, nicknamed Bunny. My father didn't believe in having anything caged in the house (I now feel the same way), so she was free-range, and chewed down every baseboard, lamp cord and book within reach.

The Publisher

Pedlar Press is a Canadian literary publishing house now based in St. John’s Newfoundland, started in 1996 and operated single-handedly over its 16-year history by owner Beth Follett. Pedlar acquires works by Canadian writers who are struggling with questions about what it means to be human at this time whose texts embody these questions in startlingly fresh ways.

We asked publisher Beth Follett about a few questions about publishing first books & How You Were Born in particular

Why do you feel it’s important to publish works by new authors?

From its inception Pedlar has had the mandate to publish and promote new voices, to support emerging writers in their development. The publishing world has all the pitfalls one finds in other competitive fields, the gaping pits of self-doubt and self-censorship ever-emerging, obstacles that must be ever-negotiated. To receive an excellent manuscript from a first-time author really sets me to quivering with the excitement that serving such 'shoots of beauty' gives. (Gord Downie, "Thompson Girl.") Kate Cayley's manuscript was replete with possibility. Through the dedication of Alayna Munce, guest editor, and me, and through Kate's own application of thought and inspired leaping, she has come through a strengthening process that grew her debut collection of short fiction, How You Were Born, to greatness. Who benefits? Both Kate and her readers, current and future.

When did you first know you were going to publish this book?

Immediately on reading it in original manuscript form, which was late March 2013. To Kate I wrote: "The stories are wonderful—captivating and full of a gravitas that I admire. I read many MSS each year, and when I encounter one as polished and as intelligent as yours, where the words fairly leap from the page to my heart and mind, I feel very grateful to its author, for taking the time required and for being such a diligent writer. Congratulations." At the conclusion of our editing process, in her acknowledgements Kate wrote a thanks to me "for seeing the possibilities in these stories long before they were finished." Finished. Polished. Beautiful: a manuscript made stronger through a sweating of the details, through devotion. Well done, Kate.


Tell/show us the first cover concept for the book and how it differs from the final look.

Everyone (Kate, Alayna, Zab, and me) immediately loved the Paul Trevor image Kate requested we use, everyone loved my suggestion that there be a strong dividing line between title and image, everyone loved the duotone colour palette Zab Hobart eventually proposed for the cover. But we differed in our thinking about the typeface and had to go back and forth on this. In the end what Kate wished for her cover treatment is what I approved. The image here attached shows the contested first typeface treatment. The duotone colouring came next.






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