Thursday, October 15, 2009

Twenty-Two Compiled Interviews

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Interview: Kathleen Bryson, Winner of Monsters Of Folk Video Contest
Isaac Lekach :: Monday, March 29th, 2010 9:30 am

Supergroup Monsters Of Folk (Conor Oberst, Jim James, M Ward and Mike Mogis) held a contest for fans to make a music video for their song “Dear God.” Loads were made. Some great, some not so great–but of course, the best prevailed. The boys chose filmmakers Kathleen Bryson and Nele Hecht’s effort. Watch it here if you haven’t seen it yet. And visit the jump for our interview with Bryson.

Were you a fan of the band’s?

I was a fan of M. Ward and Bright Eyes from a long time back. Then I got turned onto Monsters of Folk last year, and subsequently, rather tardily, got really into My Morning Jacket. I don’t know how I missed them the first time round. So yes – a fan of MOF, and a fan of all the individual artists as well. I think this song in particular (”Dear God”) is so gorgeous.

How did you get alerted to the contest?

I found out about it when a friend took me to a Monsters of Folk concert. I got in touch with Nele Hecht. We’ve worked together many times previously – she was the cinematographer for the first feature film I directed. This time round, for Monsters of Folk, she was the director and I produced. I’d just seen her graduation film Sparks and I knew she would be perfect – she has this other-worldly, kind of free directorial style, like dancing. Once I contacted her, I found out that she was already aware of the competition and that both she and Annika (on camera) were waiting for a good opportunity to shoot a music video!

Was the video that won your first idea?

No, Nele and I really struggled to find something that would work for the lyrics as well as our own views on religion. We ended up having many discussions about god! I have quasi-Quaker/pagan beliefs – I believe that the divine is in everyone, and possibly in everything. Nele herself is not an atheist, but doesn’t conform to any specific religion i.e. she believes in something spiritual, barely interventionist, that can be found in human relations more than anywhere else. We translated the song’s search for answers in regards to god and faith into questions that we had towards life or other human beings.

If not, please tell us about the other thoughts that ran through your head.

One was about a happy vandal, trashing everything around her and carelessly setting herself on fire while asking god why the world is such a miserable place. But we didn’t think it met the feeling of the song well. Another was to have people dancing in the weirdest mundane places happily on their own, having to struggle with all sorts of obstacles while dancing, but still carrying on. But that wouldn’t really hold for five minutes and was a tricky one to organize.

How heavily did you follow the competition?

Quite a bit, as we got really into making the video and were fond of it by the end!

Did you see any other videos that you liked?

The sparkly puppet and the one where everything was out of modeling material.
 They were both so charming and must have been so much work, like most of the videos, in fact. And there was a funny one, which was really silly but made us laugh.

Did the band personally write you with regards to the video? If so what did they say?

No, but I was told on the phone by the record company that the band really dug it and we’re extremely grateful and flattered that they decided for ours.

The song is long–almost too long to make a moving video for. Were you at all nervous about making something that would be captivating all the way though?

We were nervous about not having enough footage, as we only had four hours to shoot and did not manage to shoot all of our concept, so we ended up being quite spontaneous, which was great fun, especially for Ophelia, the little girl. The slow-motion really helped us in the edit. All of a sudden, the little we had was absolutely enough. Michael Aaglund, the editor, is a genius.

What was the most daunting thing about making this video?

When we shot the girl screaming for her mom in a dark, empty carpark and the police pulled up and wanted to take us to the station. We packed up at that point.

For me, the video is so effective because it stands on its own. It doesn’t rely on the music to convey emotion. Of course, it helps, but the visuals, the framing, the careful editing–all of it amounts to a delicate telling of a story. Are you a fan of literal adaptations, narratives, esoteric visual forays? What do you think makes for a great video?

I am not personally a fan of literal adaptations in either film or video. I love abstract, odd videos and don’t think a great video necessarily needs a narrative. Having said that, with no money and five minutes of music, a storyline really helps! Both Nele and I make a lot of short films, and I think we tend to put narratives into most of them, whereas we’re probably more lyrical with longer works. Nele, Annika, Michael and myself have similar tastes in filmmaking style, so the four of us did not discuss it much and it all somehow came together quite quickly.

For the tech-geeks out there, give us some of the technical details–what did you shoot it on etc.?

Annika Summerson, the amazing cinematographer, borrowed a Canon 7D from her friend. We shot 50 frames per second, because it seemed to support the feel of the song. Michael Aaglund edited on an old version of Final Cut. We tried to color-grade as much as we could in Final Cut.

The avenues for screening music videos are few and far between and have pretty much been relegated to the internet, where the videos are projected in poor, pixilated quality. That said, why do you think every band continues to make a video? While some have done so with home video cameras and low budgets, people are still donating time and money to the making of videos–why do you think that is?

Once they fit well, visuals and music can be a great experience together. And on the internet it’s much easier to grab someone’s attention in the first instance with visuals than just music alone. Also – we’ve grown up in an environment of pop promos. I know that MTV was a big part of my adolescent culture, so there’s nostalgia associated with videos. But I do believe that music can sometimes be more powerful without visuals, because it does not narrow the experience down too much. I’ve been trying to listen to music with my eyes shut recently – maybe like the little girl in our video! My favorite is Patti Smith, maybe because her stuff is packed with imagery from the get-go.

What are some of your favorite videos and directors?

So many! Some of them are Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Patrick Daughters, Jonathan Glazer and Chris Cunningham. And just for film: Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Catherine Breillat.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Yeah – big thanks to Monsters of Folk and to Cory and Lydia at Shangri-La Records, and I’d like to thank our very small cast and crew by name, since we all worked so hard! Here’s our credit list:

Producer: Kathleen Bryson

Director: Nele Hecht

Camera: Annika Summerson

Editor: Michael Aaglund

Actress: Ophelia-Isis Gallot-Tan 

Actress: Lenaïk Gallot-Prades

Good people, please also definitely check out the fundraising website for my latest feature film, Spaceships Over Corvallis.



Oregon’s Kathleen Bryson - Painter, Author & Filmmaker - Gets Prepared for Spaceships Over Corvallis
September 8, 2009

Kathleen Bryson brilliantly segues in between mediums without completely abandoning one for the other. As a painter, her work has been shown in Oregon, Washington and in her current home of London. She’s published two novels, most recently Girl on a Stick, and a number of short stories. And while donning her filmmaker hat has premiered the Viva Voce Virus here in Portland, a project 6 years in the making.

id. Magazine currently caught up with her to talk about her film the Viva Voce Virus, gay Hollywood and monsters. She is currently back living in London where she spent five years fighting immigration laws that prevented her from obtaining a visa and staying with her European born female partner…

id: You’re living in London again?

K.B: “I am back in London; but I still have family in Portland. It took me awhile to settle back in. I have a love/hate relationship with London really due to the immigration laws preventing me from traveling freely there for a time. I now have dual citizenship but it took five years. I think I was actually kicked out of the country a couple of times. But, I’m back, I always have some reservations but it's nice to have hope. We have Civil Partnerships now. Firing is illegal based on sexual orientation, so…there’s hope.

id: How have things changed over the last couple of years?

K.B. Well, I have to say that Portland is the most progressive city I’ve ever lived in. But when you have that legality (Civil Partnership), it changes you. It’s the same in Canada, I don’t know if you’ve ever spend time walking around there but… it equalizes things, as a queer person, being there. You feel equal, it makes you feel different. People are acting more entitled. Even here (in London) now. Like when I was temping jobs; you know, I wouldn’t bother coming out over and over again. But now, I feel I can tell people and it won’t even raise an eyebrow. That’s a big difference.

id: Let’s talk about your latest film, the Viva Voce Virus (VVV). It premiered here in Portland last year, how was that experience for you?

K.B. It was cool to do it in Portland. That project took six years, and we had no budget, or rather a micro budget, but even with that, production went relatively smoothly. And then we hit post-production and for four years, it was on. It definitely had its moments of Spirit of the Blitz, you know people that have lasted through hell with you (laughs). You know, not that is was completely hell, but just that shared experience of like… working in a McDonald’s as a teenager or something. I mean, I got through high school in less time than it took to finish this movie! That (co-director) Kimmo Moykky and I are still close and willing to collaborate on another project in the future is wonderful.

id: I understand you recently attended the Berlin International Film Festival as a participant [in the Talent Campus].

K.B. Yes, that was amazing. It was actually VVV that allowed us to get in there and we got to screen a portion of the film which was great. The festival was like summer camp for filmmakers. There were fifty or so directors from all over the world; producers, composers, technicians. We had a free pass for all the movies of course; but there were also Master classes throughout the day, classes on post-production. There were editors that had worked on films like The Changeling and Letters from Iwo Jima. You know, it was really humbling. Here I am, just finishing work on this movie with such a shoestring budget and I get to put my hands on a ½ million dollar camera. It was wonderful.

id: Can you tell us a little about your next project? Spaceships over Corvallis? First off, why Corvallis? You’ve grew up in Alaska, lived in Seattle, Sweden, London. Why Corvallis?

K.B. (laughs) Corvallis was just one of the years of my life. I couldn’t get a job anywhere, I was pretty much on my own. I hated it. I did a lot of reading and I read about these UFO reports over St. Mary’s Peak and I thought about what it would be like if CIA agents went there to retire. The screenplay’s finished now and I’ll be coming to Medford in September for casting.

What’s so exciting about this project is that we have a fantastic producer and a proper budget, so I think I’ll find it less problematic than with VVV. We’ll start shooting early next year and should be done with it fairly quickly.

id: In both Viva Voce Virus and Spaceships Over Corvallis you use a dual narrative across two different time periods. Is there a reason for that?

K.B. That’s funny, I hadn’t really thought of that. But I’ve used that in my books as well. I don’t think it’s on purpose, it’s not conscious. Actually, in VVV we had three different time periods. I like stuff that has resonance to it. I like to have different journeys echoing. Maybe in the sense that the past is not so different from our future.

id: Both films also tease out the idea of cultural deception. In Viva [Voce Virus] it’s exposing the closet that’s still alive and well in Hollywood. Since you started that project six years ago, do you feel things have gotten any better?

K.B. Oh, worse I think. Much worse. You know, I’m not going to name any names; but I will say that I really do support and have so much respect for people like Wanda Sykes and Neil Patrick Harris that do come out.

And it makes me mad when I hear things like, ‘wow, that Neil Patrick Harris plays such a believable straight guy!’, you know, like playing straight is the ultimate test. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that 80% of Hollywood is gay, and I’m including the bisexuals in there. Someday, I would love to see all of Hollywood file a class action lawsuit for discrimination.

id: Why do you think things have gotten worse?

K.B. I just finished watching Watermelon Woman again, I haven’t seen it since ‘96 or so. And I just remember that time, back in ‘95 when I was living in Seattle, that things just seemed freer politically. I miss that sense of brash queerness. There’s this sense of being apologetic now about being queer. That everything has to be polished and safe. And I’m not talking about gay marriage, I’m not anti-marriage, I’m really not. I just would like to see more outrage, more anger about things.

id: Like the fact that suicide is still the number one cause of death among queer youth?

K.B. Yes, like there are government programs that purposely leave gay and lesbians out of suicide prevention programs and people aren’t more outraged about that.

id: Your next project talks about government deceptions and cover-up.

K.B. Yes, well, Spaceships over Corvallis, though not in the queer sense, is certainly unapologetic ally political. The Right Wing gets to write whatever they want to write and I wanted to do something equally bombastic from the left. I just think we get so starved for a sense of radical that when we do see it, because there’s such a paucity of it, it’s very freeing.

id: You seem to like vampires and zombies. Your short film Vox Aurora is based on your poem about zombie bakers, it’s funny.

K.B. Well, Percy Ingles is this horrible little chain bakery with the surliest people working the counter. I just hate it, but I would go in there for bread and once I just snapped. So I wrote this little poem and I actually went down there in the middle of the night and shoved it under the door. Which, maybe would be kind of creepy for them, I don’t know. But, there was this competition about zombie poems and I entered this short film. There were only two entries so we both won. I wouldn’t say that was representative of my work though, all this horrible stop-action animation.

id: No, of course not. But it is quirky and fun. So, what about monsters?

K.B. (Laughs) I really do like the concept of monsters, but I wouldn’t describe myself really as a sci-fi genre person, though my films certainly have that fantasy/sci fi feel to them. I like literary fiction and to assimilate fantasy. I like the witchy stuff. I desperately wanted to be a witch from the time I was four until around junior high. Anytime I saw anything remotely spelly in a book, I would write it down in a Book of Spells (laughs). I kept holding out that they would work. I like the metaphysical - I mean film making is magical isn’t it? I think that’s why I’m attracted to it.

You know, I’ve been working as an artist for nearly twenty years and I feel like I’ve hit a breakthrough for the first time. Berlin was a big part of that, a catalyst and I love it. A person should be able to enjoy the good parts. You should celebrate the good parts. If not, what’s the point?



28 October (with Ashley Anklowitz)

“Girl On A Stick,” written by Kathleen Bryson, is a wonderful book with a captivating story line that draws you in from the first paragraph. It is the story of a college graduate student, Clementine, who is studying abroad in London. The book is funny and charming, full of twists and turns and a romance that will captivate you.

Bryson tells about her inspiration for the story: “I read a book called ‘The Serious Game,’ by Hjalmar Söderberg, about how a relationship can break down even when people love each other deeply. I had just had such a break-up and was trying to understand the process of power. But when I started writing about heterosexual relationships (I’m bisexual and have been both in long-term lesbian and long-term straight relationships), I realized that I was writing about power differentials, and that got me thinking about greater types of power differences—financial, national, religious. I also wanted to write about a kick-ass heroine.”

When asked if this book was based on any of her personal experiences, Bryson said, “As in most fiction books, there’s a mixture of both truth and fiction in ‘Girl on a Stick.’ I have had a relationship with a Scandinavian man, as Clem does, and I have been a grad-student American living in London, as she does. I have not been sexually abused, but a priest in my hometown (with whom my family and I were close friends) was harassed by the right wing of the Catholic Church for his politically progressive beliefs while he was alive, and also was accused after he died of abusing a young girl (I am still not sure what is true regarding that story, and can only offer my personal experience of him, which was of a really nice and intelligent guy who never sexually abused me or my sister). With fiction writing, anyone who starts out rooted in a real person eventually becomes an entirely fully fleshed different character in their own right. So I don’t think of Clem as myself—she is herself. And I don’t think of the characters Father Clifden or Father Deegan as representing my hometown priest, either.”

This book, with its raw feelings and jumbled thoughts, gives great insight into the working mind of most girls. It is great to see a writer put so much of herself into her work, and to some extent, you can come to feel as though you know her. The metaphors running through the book and the memorable life experiences of the main character make this book is a really good one to read. The book begins with a captivating description of a man named Per, whose “name makes me dream of Anjou Pears, too: sweet, sticky, lush, sexual pears.” With a description like that, almost any woman would want Per or hope to see him in her own love interest.

The sex scenes are hot, yet subdued by some modesty, although you still get a taste of the fire in Per’s and Clementine’s relationship that most look for in their own relationships. This relationship is the backbone to this book, bringing in all the emotional ups and downs in Clementine’s life. The joy he brings her makes you smile for her because you feel the joy of her life going right through all the downfalls in it.

This book bears a beautiful message: don’t follow the crowd, be yourself, and try and do your own things. With this message and the passion that runs through the heart of the story, it is truly a good read for anyone who enjoys a real-life romance in a setting that is as realistic as the story itself.


17 Oct 2008

Kathleen Bryson: Girl On A Stick

We spoke to Kathleen Bryson, the woman behind the blister-black comedy [Girl on a Stick], to find out more.

Girl on a Stick is your second novel – is it true what they say about how difficult a second novel is to write?

True to a certain extent. Your first novel tends to be the novel you've wanted to write your whole life growing up, and your second novel is often about your adult life, and that's daunting. My "true" first novel was a quintessential unpublished, and rightly so, novel-in-a-drawer called North Road Justice (which was the name of a so-called teenager "gang" in my Alaskan hometown, a name that I found both ridiculous and evocative).

I cannibalised parts of NRJ for both Mush and Girl on a Stick. I found Girl on a Stick much more painful as opposed to difficult to write - I knew what I wanted to say and exactly where I wanted to go; it just took me a while to get there in terms of putting words on paper. So yeah, it probably is true.

So what's Girl on a Stick about?

It's about the imbalance of power. Male/female power, imperialist American power, capitalistic power, the power of religious fundamentalism. It's also about a young woman who starts seeing visions of the Virgin Mary on the No. 38 bus.

Are any parts of the book autobiographical in any way?

Yes and no.

Are there any particular scenes in the novel that resonate with you in a special way?

I feel happy where Clem describes experiencing love as like seeing the overside of clouds, which you only ever see when you're on a plane. The scene where Clem confronts her boyfriend always upsets me, even though I wrote it. Also upsetting is the scene where the group of drunk people are trapped together in the elevator, because I experienced something very similar myself under similar circumstances, which I guess is a more specific answer to the autobiographical question. See, I can be tricky that way.

Do you ever get nervous about the reactions you might receive from writing about controversial topics, such as religion?

Yes, I do. But I feel strongly about what I have to say, otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it. I am lucky enough to know that I am loved by my family, and sometimes understood by them, and loved and usually understood by my friends. That gives me an underlying security to risk and dare things.

I once had what was a pretty serious anthropological piece about bestiality published, wherein I wanted to make a point about how humans can't think of themselves as animals even though we are (the main gist of the piece, which was actually quite anti-bestiality in its entirety), but I started out all guns blazing by volunteering that I had once masturbated in the same room as a dog, and sarcastically asked the reader whether that counted as zoophilia. And I can actually think of at least one additional example of "controversial" writing in Girl on a Stick - which was finished four years ago - which makes me blush a little now re-reading it, an incident which also has to do with sex.

So there have been a few occasions when I have looked back at some essay or something I wrote and thought, "Whoa, I would never dare to be so bolshy or fearless now." Or perhaps: "Hmm, I don't know why I was quite so frank about that - maybe I was trying to be shocking after all." But then I get spiky in different ways at other times. Sometimes it's sex, sometimes it's politics, sometimes it's criminal injustice. And, sometimes, I really am attracted to rebellion because I like it and not for any worthy reason at all. I think South Park is written from a right-wing standpoint and I still snicker all the way though it, because it's just so baaaad and naughty.

You've certainly received a lot of praise for the book – how does that feel?

A little embarrassed and a little proud, because I did work hard on it.

So how did it all begin for you? Had you always wanted to be a writer?

According to one of the blank scrapbook dealies I filled out as a seven-year-old, I wanted to be an artist, a writer, a nun, an archaeologist and a magician. I used to make a lot of my own books when I was six or so, drawing the pictures and writing the stories. I would staple them together so they had a real "book" feel. I remember once trying unsuccessfully to make a pop-up book.

I would still like to make a pop-up book; I loved and love gimmicky books like pop-ups and choose-your-own-adventure and optical-illusion books and scratch-and-sniff. What these all have in common is an expanded experience - you're personalizing your reading experience in a way no one else can understand - I think the scientific term is "qualia". Because I wanted to be a lot of things when I grew up, I didn't end up studying two of my greatest loves, writing and painting, and so I had to teach myself to do both without having gone through the rigours of a creative writing programme or art school - and maybe that's a good thing.

Before I did a post-grad drama programme, I was forever envious of my friends who had studied professional acting - when we were in plays together, I wondered whether they knew some secrets that I didn't know. Then I did the course and realized that it's 90% bullshit and confidence and networking, and I suspect that the same goes for other disciplines. Sometimes I wish I had some of the "secret club" network personal contacts, though - who you know often and definitely does ease the way.

Are there any specific gay authors that you would say have influenced your writing?

There is a disproportionate number of my favourite writers that I didn't know were queer and found out after the fact: Geoff Ryman, Tove Jansson, Wittgenstein, Saki, Gregory Maguire, Mary Renault, Kathy Acker. And then there are a few that I knew were queer from the beginning: Jane Bowles, Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare. I have always been drawn towards a bisexual sensibility in literature rather than a straight or gay one, and I believe all these writers have that in common to a certain extent.

I remember the absolutely freeing experience of being 20 or so and reading Sarah Caudwell's mystery book Thus Was Adonis Murdered. In Caudwell's books, it's accepted as fact that everyone is happily shagging and attracted to and in love with everyone else. I like those type of books best and I like that quality in some of Virginia Woolf's work, too. Two life-changing and art-changing experiences were watching the plays Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill and - very obscure - En Uppstoppad Hund - literally, A Stuffed Dog - by the Swedish playwright Staffan Göthe, where this type of sexual freedom plays out. I love that quality in Six Feet Under as well.

What do you like to do when you're not working?

I like to go on really long, three-hour walks around whichever city I'm living in. I like reading about recent primatology studies and physical anthropology and origin-of-the-universe stuff. I like reading online Hollywood gossip forums. I love hanging out and having coffee with friends and being extremely lazy. I like to go to the movies and eat popcorn and watch artsy good films and trashy 3-D films.

What are your personal dos and don'ts in life?

I've never really tried any drug that could kill me, like cocaine or amphetamines or heroin. Even back in college, I stuck to hallucinogens. I don't do any drugs at all these days, except perhaps the occasional puff on someone else's joint. I try not to lie or be violent and I don't steal. I am nice to the anonymous people that I come across in my day, generally.

I work hard and try to keep my promises. Hmm. And every now and then I try to take the piss out of myself, and after re-reading that goody two-shoes litany I just typed out perhaps it's time again. As my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Feldman - a lovely man - used to say to me: "Life's too mysterious. Don't take it serious."

What makes you happy?

Sunlight. Snow. Dancing. Gossip. Drinking sparkling wine with my girlfriend and best friends while we're cooking an amazing meal. Being in the woods on my own. Autumn and Halloween. Cuddling my two guinea pigs and my girlie. Playing with my nieces. Reading. Sex. Looking at the Milky Way with no city light.

What do you hope readers take away with them after reading your book?

A sense of hope, and a feeling that you don't have to play the game to win the game, because the game is only that, a game. Someone's probably said that before me and said it better, because that sounds a leeetle too familiar. But you get what I mean.

What's next for you?

Sending my first feature film, The Viva Voce Virus - co-directed with Kimmo Moykky - off to festivals. After four years it is finally complete! A few already-finished books in the pipeline. A few unfinished books that I would love to complete, including my chimp Jurassic-Park-style novel Hybrid Vigor, plus a genie novel. Guiding my second feature film Spaceships Over Corvallis into production next spring. And acting in a friend's pirate film this coming winter.

What else would you like to say?

Thanks for the lovely interview questions - please feel free to check out my feature film The Viva Voce Virus at and also visit me on my blog - I have lots of visitors, but no one ever comments! Oh, and if folks can buy Girl on a Stick directly from Suspect Thoughts or Libertas or some other independent bookstore, all the better.



Kathleen Bryson writer/co-director - Viva Voce Virus
October 13, 2008

Viva Voce Virus directed by Kathleen Bryson and Kimmo Moykky. Viva Voce Virus is a wild vivid surreal film sci film which deals with the history of queer actors in the cinema being terrified of being ‘outed’. The main story is of the actress Ronnie played by Deni Francis who thinks to be successful she needs to employ the well-worn tactic of having a “beard” boyfriend. Ironically she is playing part a lesbian vampire in the contemporary remake of a B-movie written by dyke director Gloria LaFonche in the 1950’s.

The film draws on the gossip of old Hollywood in a Kenneth Angerish adventure thorugh the history of the closet. Meanwhile the other narrative includes two space travellers who exist in a fantasy world where men can suddenly find their best friend attractive and keep coming back for the blue cocktails in Gay Andy’s.

You are a writer primarily, why now a move into filmmaking?

I don’t think of myself being primarily anything! The truth is I have always done three arts, not one. Writing, painting and filmmaking/acting. I came over to London to do a post-grad in acting originally in 1994, and in 1997 I was finishing up my MA in film theory right as I started to write my first novel, Mush. I actually began writing/developing The Viva Voce Virus the same year that Mush was published, 2001. I show my paintings every few years as well.

The reason it seems that filmmaking is a recent move is because feature-filmmaking by nature is sloooooooowww, and thats compounded when doing a micro-budget feature. I can whip up a short story in a matter of days: feature films - not so speedy!

What inspired you to make the Viva Voce Virus film?

Two things:

1. A dream I had in 1996 about a satirical movie where two “straight” men crash-landed into an all-gay resort where all the drag queens wore blue terrycloth bathrobes and stirred their blue cocktails with sparkly swizzlesticks. I pretty much dreamt the entire opening scene.

2. An audition I’d had in 2001 where I was one of the final 5 standing out of the original 90, and was on the third callback for a part for which I was eminently qualified. I’d already done the acting audition twice over, and this was just a verbal interview. I saw one of the casting director’s face change when I mentioned a girlfriend. It was kind of horrifically amazing as he struggled to compose himself. You wouldn’t think that type of prejudice exists among liberal people in theatre or film until you experience it first hand. The rule I broke wasn’t being queer - obviously, that’s very common - the rule I broke was talking openly about it.

You co-directed the Viva Voce Virus with Kimmo Moykky - what were the challenges of working collaboratively?

I am fiery yang to his more peaceful yin, which turned out to be complementary when working together. We have spookily similar artistic taste when it comes to films, literature, themes and aesthetics. If we had different opinions about how a shot should be set up, for example, we would both listen to the other person’s reasoning. If we could give a good justification and wanted it more, then the other
person would acquiesce. We kind of kept an unofficial tally: “Hey, you got your way last time, so it’s my turn now.” It balanced!

In six years we only had one 5-minute real argument, and that was the last week of production when we were probably missing like 50 hours of sleep. The real challenge was communicating long-distance during the post-production period once I had moved back to the United States. But we weathered that. We’ll definitely work together again and are actually in development with a second feature together, a futuristic horror piece in the 21 Days Later mode. We’ve been through some very trying situations and it’s great to know that you can be dear friends on the other side of that.

One of the themes about the Viva Voce Virus is the homosexual closet. Why do you think female actresses still stay in the closet more than male actors?

There are a lot of actresses who come out as bisexual, and I believe they truly are. But then what happens is you only ever hear about their boyfriends, and the media colludes with their publicists when they’re dating women to play that aspect down. Two good examples there are Drew Barrymore and Angelina Jolie. The media has no interest either in promoting sexual fluidity - that is just too threatening to consider, because that means any straight person could be the next to come out. Secondly, the almighty cock trumps all. You have men who have made a point of acknowledging their bisexuality like Alan Cumming or Gore Vidal being labeled as “gay” while women who call themselves bisexual who have had established relationships with other women being called “straight”. See the pattern? It always defaults to the male member.

With actresses, you’re already working inside this sexist system, and I reckon often it just becomes too much to deal with when compounded with homophobia. There’s a heartbreaking quote from the actress Tammy Lynn Michaels from an interview she did with Television Without Pity, where she says, “My managers and all my agents would be like [frantically], “Don’t tell them you’re gay! You’ll be ruined! You’ll never work again! You’ll be working at McDonald’s in a month!” I was so terrified.” There is incredible pressure to be conventionally attractive in a typically “feminine” mode - and to be perceived as straight.

What do you think about Lyndsay Lohan coming out? What difference will it make?

Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson are interesting, because in a way they’re just going ahead with their relationship without make a big to-do about it. They’re behaving as if it is already an ideal-world situation where everyone accepts lesbian couples on par with straight ones, and more power to them for that.

It’s not as if Hollywood isn’t predominately gay already, so I doubt they’re shunned. Also there are many gay and lesbian couples who are well known in Hollywood that go under the mainstream radar, most of whom who have straight “lovers”-cum-beards for public consumption.

From what I understand, Sam is not the first woman with whom Lindsay has had a relationship - just the first that the general public has picked up on. This wasn’t helped, of course, by Lindsay’s publicists or whoever was working overtime over the last few years to emphasize just how heterosexual she was. This plan really backfired, may I say, as Lindsay started to be seen as slutty and also, perhaps not coincidentally, begin to show signs of emotional strain. My hunch is there are several other public starlets with very well-known breakdowns who have been having lesbian affairs. It must be difficult to deal with the cognitive dissonance of lying to the public and sometimes to oneself.

Your film is very multicultural, was that a conscious choice?

Both Kimmo and myself talked about it at the beginning and decided that we wanted so-called colour-blind casting, and agreed we didn’t conceive of any characters as being African-Caribbean, or Caucasian, or Asian, and we decided that we would cast instead according to gut instinct (with the exception of the lead Deni Francis, whom I actually had in mind while writing the script).

When I wrote the main character Ronnie’s girlfriend, Madeleine, for example, I had a vision in my head of her being blonde and white and perhaps somewhat snotty - I loosely based her on some of the women I’d met working in publishing. But then when we had Semsem Kuheri read for the part, all of a sudden there was a new way of conceptualising the character of Madeleine. There are sometimes good arguments for ethnic-specific casting, but often there aren’t and I think white directors/casting agents/producers have a responsibility to examine their pre-conceived character casting notions.

Something I really love about Mike Figgis films is that he has a variety of people from different backgrounds and they’re not there as tokens or meant to represent something, but are present as true characters. And recently you get TV series like Gray’s Anatomy and Dexter, where the same thing is going on in terms of casting, and that’s just bloody refreshing.

On a semi-related note, at one point in the middle of production, Kimmo and I looked at each other and realized that all of the villains in The Viva Voce Virus were white, which was interesting. That wasn’t a conscious choice, either. I am not sure how that happened, but it seemed fitting that the evil people who had the most power in the film would also be operating from a more powerful angle of relational dynamics when it came to race. They were also all closet cases as well, of course.

There are men and women, straights and gays in a queer film which rocks, why did you go against the grain?

Because that’s what makes up my personal world. Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and straight people. Although if you look carefully, there are actually allusions to every single character being to some extent queer, including Ronnie’s straight male best friend. Not all of them are closeted, either, just sexually fluid. And come on, people, not all of us exist in a sexually segregated world. If that makes it harder to label The Viva Voce Virus as a “gay film” or a “lesbian film”, then so be it. You can’t argue with the fact that it’s a queer film, though; it just happened to be a queer film for men, women, straights, gays, lesbians and bisexuals… and others.

When do you plan to show the Viva Voce Virus in the UK?

We just finished the final cut in June and are starting to send it off to festivals this month, so once we’re accepted to a festival in the UK, you better believe we’ll be there, with bells on. Perhaps wearing blue terrycloth bathrobes and brandishing sparkly swizzlesticks.



12 Sep 2008

My Things: Kathleen Bryson

The phenomenally talented and go-gettin' Kathleen Bryson is not the kind of woman to let her life stagnate. At any one time she has a handful of exciting projects on the go, including novels like Girl On A Stick and He's Lucid, painting, acting and singing. Now she's about to release The Viva Voce Virus, a grand film project that has taken years to complete. Watch out for it on the festival circuit and find out what else makes this extraordinary woman tick.

Where do you live and why?

I live in Portland, Oregon. I moved here after 13 years in Europe because I missed trees and thought it would be nice to be closer to home (Alaska) for a while.

Do you live alone or with someone else?

I live with my girlfriend.

Do you have any pets and what are they called?

I’m allergic to cats and my girlfriend’s allergic to dogs, so we recently welcomed two very lovely male guinea pigs into our home: Machu (Pigchu) and Julio (Piglesias).

What’s your must-see TV programme?

Battlestar Galactica.

What’s your favourite gadget?

A Japanese watch I ordered back in 1999. It transforms into a little silver robot and it also sends you random messages in both English and Japanese (purportedly Zen messages, but so far they been like “UFOs UFOs” and “Are you hungry?”).


Where was the last place you went on holiday?

I went back to London for the cast and crew screening of the feature film I co-directed, The Viva Voce Virus, at the Dalston Rio. We’ve been working on it for four years, so we were ecstatic to have it finished! See it soon on the festival circuit!

What is your favourite city?


Where is your favourite place in the world?

In a canoe floating in the middle of Stormy Lake in Nikiski, Alaska, eating M&Ms and reading.

Where was your most memorable holiday?

A recent trip to South Korea for my youngest brother’s wedding. He married a Korean woman in a traditional shamanist ceremony complete with (non)sacrificial hen and rooster. My entire immediate family (6 people plus 1 fiancée) slept on the floor in one small room for 10 days. It was memorable: both wonderful and stressful.


Speedos or shorts, bikini or swimsuit?

Shorts, swimsuit.

What’s your favourite item in your wardrobe?

I have a fuschia ski-type jacket that I adore, and a pair of teetering heels that look like Prada (they aren’t), but then if you look very closely they appear to have motorcycle detailing. They’re pretty kick-ass.

Do you prefer to be smart or casual?

I prefer to be funky messy.

What was the last item of clothing you brought?

A pair of purple fishnets and a pair of teal tights from Topshop.

What are your extravagances?

Books, Vietnamese food, good coffee, arthouse films on DVD, costume jewellery.

What’s your favourite aftershave/perfume?

Hypnotic Poison and also Karma.


What are your inspirations?

I’m inspired by rebellious people. People who speak out even when they’re very much the minority (Stephen Colbert, Moomintrolls). I love satire and humour in art (Angela Carter’s books, Guy Maddin’s films). I also love just plain idiosyncratic work that may have nothing to do with rebellion, but which is so totally the artist’s own: painters like Chagall and Anselm Kiefer. I love kindness and gentleness. Trees. I also love dance-pop music with clever lyrics. I love dancing. I love being alive. Drawing breath is pretty inspiring.

What is your favourite cause?

Equality in its many equally important forms – social democracy, racial equality, women’s liberation, gay rights, animal rights. Environmental issues feed straight into many of these.

What is your favourite recent discovery?

That scientists think that time must go backwards as well as forwards, closely followed by the ‘hobbits’ of Borneo, the newly discovered giant gorillas in the Congo and the isolated human tribe in the Amazonian rainforest that is still uncontacted by modern culture. I think about these things a lot.

What is your philosophy of life?

Every human is born with bisexual potential, like most other mammals. We are animals like any other organism on this planet. We are an amazing species among countless other amazing species. Although I’d like to have a kid myself, there are many other ways of contributing to our society without giving birth and those should be celebrated just as much. We’re social animals. There is no way of knowing what originally started the Big Bang and created the stars and planets and all of creation, but I have a good feeling about it. When I think about it too much I feel wonder and delight. I think everyone ought to slow down a bit and smell the roses.

Who would you most like to meet for dinner?

Ken Livingstone, Angela Carter (if she were still alive), Alan Cumming, my girlfriend, all my good friends, my family, people with good senses of humour (I always thought that Ken and Angela and Alan seemed like they would have great senses of humour), all having a delicious dinner together.

A Night Out

When did you come out?

I assumed I was generally heterosexual from birth to 19, when I suspected that I might be bisexual (I was in a straight relationship at the time, so it would have been difficult to explore, and besides I was in love and didn’t particularly want to explore my lesbian feelings), began to deal with the fact that I was bisexual when I was 22, decided I was a lesbian for a few months when I was 25, and then had to re-deal with the fact that I truly was bisexual when I was around 26. Most of this took place in the early/mid-1990s. There’s a nice simple answer for you.

What does your gay utopia look like?

My gay utopia looks like a bisexual utopia, where people are free to choose either or all genders as partners and it doesn’t mean a thing more than that. Where kids get to read fairy tales about princesses falling in love with each other, and where same-sex couples get absolute parity with opposite-sex couples in every advertising, film, radio or television medium. Where everyone on earth might date a man, and then a woman, and then a man, and then a man, and then a woman.

What does Pride mean to you?

I think it is enormously important politically, and I think it should be free, fun and highly politicised – even a little bit of anger wouldn’t go amiss. Queer people have become so fucking timid and reluctant to rock the boat.

Who do you currently have a secret crush on?

President Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica. Maybe Felix as well. I’m a big geek.

When and where was the last gay bar/club you went to?

Sluts ’n’ Squares in Portland, Oregon. But seriously, the whole city is gay here. It’s not just assimilation, it’s a complete colonisation of the straight venues (mwah-ha-ha – my evil bi-topia plans have just begun!).


17 August 2007

Able to move with ease between media, Kathleen Bryson is one of those multifarious talents that Portland attracts like moths to a benevolent flame. She is binational, bisexual and bilingual, and she is or has been an author, editor, actor, director, painter, riot grrrl, model, anthropologist, linguist and abundant storehouse of arcane information. (A few days after I interviewed her for this article, she joined my little crew for the filming of a short movie at the Washougal River; during the course of the day she cursed in Finnish, discussed the finer points of Neanderthal cranial formation with my male lead, and took off her high heels to scuffle barefoot down a steep rocky slope.)

Somewhat controversially, Bryson has publicly espoused a social-constructionist view of sexuality that considers both homoand heterosexuality to be the result of complex social and environmental factors rather than inherent genetic traits. While this might seem threatening or even perfidious to some who base their identities on an assumption of biological determinism, it is in fact more radical and less apologetic than the sentiment informing mainstream gay and lesbian political ideology. For instance, in a 2002 interview with Rainbow Network, the biggest queer Web site in the United Kingdom, Bryson asserted,

“I choose to be queer, and I’m proud of my choice. I’m sick of gay people saying, ‘It’s not my fault,’ like being queer is something to be ashamed of.”

It was during her enforced exile in Britain in the late ’90s, in the midst of a visa imbroglio, that Bryson wrote her first novel, Mush, which was published by Diva Books in 2001. Reviewers and readers variously described it as “stunningly good,” “beautiful and compulsive” and “like Margaret Atwood on acid” while cautioning that it was “definitely not for those who like to read about fluffy bunnies and sip a cup of Horlicks before bed.” It won her a two-book deal, the first fruit of which is Girl on a Stick (She-Devil Press, 2007; $16.95 softcover).

The protagonist of Girl on a Stick is Clementine Logan, a jaded American with flame-red hair sojourning in London at the turn of the millennium, who forms an intense relationship with a beautiful Norwegian boy named Per. (Warning: Plot spoilers ahead.) Their relationship seems on the verge of tearing both of them apart throughout the course of its three-year slow-motion car crash, with indiscretions, infidelities and histrionics on both sides. Superimposed over the sexy ups and delirious downs of their stormy coupling are Clementine’s disturbing childhood memories of abuse at the hands of her Catholic priest, who also tormented her with puzzles, riddles and rebuses. Ultimately, Per’s Brad-Pitt-like beauty can’t compensate for his lying, cheating and excessive drinking. To the author’s credit, however, she doesn’t paint the two main characters in the broad brushstrokes of hero and villain.

Although there’s no denying the third-wave feminist perspective that informs her work, Bryson is too mature, honest and iconoclastic a writer to reduce her characters to victim vs. oppressor stereotypes. Her Clementine is far removed from the saintly Virgin Mary who appears to her in a blue haze through a bus window toward the beginning of the novel. This is a girl who keeps jars of rancid urine beneath her bed, prefers not to share her seat with strangers on the bus, gives as much emotional pain as she gets, and attempts to cut her wrist in a pathetic attempt to score sympathy from her disintegrating boyfriend. In other words, she’s human.

The novel’s pervading elegiac tone alerts the reader in advance that there probably won’t be a happy ending, but it doesn’t need one. Girl on a Stick is subversive in that it’s a love story in which the couple’s ultimate breakup is the happy ending.

It’s not that the relationship between Clementine and Per was a mistake, merely that it wasn’t meant to be forever. Equally intriguing are the novel’s stylistic innovations. Clementine, as narrator, often bridges the invisible divide to address the reader directly, in what the author says was partly intended as

“taking the piss of Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

There is extensive, semi-Joycean wordplay, and the text is enlivened with drawings, diagrams and crosswords that drive home the interconnectedness of its themes and the fact, alternately depressing and liberating, that our childhood remains with us forever.

Bryson, now 38, admits that Girl on a Stick is “loosely based on a relationship I once had” but denies that it’s entirely autobiographical.

While acknowledging the themes of power and imperialism that crisscross the book, she ultimately exorcises them, and the cynicism of Clementine, with good old-fashioned hope and resilience.

“In addition to the power stuff, I was writing about hope and green trees,” she says. “About how you break free from such systems and structures and learn to grow sprouts—extra limbs, fingers, hands—and be alive on your own terms.”

TONY LETIGRE is an artist, writer, student, fledgling publisher and brazen male hussy.


January 2007

Kathleen Bryson: Breaking Up and Breaking Away

Kathleen spills the beans on power, masochism and having an Alaskan soul.

Lucia Pajon: You wrote your first novel, Mush in 2001. Girl on a Stick was only published last month. A time span of five years. Why the long hiatus? Did you feel like you needed to explore other creative formats (which you did, with painting, exhibitions and film projects) that took over in the end or did you just need a break?

Kathleen Bryson: And I worked full-time too. My day job was as a books editor at Diva Books. Girl on a Stick was started in early 2000 and finished it in 2003. In this period, I wrote two additional novels, and nearly finished two more. I also wrote, co-produced and co-directed my first feature film. I acted in four short films. and I had three art exhibitions. I moved continents after 10 years abroad and left my close friends behind. I was functioning on 4 hours of sleep a night for about half a year. (No, I don’t take cocaine. In fact, I wasn’t even drinking coffee at one point.)

But in 2005 my health failed – I developed panic attacks, pneumonia and coeliac disease. Before that I felt like Wonderwoman – look, I can do this, and I can do this too! I lived my life on pure adrenaline. I’ve always been like that, someone who wants to paint as well as write, etc. And I still have all that energy and desire, but so I don’t get pneumonia again or drive my long-suffering girlfriend and friends crazy, I am learning the benefits of trying to pace myself.

LP: Going back to Mush briefly, it is a very atmospheric tale where the Alaskan wilderness takes almost a primordial role. (I thought of books like Surfacing by Margaret Atwood and even Life After God by Douglas Coupland, they are of course on very different levels, but the wilderness is always there) It doesn’t feel like just a background for the story of Nicky, Carol and Helen but more like a mirror where you can see the strong pull of the characters on one another and also their dark side, which pushes them apart. Here we have Nature acting like a dreamscape, the bucolic on one hand and the Gothic terror on the other. There’s always tension. Do you agree with this or am I just going nuts?

KB: No, I totally agree with you (and thank you for the extremely flattering comparisons). Except it’s not a dreamscape or exotic for me, of course, it’s just describing what it was like and felt like growing up. I was born and raised there; I lived there half of my life. The smells, the way it looks – I miss it terribly. I am an Alaskan through and through. At the same time, Alaska currently has one of the most fucked-up political and social environments for anyone progressive, gentle, queer. I can’t live there as an adult, but the lo-fi nature of Washington, Oregon makes me want to scream “Don’t you want to see real wildness from time to time?” I am a little feral and sometimes feel like I’m caged by society, stalking back and forth. That may account for some of the tension you’re picking up on in Mush. Kind of a social cabin fever.

LP: Girl on a Stick is a 360 degrees journey from Mush. The comings and goings of a heterosexual couple in a very urban set (London) versus a lesbian threesome with lots of Alaskan forest to think of (and a bit of Seattle too). Was this intentional? And did the thought of a wider market have any consideration at all or was this done from a purely bisexual perspective?

KB: I lived in Stockholm for three years. In 1992, I read a book by Hjalmar Söderberg whose title would be translated as The Serious Game. Basically it is about the breakdown of a relationship from a man’s point of view, set in and written in the early 1900s. Many years later, there was a feminist novel written in response called For Lydia from the woman’s point of view. It made me think that I too wanted to explore how a relationship can move from genuine love to a break-up. Why? What are the power dynamics, particularly in a man-woman relationship? At the time, I had just had my own breakdown of a long-term (heterosexual) relationship, and I was trying to understand that breakdown, so obviously I had a vested interest. In a way, Mush and Girl on a Stick are sister novels, a dichotomy (and I hate dichotomies!) where one is the forest and one is the city; one is gay and one is straight. So yes, maybe it is a purely bisexual and bi-environmental perspective: I am both the forest and the city; I am both gay and straight.

There wasn’t any calculation in terms of market– I would have written something far more mainstream than Girl on a Stick if I wanted to be calculating!

LP: Sex and the Catholic Church are very much present in your book. Clementine, an American student in a relationship with hunk Norwegian Per keeps on having these religious visions in the most unlikely places; on the bus going home or when grabbing a carton of milk from the fridge; it doesn’t really matter whether it’s before or after having sex with Per. Bible references sit together with pretty explicit sex scenes. It actually shows the hypocrisy of any religious institution very well. Did you have this in mind from the beginning?

KB: Sex is weird, it can be one of the most intimate and most detached things you can do with another human being, and sometimes both at once. I consciously juxtaposed sections from the Catholic prayer book and the Examination of Conscience (a fine example of masochism) with moments in the relationship (which sometimes included sex), but never because that moment had to do with sex; it was only because it had to do with the greater relationship. Yes, this did have to do with the subject of general religious hypocrisy, and also to highlight what are ridiculously considered “sins” (fortune-telling, giving credence to dreams etc.) by the Catholic church.

LP: Clementine was molested by the priest of her local parish in Kripton, her hometown when she was a child. Why did you choose this incident to fill up your main character’s background? It wouldn’t necessarily justify her reactions not just toward the Church but in her relationship as well or would it?

KB: Something that makes me more furious than anything is the way the Catholic Church has covered up their child sexual abuse scandals. That has to do with power and hierarchy, and that is one of the key elements (and plots) in Girl on a Stick.

Women and children have limited power in our society: there is a skewed dynamic present within adult-child relationships of any kind, and sometimes within adult heterosexual romantic relationships. I do think if you have experienced powerlessness of any sort, it makes you prone to exhibiting the same reactions that you did previously, if you’re not on guard. In context, all of those reactions are reasonable – fear, masochism, defensiveness, bullying, anger, strength-through-abidance, numbness, purposeful ignorance – and some are even healthy reactions. They all come from a place of self protection. In the book, Clementine, quite powerful in her own right, repeats her reactions (I don’t want to use the word “mistakes”, because clearly the mistakes were not hers). She initially lacks the tools to change things comprehensively. She has awareness, but little self-belief.

Girl on a Stick is about power and how it is misused, particularly against the left-wing of the church (represented by Father Clifden), and also against the character of Clementine by the "evil" priest Father Deegan. It's also about other types of power – institutional (the greater Catholic church), economic (McDonalds, the U.S.), international (the U.S. and the Bush junta), masochism (socially enforced self-sabotage) and sexism ( Clementine's relationship with her boyfriend ).

LP: Per cheats on her repeatedly but she ponders on the cause and the cure for far too long. Did you do this to take the potential glamour off that masochistic streak that seems to creep up in people at times? Did you want to say that playing damaged for too long is not that sexy after all?

KB: Absolutely. Not that sexy, and not that healthy.

LP: There are plenty of word games and riddles in this book. Some were posed by Father Deegan as a form of psychological abuse, some were made by Clementine in her own head, part of her own stream of consciousness. Do you like riddles and are you good at them?

KB: If you mean medieval-era and Old Norse type of poem-riddles, I am good at them. I love mysteries. I am not particularly good at newspaper puzzles because I have very little patience, though I am surprisingly capable at Sudoku. I like games based on logic and intuitive thinking, like Riven. When I was 13, I was the first in my junior high to solve out the early problem-solving computer adventure game The Wizard and the Princess, and it made me feel very smug to beat all the computer-geek boys (it never occurred to me that I was a computer-geek girl). I also figured out a rather slow method of solving the Rubik’s cube on my own.

LP: Clementine’s visions are very colourful and they are my favourite part of the book. When did the apparitions of the Virgin Mary come into place in this book? What was first, Clem and Per or the Virgin Mary?

KB: Clem and Per were first. I am not sure when the Virgin showed up. She just kind of appeared, like an apparition itself.

LP: Clementine is in London at a time when the world witness America’s September 11th and the Iraq war. Many authors have chosen to refer to these events in their books in more or less explicit ways. A recent queer example is Michelle Tea’s Rose of No Man’s Land. Did you also feel the need to do this?

KB: No. I started writing the novel in early 2000. I knew the novel’s timeline would cover 3-4 years. Some pretty big shit happened while I was writing Girl on a Stick, to put it mildly. An election was stolen, a city was attacked, and two wars were started. Right after September 11th, I quit writing Girl on a Stick for about half a year. I couldn’t see how I could write about what was going on without seeming prurient and self-serving, and besides, like many other world citizens, I was still reeling and sick with anger at George Bush, religious fundamentalists of all ilks and all the “writerly” responses to September 11th that appeared afterwards. But I knew I needed to pick up the book again and finish it. I could hardly ignore what was going on and set Girl on a Stick in a Utopian world where the attacks on New York and the aftermath had never happened. That would have been even ickier. So less desire, more necessity.

LP: War is unfortunately a universal issue; did you think of its effects this way and decided to use the current events in your book to build up Clementine’s head or was it more of a natural reaction from an American citizen’s point of view?

KB: As it happened, because I was writing about power imbalances, cultural imperialism, and codes that you can never crack, my subjects segued straight in with the world around me in the years 2000-2003. So yes, once I started again after the New York and Afghanistan attacks I did use the current events to build up what was happening to Clementine. I don’t think this is an immoral thing for a writer to do. I believe in political art. I was writing to deplore the Bush administration and religious fundamentalism. On the other hand, I was so immersed in the character and the plot, that I am not sure whether it was just the character reacting to the events. Clementine’s reactions have a lot to do with how I was seeing the world at the time – impossible, cruel, and fixed. I think I remained true to what Clementine’s views would have been, and if they happen to dovetail with my own, then that’s because we have some stuff in common.

LP: As an American student living in London, Clementine shows us the ever present stereotyping of US citizens by others (British in this case). There is irony and at times anger. What’s the stereotype you find most annoying?

KB: I’ve lived 19 years in Alaska and 13 years overseas, and only lived in the continental U.S. for a little over 5 years. So I’ve put up with a bit of shit since I’m a constant ex-pat. I guess I find the assumption that many Americans aren’t critical thinkers the most annoying. Jesus Christ, the most critical thinkers (and the people I know who are the most critical of the Bush administration) are all American. I’ve attended secondary school, undergraduate and graduate school in both Europe and the U.S. and generally the quality of education (and propensity to challenge the instructors) was higher in the U.S. And the whole U.S. Labor movement, alongside the Civil Rights, women’s and queer movements, was completely astute and political and passionate. So the “dumb, politically oblivious American” thing bugs the fuck out of me.

LP: Your character lives in London and you have too for several years. Tell us something you really like about London and something you would definitely send to Room 101.

KB: It’s Hackney I miss most. I miss getting hummous and olives and halloumi from the Turkish grocery round the corner. I miss London’s pace. I miss the diversity. I miss my lovely friends.

I would send to Room 101 the black dirty soul-consuming fury and hate for the world and yourself that takes place when you are sitting on a 253 bus from Camden to Hackney with no mp3 player or book, an hour delayed in back-to-back traffic looking out the windows at the night rain, wondering why your life is going by like this.

LP: I like the black and white illustrations in the book. They are quirky. What’s behind them, why in Girl on a Stick?

KB: They are part of the greater codes in Clementine’s life, and each one of them links to the greater story – whether it’s the snake-and-egg motif, the young-woman-in-an-old-woman’s-body, or just an explanation of how Father Deegan set up his rebus puzzles. Behind all of this is the idea that power – political power, religious, corporate, the heterosexual male - has codes, sometimes impermeable to decryption.

LP: Writing, painting and filming: which one gives you more pleasure and which one is the most painful?

KB: Writing gives me the most pleasure. Filmmaking/acting is the most painful. I have a suspicion that filmmaking will turn out to be the most pleasurable, too, it’s just that we’ve been in post production for so long, we haven’t got to the fun part yet – the festivals, the screenings, the joy.

LP: Have you got a favourite author?

KB: I like surrealism, cleverness, satire and heart. Angela Carter. Haruki Murakami. Douglas Adams. Charles Addams. Randall Kenan. Geoff Ryman. Ali Smith. Jane Bowles. Mikhail Bulgakov. Toni Morrison. John Irving. Saki. Tove Jansson. Margaret Atwood. Mabel Maney, John Steinbeck.

LP: What are you reading at the moment?

KB: Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, Titus Groan by Marvyn Peake.

LP: What projects have you got in mind for the future?

KB: These aren’t really future projects, because they’re more or less completed, but they’re in the pipeline: in 2007, my feature film The Viva Voce Virus – which we’ve been working on since 2002 – will be finished. My next novel, He’s Lucid, set in global-warming Alaska 100 years in the future will be released in early 2008. And my mainstream (but still quirky) fairy-tale novel The Matchbox, completed last year, will hopefully be sold by my agent.

Future projects, on the other hand, include: Crafty, a documentary on craft makers in London’s modern East End, which has been filmed but not edited, another mystery film project, a children’s book illustration project on the Alaska poems of Robert Service – and finishing my science-fiction chimpanzee-human interbreeding novel Hybrid Vigor, which I have been working on for over ten years.

LP: If Mush were a film, whom would you choose to play Nicky, Carol and Helen? (don’t worry about the budget just yet…)

KB: God! I would love for someone to make a film of Mush. I could see it as sort of Lynne Ramsey semi-experimental or a David Lynch type film. Let me have a think. Ellen’s a little older – she could be played by someone a bit edgy like Fairuza Balk. Then Siri Baruc as Nicky. I do think Lindsay Lohan is a very talented actress and she or Scarlett J might do a fantastic job as Carol. Or Michelle Trachtenberg. Yeah. She would be great.


December 2006

What are you reading in bed at the moment? And recently? And what do you
think of those books? Do you read different things in bed and out of bed?

Encyclopaedia of Snow by Sarah Miano isn't good to read in bed; it's experimental, and I keep dropping off. I just finished Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog - perfect bedtime reading as well as being the funniest book ever. And I read the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami when I was sick for months, which was creepy and amazing. It had me looking for extra doors in my bedroom.

Do you write in bed? Why/why not?

I don't write in bed, but I edit [my own work] occasionally.

What does the main character in your new book get up to in bed?

In my new book, Clementine has anal sex to Pulp songs in bed, lies listening to Hackney car alarms and blackbirds who mimic them, pretends the trees outside are fuzzy broccoli and tries to make a patch of sunlight dance from her hips to her crotch.

What is on your bedside table apart from books? And in any drawers or secret

By my bed are a tiny Greek urn that belonged to my grandma, a Japanese fishing buoy that looks like a crystal ball, long branches with fake silver berries, a golden glass apple, an empty 1950s cut-glass perfume decanter and a candle that smells like pine forests.



December 2006 (with Denis Kehoe)

You probably don't know it, but there is little doubt you've come across Kathleen Bryson before. The painter, actress, editor and film-maker has worked on all things queer for over ten years and continues to push the envelope in her new novel, as Denis Kehoe discovered.

"My big thing is hypocrisy. I have a real problem with it, and I have a real problem with hypocrisy in the acting industry as well," says Kathleen Bryson over the phone from London, where she is busy at work editing a feature film about the closeting system in Hollywood.

I've called her to interview her about her second novel, Girl on a Stick, but it comes as no surprise that she should be so involved in another art form just as the book is coming out. The Alaskan native is a writer, film-maker, artist and actress, among other things, and has always been careful not to define her job description too rigidly.

"I've always been quite stubborn about not pigeon holing myself. I'm kind of that way about sexuality as well," she says with characteristic good-humour and frankness.

Though she has been with her German girlfriend for more than ten years, Bryson has also had her fair share of heterosexual experiences and has said in the past that she has been in love twice: once with a man and once with a woman. Her first novel, Mush, was about a menage-a-trois between three women in Alaska, but it is a heterosexual relationship that is at the core of Girl on a Stick.

About the book Bryson says, "It's about power and I suppose power is quite critical in some heterosexual relationships." The book charts the turbulent relationship between two foreigners in London: Clementine from Washington State, a "sparky but annoying young woman"[as Bryson describes her to me] who is "moving towards a recognition of her own complicity, her own masochism" and green-eyed Norwegian beauty, Per.

It is a book that gets right into the blood and guts of a relationship with language that, like its central character, is sassy, knowing, vulnerable and often damn funny.

Bryson seems glad when I comment on the book's humour as well as its undeniable seriousness. "My girlfriend doesn't think so. Well, because my first book was even bleaker."

The title Girl on a Stick refers in part to the "Man on a Stick" (Jesus) and religion figures heavily in the book, specifically Clementine's relationship with the Catholic Church. In the book she remembers the sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager at the hands of a predatory priest back home as well as recalling fond memories of her friendship with a much nicer man of the cloth. She experiences religious hallucinations while in London and is very much involved in the process of questioning the Church and its role in her life.

Bryson says, "I think that Clementine's relationship between herself and the Church might be read as a slightly blasphemous relationship. I think it has saturated her life to such an extent, both for good and bad, that that's the sort of code she has to understand."

Bryson's mother is Irish-American and Bryson herself grew up Catholic, although her local church was "very radical for Alaska". Though she is horrified by the sexism of the Catholic Church, her faith in a higher being remains an enormously important part of her life. She says, "I'm definitely not an atheist. I'm not even an agnostic. I actually have quite a good sense of something good out there."

Like Clementine, Bryson has lived in London, where she spent ten years. It was there she met her girlfriend, when they were both members of the Lesbian Avengers.

Of the Lesbian Avengers Bryson says the experience was "inspiring", but also "in some ways it was sort of my real moment as opposed to my idealised feminism."

While in London Bryson and her partner became involved in a mammoth immigration appeal, trying to get their immigration rights as a same-sex couple recognised, which they eventually won. It was also in London where Bryson worked as a publisher for the Millivres Prowler Group whose publishing departments Diva Books and The Gay Men's Press are now both sadly deceased.

A year ago Bryson and her partner moved back to the States and they currently reside in Portland, an "extremely leftist little bubble". She says she is "completely freaked out by life in the States. It feels very strange." She mourns the fact that, "the secular state of the United States has been completely eroded" and asserts "I'm very much in favour of a secular state." But the future doesn't look all that bad for the States. It is the day after the Congress and the Senate elections and the Democrats have already taken Congress. "It would be fantastic if the Senate went as well," says Bryson. "It would mean that America has woken up."

And perhaps it's time too that those who hadn't previously heard of Bryson woke up to this delicious American talent.


27 May 2004 (with Nathalie Weinstein)

I have a feeling Kathleen Bryson would have been comfortable throwing back a bottle of wine with the Brother's Grimm in a secluded cabin in the middle of an enchanted forest.

At first glance, her rich colored, textured paintings appear to be merely picturesque landscapes. However, looking deeper into "Stravinsky's Bird & Schroedinger's Cat," you see the imaginary pets of a musical virtuoso and Nobel Prize-winning mathematician frolicking amidst tangled vegetation, illuminated flowers and smears of night sky. Stravinsky's bird presides menacingly over a nest of what look like Russian nesting-egg dolls, while Schroedinger's cat leans back, ready to leap into the night sky.

You can almost imagine this scene on the tattered pages of a leather bound anthology of creepy children's stories, shoved on a darkened shelf in an obscure used bookstore.

Born in Alaska, Bryson moved to Sweden at age eighteen to study archeology. There she dug up the graves of Vikings, channeling the ghostly energy into her paintings. She also has a B.A. in Swedish and Anthropology, a postgraduate diploma in classical acting form the London Academy of Performing Arts and an MA in independent film and video from the London Institute.

It seems the only thing she isn't trained in is art, her main passion and the thing she appears to excel at the most.

"I am pretty much self-taught," Bryson said, "I've never studied painting or writing and those are the things I love the most." Bryson finds herself inspired by the Alaskan wilderness. "Alaska, you see, is a wilderness full of magic," Bryson said. "Spirits live in the trees; creepy insects crawl around the forest floor. Nothing is safe, but everything is exciting."

You can see this sense of danger and wonder in her landscapes, tranquil and beautiful but with something inherently sinister beneath the surface.

In "Cyborg Letting Snow Fall On Himself," a half- human, half-machine lays sprawled out on an icy winter landscape, flanked by twisting grouping trees. The snow is scattered with marks that look like the entry holes of bullets in glass. Bryson has included all forms of mixed media in her work, including saliva, lipstick, nail polish, needles, fake fur and barbed wire. She is unafraid to inject the ugly into her work, placing the beautiful alongside the grotesque. Currently she has been throwing the other-worldly into her pieces, ghosts, fleeting vapor, low whispers and the glow of the full moon.

Her latest exhibit "Lucky Charms" has to do with unreal, superstitions and magic.

"Lucky Charms is the idea of carrying things," Bryson said. "The idea of taking stuff with you. Its sort of like the invisible lucky charms people wear. In the widest interpretation, you are surrounded by the good thoughts and blessing of other people. Those are the best kind of charms."

See the haunting work of Kathleen Bryson from June 1 through June 30 at Interzone Cafe on 1563 Monroe, across from campus. Contributed Photo

Sadly, newspaper print can't convey the amazing amount of detail in Kathleen Bryson's paintings. Plus, it's always cooler to see a masterpiece in person. Check out her show opening...

Diversions: What kinds of things inspire your art?

Bryson: Stuff I studied. I studied anthropology, not that subject per se, but going to museums and realizing what colors people used to make paint 20,000 years ago.

Humans are inspiring. The natural world inspires me, fairy tales, myths. I'm more interested in the bastard children than the legitimate siblings.

D:What makes your art different from everyone else's?

B: I don't know, sometimes I see stuff that is similar. My art, it's me and it makes it different. It's an individual doing their own view of life filtered through art. The source is the individual. Everyone's art is different.

D:What do you want people to feel when they observe your work?

B: It's better when people like it. Strong reactions are good. A sense of something spooky. Disarmed.

D: Tell me about this band you were in.

B: We never played any gigs. We were the most lazy of the Seattle riot grrl bands of 1992. I was living on Capitol Hill. That was the most tenuous thing on my resume. We did have a cool name. Thommy Goes Down ... it was an all-girl band.

D: What is your best road trip story?

B: My boyfriend and I had a bad breakup and I moved back to the states. I drove down the Alaska-Canada highway, going down to Seattle with my best friend. We refused to sleep.

We did Juneau to Seattle in four days.

I had an allergic reaction and I was coughing up blood in the car. My friend fell asleep at the wheel and nearly ran us off the road.

It was so nightmarish. Imagine driving into Seattle coughing up blood, hallucinating trains coming at you.

We stayed in the U-District that first night with some musicians. There was a guy singing about a chicken's asshole at three in the morning while I was trying to sleep.

D: If you could see any band live, dead or alive, who would it be?

B: Le Tigre, I think they are one of the best live bands I've seen.

D: If you could be any mythical creature, what would you be?

B: I think I'd want to be a sphinx; they can fly.

D: What makes you really happy?

B: Chai tea lattes -- simple but true.

D: What's your favorite joke?

B: I was in a pub yesterday and the cigarette vending machine said to me "You're so ugly." I walked past a bowl of nuts and they said, "Hey, you're pretty." Turns out the cigarette machine was out of order, and the nuts were complimentary.



26 May 2004 (with Melissa Bearns)

Speaking with a hint of a British accent picked up from more than a decade living in London, Corvallis artist Kathleen Bryson makes it pretty clear pretty quickly that in the game of "Which one of these is not like the other?," she's the pick. It's not really anything specific that she says. It's the way she likes to blur the lines most people draw with indelible marker, the lines and divisions that help stabilize our own unique definitions of reality.

Bryson paints richly textured, multilayered images that whisper "Magic is real." She explores other realms of existence that leave the viewer with the somewhat unsettling, slightly euphoric feeling that comes from believing, if only for a second, that realities beyond what we can see or feel do actually exist.

Her paintings imply as much as they leave out, the way the absence of noise can tell you something's wrong. Swirls of pale blues and shadows of barely-there trees are set against a whitened background with wispy air, falling snow and a cyborg lying on the ground staring up at the pallor of the sky. Werewolves, mermaids, gorgons and more otherworldy creatures populate her drawings, all alchemical distillations of two fantastical beasts blended, like her paints, into one.

With bottle-blonde hair swept into a braid away from her high cheekbones, full lips painted blood red, and slate gray eyes, it's hard to imagine this woman, who's dressed like an urban glamour girl in a smart black and white shirt unbuttoned low enough to reveal lots of cleavage, living in Corvallis. She grew up in Alaska, spent some time as a student in Sweden and spent the last decade in London.

But now that she's moved to Corvallis to be with her long-term girlfriend, who recently started working at OSU, she plans to be in Oregon for a while. She's trying to adjust to a slower, less urban lifestyle, and seems to find the quirkiness of small-town life delightful.

"Where slowness was something I longed for in London, I think I'm somewhat in culture shock," she says. In addition to painting, she's (hopefully) about to finalize a deal for a book she describes as "anti-chicklit," less "lesbian" than her last book, Mush, and "kind of wicked, funny and accessible to more people."

Meanwhile Bryson continues to work on multiple paintings at once, using glitter, lipstick and Wite-Out along with traditional paints. Playing with a world of ambiguity, she delves deeply into the gray area of muted sexuality, portraying creatures that are both and none. More recently she has been painting things that are half there — ghosts, shadows, clouds.

Bryson, who holds two passports, speculates that her transition to the barely-there images is probably a shimmering reflection, her own personal mirage, of how she's feeling these days and how the world around her feels.

"It's a subtraction rather than an addition," she explains. "Because ghosts are half, not whole. There's been a lot of upheaval for me lately. I have two passports (U.S. and British), so I feel split in two a lot. And the world feels very tenuous."

Bryson's work is displayed in her eighth solo exhibit, titled "Lucky Charms," at Interzone in Corvallis through June 30.


(with Ottilie Godfrey)
14-21 August 2002

Cherry Popping: Ottilie Godfrey discovers a new world of lesbian erotic fiction.

Diva Books have just launched 'Red Hot Diva'. An imprint of 'full-length erotic fiction' books, promising 'wild sex for modern girls' in all manner of guises. Kathleen Bryson, novelist and series editrix, looks like she could play Gloria Graham's room-mate, the blowsy whore-with-a-heart-of-gold, in any film noir. But, although training as an actor, she has contented herself with digging up Viking graves, being in a riot grrl band, and showing her paintings in a brothel.

So, how did a nice girl like her get into the world of smut?

'Millivres were already itching to do lesbian erotica when I started working freelance for them last May. I previously worked on Black Lace and Sapphire, and I edited Millivres gay male erotic imprint Zipper Books, whilst working to bring about my master plan of Red Hot Diva.'

And how did she tackle the irksome task of cherry-picking the chosen few from all that erotica?

'A good story, interesting characters, preference for contemporary tales, and it has to be horny of course! I personally favour snappy and direct sex writing.'

Ah, that would explain the first book in the series, Cherry, a tale of a gal anxious to lose her 'lesbian cherry' by indulging in every variation and permutation of sex you could think of, and a few you probably couldn't, just to make sure.

'Well, Cherry is fast-paced, gritty and funny but the next two are totally different. Scarlet Thirst, an erotic vampire crime story, is both a gender-fuck and a genre-fuck of a novel. And The Fox Tales is a collection of stories exploring the erotic fantastical. And the next two books I've got planned are equally unique. Pirates! Jewellery design!'

Is it me or do they sound quite camp?

'As long as it doesn't upstage the horniness factor and turn into pure farce, I think that's fine. I probably try to encourage it, since I'm a sucker for a Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! retro aesthetic.'




11 November 2001 (with Jessica Berens)

Ten years ago the World Health Organisation still classified homosexuality as a disease. Now we have same-sex weddings, credit cards stamped with the word "Queer" and more than 4m viewers voting for Big Brother's Brian. Jessica Berens talks to a new generation of gay entrepreneurs who are coaxing Britain out of the closet...

[...] Life may be more affordable for gay men, but there is less evidence of it being so for gay women. "No money," says puppeteer Nenagh Watson, when I ask her why lesbians do not enjoy a higher profile.

"No money," says novelist Kathleen Kiirik Bryson, when I ask her the same thing. "That is why we all live in Brixton or Hackney."

The public response to gay men might be becoming ever more enlightened, but the same cannot be said for its attitude towards gay women. Lesbians are still a tiny, powerless subculture whose most public aspect is as erotic fantasy for men - an absurd appropriation that serves to prove the extraordinary fact that men cannot accept that lesbians are not interested in them.

Lesbians, in general, are less accessible than gay men; the latter tend to be fabulous company and are, unsurprisingly, liked by women (ie 50 per cent of the population), while gay women cannot so easily befriend either straight women or straight men. A straight man, interested only in erotic challenge, is unlikely to talk to a lesbian about her art or her travels or her postgrad dissertation on post-structuralism. He is just going to sit there wondering what, you know, she actually does in bed and then laugh nervously about it later with his mates in the Slug and Lettuce. Dykes are still going round the outside.There are no British light-entertainment equivalents to Graham Norton and Julian Clary, no funny lesbo giving a glitzy spin on reality and making it safe for everybody.

Lesbian writers, meanwhile, while single-handedly propelling the genre of erotic fiction from dull foreplay to the interesting realms of slash lit and other forms of progressive and dimensional experimentation, remain at the back of the bookshop under a special label and, with one or two exceptions, are ignored by newspaper 'culture' sections.

Kathleen Kiirik Bryson, a womanly 32-year -old, has platinum-blonde hair, red lipstick and a girlfriend with whom she has been living for seven years. 'I tend to get hit on by more men than women,' she says, not minding, particularly. She speaks Swedish, has studied anthropology and recently published her first novel, Mush .

Born in Alaska, she currently earns her living editing gay male pornography for the Prowler company. 'I have no patience for biologically ascribed sexuality,' she says. 'I think of myself as queer, but it wasn't until I lived in Seattle in 1993 and Queer Nation arrived, that it was suddenly OK.'

There is evidence that, like gay men, younger dykes are now shrugging off the stereotypical lesbian trappings and are joining instead the ever-growing, ever-lovin' polymorphous parade. Long constrained by a self-evolving principle that asked them to be butch or femme, the new queer ladies are instead doing what they want.[...]


November 2002 (with Jan Birks)

Jan Birks meets the sexy, talented editor of a hot new lesbian fiction imprint...

Kathleen Bryson is not just a pretty face. She was raised in Alaska. She has dug up Viking graves, performed in a Riot Grrl band, exhibited her paintings in a brothel, trained as an actor, and received her MA in Independent Film. She has lived in Stockholm and Seattle and currently lives in London with her girlfriend of seven years where she works as a fiction editor, and still acts, paints and writes, too.

We met this sassy platinum blonde at the Red Hot Diva book launch party, and after listening to her impressive speech about women in erotic publishing, we knew she'd be a good catch for Forum.

Forum: You were born in Alaska, weren't you?

Kathleen: Yes, in Barrow, on the Arctic coast. It's the most northern city in Alaska, and I grew up for the first few years of my live in Wainwright, where my parents were teaching, and then they moved south to the Kenai Peninsula, and that is where I grew up from the age of three to 18. My parents still live there. I was the oldest of four - girl, boy, girl, boy - and my family are eccentric, like the Six Feet Under family, only possibly slightly less neurotic. We all fought a lot, but there was always a lot of fun, too. My parents are still married. They're so sporty - they're fanatical about canoeing and camping and running for fun on Sundays and my father runs about seven miles a day. My parents aren't natural athletes; actually, none of us is, but we kids were taught that if you work hard it eventually adds up to natural ability, and we all grew up with this sportsman mentality.

Forum: Were your teenage years rebellious?

Kathleen: No, because my parents were strict when I was growing up. They deny it now because they are so chilled out, and they claim not to remember, but as the oldest I had a curfew of 11 o'clock. This kind of thing, of course, I remember quite clearly!

Forum: Were you happy at school?

Kathleen: No, because I was kind of a freak, and I wanted to leave quite desperately.

Forum: In what way? Visually?

Kathleen: Not so much visually - a little bit, maybe, in terms of a punk/new wave look, but more in the sense that I argued with my teachers a lot. I was brought up by parents who were feminists and who encouraged you to speak your mind, and then at the age of 13, you are no longer allowed to be yourself. You are treated more like a girl than a person, and I continued to be a person, and argue with my teachers,a nd say what I thought - getting pissed off with stuff that was unjust. It was your standard American high school full of cheerleaders and jocks, and I didn't really find a home - apart from the drama club. I had lots of good friends, but I was really glad to graduate and get out of there.

Forum: What subject did you study at university?

Kathleen: I was so flaky, I didn't apply for university the first year. I just didn't bother doing it. Instead I became an exchange student, and moved to Sweden, and I fell in love with a Swedish guy there and we went back and forth between Alaska and Sweden, and I studied at the University of Stockholm, and eventually after three or four years, we split up and I went to Seattle. Seattle was my first American city in the continental sense.

Forum: Was Seattle conservative?

Kathleen: No. Sweden was, on the other hand - although you wouldn't think so. Alaska certainly was. In Seattle, however, I was surrounded by people who were socially left, and even though I had been brought up that way, it was wonderful to be surrounded by so many like-minded people. The University of Washington was really cool because I had been to four different universities at that point, and they accepted all my transfer credits. So I only had a year and a half to graduate, and I graduated there.

Forum: When did you come to London?

Kathleen: In 1994. I had a huge college loan to pay back at this point, and I couldn't, so I needed to defer it by entering full-time education, so I went and did a post-graduate course at the London Academy of Performing Arts. I guess I certainly have travelled a lot.

Forum: What did you think of British attitudes, particularly towards sex, compared to other places you had lived?

Kathleen: I had always been used to bi-positive attitudes, and that had always been my field as well, and I guess at the academy, they didn't know what to do with me. Because I was this little grunge girl. Eventually we got used to each other, but it took me a year to adjust. It was a very upper-middle-class environment in Chelsea. I met my girlfriend in 1994, and that was really nice, but college was a different life to my romance with her, and it was the first time I felt lonely since I was 14.

I am quite good socially and I can usually figure out what to say, but I didn't know how to at this college. I didn't know the rules. At least in the US, I would have been aware of cultural subtexts, but that first year in London, I guess I found it unfriendly. Saying that, I just got back from the States and I couldn't get used to people saying hello to me! It drove me nuts.

I also noticed how people are desperate to label you, here. I always make a point of saying what my sexuality is - either in interviews with Sapphire [Virgin's lesbian imprint] or interviews I did about my book, Mush, and make it clear that I am "bisexual" - although I don't actually believe in labels. And whether the interviewers are gay or straight, they still want to call you a "lesbian" because it's safer and you are very much forced into biologically-based sexuality. I can understand here that many people are fighting for their rights, but I also feel labelling can be quite damaging. You should be able to say, "I choose to be queer, and that's a good choice," and that should be enough, rather than, "I am sorry - I wish I could be straight." I can't handle it when people say taht. Or, "Do you think I would choose to be gay?" I can do without that, too. I think people like to shove you in one of two categories, and even the bisexual label I have my problems with. I went to a Seattle bisexual women's group, and people do tend to conform to stereotypes.

Forum: I noticed at the red Hot Diva book launch how women were very supportive and complimentary about each other. You don't get that so much in hetero women circles.

Kathleen: Yeah - to use some of the usual terminology, straight women can be more bitchy than men!

Forum: It's amazing how many straight guys find bi women a turn-on. Many fantasise about their wife/girlfriend taking a female lover, and encourage it in reality. What do you think of that?

Kathleen: Well, I find that interesting and possibly quite sexist, because it's saying that women are less potent, or are no threat to the original relationship. They're "safe". There is this view that women are always gentle. Even reading novels that presumably straight women write with lesbian sex scenes, well, the sex is always very gentle and loving, and I'm not saying that's bad, but men can also be very gentle and loving, and there are women who like fast, rough, quick sex.

Forum: It's pigeon-holing, isn't it?

Kathleen: That's right. I've been living with my girlfriend for seven-and-a-half years, and people say, "But of course you're 'married'," and you know what, I am not 'married', and I wouldn't be married if I were straight or gay. I want to have a separate identity, and we have our own rooms, and it is so romantic because we can negotiate.

Forum: How did you get into publishing from acting?

Kathleen: Although I have been working since I was 15, I had my first "proper" job at the age of 28 and that was working for Black Lace at Virgin Publishing. They were advertising the job of editorial assistant in the Guardian two years previously and I was offered it, but I had to say no due to visa problems. Then I was secretarial temping, and on the same day my grandfather died, I thought, "What the hell?" and called up Virgin and started at the same job I'd once "lost". My life changed immediately from there on. I loved working with Kerri (Sharp, editor of Black Lace). I still work three days a week in publishing, but at MPG instead of Virgin, and I love my colleagues here as well, but on the other two days a week I act, mainly in indie films, or paint, or write - having those two "days off" was how I got a chance to write my own novel. On the other hand, I work part-time, so that has its own problems in terms of finance!

Forum: Your novel is called Mush and it's quite a creepy tale, isn't it? How would you describe your work?

Kathleen: Well, Mush is a literary novel about three girls growing up in Alaska, and having a menage-a-trois relationship as adults. Some people call it disturbing, but I prefer to think of it as atmospheric. It is creepy, though, and rather surreal.

Forum: You're editing the Red Hot Diva imprint, too, and I have read Cherry, which was a very juicy novel.

Kathleen: Cherry is grittier than anything I have ever commissioned before, but Charlotte Cooper has an instant take on things that most people can relate to. It's humorous, which makes a change from a lot of erotic writing, and it's bloody horny. It's the first book in the Red Hot Diva series of books - which is for lesbians and bi women and the people who love them - and it's a cracker.

Forum: You must get so many submissions. How do you spot a good writer?

Kathleen: I have pretty catholic tastes. I can enjoy a literary lyrical style - I like that, but I [also can] like it to be snappy like Charlotte Cooper's book, which is very streetwise. I know I've spotted a good writer when I begin reading a proposal for a manuscript, and I get lost in the story. There's that cliche of caring about the characters - but it's true. The story has to make me want to read on. In terms of erotic fiction, you can't usually have the main character dying of cancer towards the end - although that might be realistic. As with crime fiction, it's a genre. In crime, your aim is to make the reader scared. In erotica, you have to turn them on, so I suppose there are certain points you have to touch on. But just because it's genre writing doesn't mean it has to be formulaic.

Forum: Do you think erotic novels have gone as far as they can go - or do you think there is still room for new ideas?

Kathleen: it's so funny because broadsheet newspapers run a feature about the wild new craze of "women reading erotic fiction" every year, and yet they never review any of the books in their review section. A lot of erotic authors are journalists or literary authors, and the standard of writing is high, and that's what I aim for with Red Hot Diva, as well. When Black Lace first started publishing, there was not much out there, and they are still very successful, but the idea of women's erotic fiction isn't as shocking as it once was. Then again, erotic fiction probably sells on its non-acceptance, its "naughty" qualities, and always will.

Forum: Has a book ever shocked you?

Kathleen: Yes, I think it was a Nexus book that truly shocked me. As I get older and more comfortable with myself, I realise I can choose what I read and do, like I don't have to show up at that party if I don't feel like it. I used to be more impressed with the glamour of that aesthetic, but that doesn't happen as much now.

Forum: What does shock you?

Kathleen: Okay, I'll spill the beans. The book was about a dairy that milked lactating women.

Forum: What turns you on?

Kathleen: Anything theatrical. Anything stagy.

Forum: Who is your favourite erotic writer, and why?

Kathleen: I think Angela Carter's writing is inherently erotic, and also Audre Lorde's.

Forum: Why do you think lesbian erotica appeals to so many straight women?

Kathleen: I think it's that sort of bi thing - it's sort of something safe that you can fantasise about without being directly involved in. I think that's why so many straight women like homo-erotica as well because you can look at pretty boys, adn it's separate because you're not involved. It's voyeurism, really.

Forum: Do you think all straight women should have a lesbian experience?

Kathleen: Yes, but I would say that! I think, even more so, that all straight men should have a gay experience. That would chill the world out a lot. A good deal of homophobia is related to sexism, because it reverses gender expectations. If you look at pygmy chimpanzees, our closest genetically related relatives, the females mainly have lesbian experiences as opposed to heterosexual ones; most males have gay sex occasionally, and both sexes defuse group tension with loads of sex. See, if we as human apes had more positive sex instead of fighting, without these categories of who we should and shouldn't fancy, it would be a wonderful world. Probably a lot less war. And maybe there are gay men and gay women who would benefit from having sex with a member of the opposite sex, too. But I also think people should do whatever they want with other consenting adults, as the saying goes, and if it's not your bag, then fine. Just don't insist that your way is the only way.

Forum: It has been said that women are better at cunnilingus because they know how to do it, and that men give the best blowjobs because they know what the other guy wants. Do you agree?

Kathleen: I wonder whether I've ever said that! Hmm. I think it probably depends on the man or the woman. Though that's positive propaganda if I ever heard it and that can't be a bad thing.

Forum: How does working on Red Hot Diva books compare to other jobs?

Kathleen: You forget that stuff you look at clinically can come across to others as obscene. I sometimes forget the appropriateness of what I am discussing; for example, if I am discussing analingus with a person. I don't regret discussing it, but I do tend to forget my boundaries sometimes.

Forum: Because of the work we are both involved in, do you think people make the wrong assumptions about us?

Kathleen: Yeah. That's also within the BDSM and gay communities as well. Like in order to be cool, you have to toe the party line about non-monogamy(good)/monogamy(bad), even if it doesn't feel right for you personally. I find rules of whatever kind problematic, so within a subculture I find myself boxed in by the assumptions people make. Or my friends think I want to read erotica, and the last thing I want to do in my spare time is read erotic fiction, or watch television programmes about sex on Channel Five or Channel Four.

Forum: I agree. We have other interests.

Kathleen: I know other people in the industry who would rather be discussing surreal animation than sex.

Forum: What are your thoughts on the fetish scene?

Kathleen: I can't say I'm close enough to give any opinions of the fetish scene, because my involvement tends to be personal, but I do like going to cross-over clubs which have a great mix of sexuality. I like theatrical nightclubs too - places like Duckie's because it's kooky and fun.

Forum: Who are your icons?

Kathleen: In literature, I like people like Angela Carter, but I also like John Steinbeck and Ali Smith who wrote Hotel World and Geoff Ryman who recently wrote Lust, but I prefer his earlier sci-fantasy work such as The Child Garden. He is amazing. He has this vernacular voice with these really amazing unpredictable things happening. I also like films like Heavenly Creatures, which is mysterious and has a twist. I admire people like Susie Bright, who says that an amateur video of a man licking a woman's pussy is more truthful than any Hollywood sex scene where a woman comes from penetration alone - I agree with that. And when it comes to music, I have to say I saw Peaches in concert a couple of weeks ago, and she was amazing. She totally dominated the stage, was unapologetically, aggressively sexual and all the lads next to me who'd gone to see someone who was supposed to be "sexy" were quaking in their boots. She made Madonna look like a total pussycat. She's like Jim Morrison, she has that kind of stage presence, and confidence, and I don't know if I've ever seen a female music artist project that kind of total control. She rocks!


January 2001

Erin Gill talks to Kathleen Kiirik Bryson about her novel Mush, the tale of two girls from Alaska and what happens when they grow up and leave their smalltown life behind…

Kathleen Kiirik Bryson is a Hackney lesbian. Well, a Hackney bisexual lesbian, and she agrees that the east London borough, infamous for its disproportionately high lesbian population, really is overflowing with dykes.

“There are quite a few lesbian couples in our street, so many that I had to decide that I can’t acknowledge every one of them,” she laughs apologetically.

Bryson is right, though – London at the beginning of the 21st century is so full of lesbians that you can’t possibly give each one that special smile of recognition. But, like many of us, Bryson grew up in a town where same-sex couples were notable only by their absence. She grew up in Alaska, in a town of 3,000 that has since mushroomed to a whopping 6,000. And it is smalltown Alaska, as well as Seattle and Oregon, that Bryson has used for the setting for her first novel, called Mush. Bryson wrote Mush in 1997 and 1998, when she was missing home terribly.

“I’ve lived here for six years and for four and a half of them I wasn’t allowed to leave because I was fighting an immigration case to stay here with my girlfriend. During that time I really missed Alaska, because there isn’t a greater antithesis to London than where I grew up. It’s stunningly beautiful and you really do have 360 degrees of space.”

It isn’t surprising that the trees, coastline and climate of Alaska are central to Mush. That said, Mush isn’t just a book written for fans of the outdoors. It is the story of Nicky and Carol. When the reader first meets them, they are young children – scared of the woods, scared of the dark and prone to playing cruel games with each other, as children do. By the time high school ends, they are both ready to escape the state to seek adventure down south. But they cling to each other and, because both of them have discovered that they fancy women, they get together.

This being a lesbian relationship, Nicky and Carol waste no time creating an extremely domesticated life in Oregon – and one that has sharply defined gender roles. Nicky prides herself on being the butch – going to university, expecting hot dinners and a submissive sexual partner – while Carol gradually realised that being the “good wife” is stifling. Bryson admits that she wanted to explore the power struggle at the ehart of the relationship.

“In lesbian relationships, just like in heterosexual relationships, you can get a lot of this dichotomising,” says Bryson. “I love butch/femme play and I love it as theatre but, for me, it’s just a play you use to negotiate the world. Anyone who’s been in a relationship knows it’s a game. It can be fun, but that’s all it is.”

And Mush is about two women who haven’t yet figured out that their assigned roles are an act. Nicky, in particular, can’t seem to understand that 24-7 macho posturing isn’t necessary.

Into this messy, first-time lesbian relationship walks Ellen. A 24-year-old veteran of the Seattle BDSM scene, Ellen is drawn to Nicky and Carol long before she realises that they all grew up in the same town. Before long, the three form a menage a trois. Bryson insists that by introducing Ellen she was trying to re-work that tired old narrative of the third person entering a relationship which either destroys it, or the couple save their love for each other by turning on the interloper. In fact, Ellen sacrifices herself for the sake of Nicky and Carol’s sanity, in a twist at the end of the book.

If Mush sounds like a book about young dykes trying to understand themselves, that’s because it is, but Bryson admits to being worried that people will think it’s just a novel full of sex.

“When I was going through the proofs, I was shocked and thought, ‘I can’t beliwve there’s so much sex in this,’” she laughs. “I thought, ‘My mother might read this’ and my name is on it.” She jokes about keeping her parents from seeing it, but says that she’s “probably talked too much about it not to send them a copy.”

Hesitations about having her parents read a sexually-explicit novel – “I hope they just focus on the beautiful Alaskan setting,” Bryson giggles – haven’t kept Bryson from being excited that her first novel has seen the light of day.

“I’ve wanted to write a novel my entire life,” she admits. “I could actually die now and die satisfied.” Oh, except there’s the matter of a second novel, already in progress.



January 2001 (with Charlotte Cooper)

Kathleen Kiirik Bryson's first novel, Mush, has just been published by Diva Books. She dropped by the RainbowNetwork offices to tell us a few things about herself and her writing.

How do you feel when people read your work?

In one sense it's laying yourself completely open and showing your insides to people. They are going to interpret the book as being "you" whether or not it is, and that makes me slightly nervous. But it's exciting to get feedback from others when it touches them, and it's gratifying when it's what you wanted that person to feel. Like being a playwright and watching your play performed when the actors get it spot on.

What's your connection to Alaska these days?

When I was writing Mush I wasn't able to leave England because of an immigration case. I really wanted to see my family and the place where I grew up. In July 99 I finally got the stamp in my passport that meant I could leave. I went to Alaska for two weeks and have now been back twice. My immediate family still live in the town where I grew up, and a lot of my close friends as an adult are people I knew growing up, although most of them no longer live in Alaska, probably for the same reasons that I no longer live there. Even Anchorage is a small town.

Is Little Novgorod a real place?

No! It' a cleverly disguised place based on my home town. However, the whole area was colonised by Russia, so there's a Saint Petersburg too. It's not very autobiographical but the town in which I grew up has a river running through it, like Little Novgorod. My mother recognised it when she read the prologue.

The characters in Mush spend a lot of time processing the past. Do you think this is typical of lesbians?

Yeah. I think it's typical of women's social conditioning. I think that when you have two women in a relationship you spend a lot of time processing. It is very much a lesbian novel, I don't think men come into it. It's not trying to leave men out on purpose; I just wanted to write a story about women.

Which one is you?

At one point I thought it was Carol, but now I think it is Ellen. I think she is the one who is the most ambivalent about things, she straddles this dichotomy between butch and femme, she's neither this nor that, and never goes into things compeltely. When she talks about the SM scene in Seattle, it's not about being a dilettante, but she's never completely immersed in it, either. She's bisexual, which is how I describe my own sexuality. I think it would be too flattering to say I was here because I would have to put myself on a pedestal.

Have you ever been in a relationship with more than one partner?

The book came out of a non-sexual relationship I had. I have a girlfriend now, no boyfriend or other girlfriend, but I did find historically that I had been in emotional threesomes quite frequently in my life, from the age of 17 or so.

Where does Kiirik come from? You used to be known as just Kathleen Bryson.

Kiirik is a birth name that was given to me. I grew up in an Inupiat Eskimo village for the first two and a half years of my life, and it was a name my father was given to give to me. My middle name is Diane, but I've always had Kiirik on the side.



January 2001

A striking ice-blonde Alaskan living in London and with successes behind her in music, painting, acting and film, Kathleen Bryson's novel shows she's no mean poet and storyteller either. She understates the sophistication of the book, hoping that readers will recognise in Mush that,

"where there's the main thrust of the story, there's also less definable stuff woven in that has to do with memory, subjugation and fluidity."

There's a lot more besides. Somehow you see Bryson, here in London, surrounded by Alaska. She agrees home landscape shapes a person:

"Many ex-Alaskans seem to have both a reverence for the outdoors and a make-do attitude that comes when you know innately that nature is in control."

Her care with her speech mirrors that of her art.

"When I get the paint/ink in just the right, new place in a painting, it feels very similar to when I've discovered the right line in a poem - but I think my painting is more expressionistic than my writing."

A hotch-potch of tastes - Steinbeck, Margaret Atwood, The Bone People, OK! magazine are her favourites - is reflected in Bryson's difficult-to-pin-down work. What's next?

"[the novel] Girl on a Stick, a critique of Catholicism, even more experimental than Mush - and more angry."


April 1999

Kathleen Bryson is the editor of Sapphire, Virgin Publishing's new range of lesbian erotic fiction. She tells Nick Stellmacher what it's like getting dyke erotica into the mainstream, and explains her colourful past. From a snowblown Alaskan childhood where she made Eskimo friends, to a Swedish McDonalds, to the London Academy of Performing Arts, Bryson is a lesbian mover and shaker with a cosmopolitan spring in her step...

She's hiked across the wolf-strew wilds of Northern Alaska and worked in a Swedish McDonalds. Now she's overseeing the UK's first series of erotic lesbian fiction. Nick Stellmacher visits the world according to Kathleen Bryson...

"It's actually not very glamorous,"

says Kathleen Bryson about her day-job as commissioning editor of Virgin Publishing's range of gay and lesbian fiction.

"I spend a lot of my time thinking about grammatical problems, like, what's the plural of anus, kind of thing."

It's not easy to imagine this extremely bright spark knuckling down to the workmanlike job of copy editing. Painting, writing novels, playing Hawaiian slide guitar, speaking Swedish, studying archaeology - these are all activities Bryson indulges in her spare time. The bouncy 30-year-old American is also fighting a four-year battle with the immigration authorities to get permission to stay in this country with her German girlfriend. She used to be a Lesbian Avenger: she'd doubtless still be doing that too if they were still around.

Next month sees the release of Big Deal by Helen Sandler, the first of Virgin's new Sapphire range of lesbian erotic novels which will accompany the existing Idol series for gay men. It's very risqué reading (try this: "Then they were coming in unison, the dildo stuck tight up their arses as Lane bit at Carol's nipple"). It's also the first ever series of rude novels for lesbians.

The similarly explicit gay men's Idol series has been very successful with readers. The biggest problems Bryson encountered have been with buyers, who in this country are often resistant to the idea of ordering fiction containing graphic descriptions of gay sex, particularly if they have fruity pictures on the covers.

In the US it's different: buyers just buy what sells. Despite this, Virgin have succeeded in getting books from both series stocked at the classic "all good bookshops", including, importantly from a sales and accessibility point of view, travel outlets like the booksellers at main line railway stations.

Brought up in Alaska (hers being the only Caucasian family in their coastal village, the local Eskimos gave her an Eskimo name meaning "bitter and sharp, like cranberries", and raised on a diet of wilderness trekking and other rough-hewn country pursuits, Bryson has a kind of easy-going outdoorsiness unusual in the London publishing world.

"Alaska is quite a butch society," she laughs. "Famously, there are ten men to every women. Lucky me! But in terms of people's politics, there's a strange mix of the very conservative and traditional at one extreme, and the really radical at teh other - nothing in bteween.

"When I was growing up, there was no queer sensibility whatsoever - not even a helpline. Now there's even a Pride in Anchorage [the capital]. Things have changed a lot."

At 18 Bryson went to study in Stockholm. She'd met a Swedish boyfriend in the States and followed him to Scandinavia, where she learned the language working at McDonalds. Boyfriend?

"Not any more," she says. "I could still imagine having sex with men at some point, I suppose. But I have a girlfriend and would only ever 'date' women. My preferred word for my sexuality is 'queer', but that's really not used very much in Britain. I call myself a dyke as well."

Bryson's idea of a broader queer sexuality brings to mind the underlying ethic of the Sapphire series, or at least of Big Deal, in which a lesbian character acquires an interest in gay men's cruising grounds and which features some quite wild sex scenes involving lesbians and men.

"I guess we're not toeing the line of radical feminist politics, she suggests. "Not that that's a bad thing, but it would be a little 70s. All the characters in the books are what we call 'queer-identified', but if the sex is controversial for any reason, I haven't got a problem with that. We absolutely didn't want to use stories about two lesbians falling in love in Provincetown."

After Stockholm - the boyfriend didn't last - Bryson returned to the USA. This time to Seattle, in the days just before grunge kicked in.

"I came out in Seattle at a really radical time. That was the first time I felt as though I was with people who felt the same as me," she recalls. "I also got very into queer politics, and also AIDS work. Those were very formative times."

She finally graduated there, making the decision afterwards to return to Europe and live in London.

"At first I thought British society was more tolerant of gays and lesbians," she says. "Then I realised it isn't, it's just that dislike and disapproval are more outspoken in the States. That tends to make the American gay rights movement stronger. I miss the politics here, because gay life is very much based on bars and clubs."

Bryson is an accomplished and exhibited atrist. As with her publishing work, in her painting her interests are in tackling taboos and breaking down boundaries.

"I'm fascinated by melding one thing with another. My recent paintings include chimpanzee-human hybrids, cyborgs, that sort of thing. It's most definitely not what they all do in Alaska: boring old landscapes."

She's also co-writing a "Jurassic Park-style" blockbuster (about half-monkey cross-breeds stalking the Earth), and acting in a cult feature film as a "homeless bitch" (the first thing she did on her arrival in England was to train in Classical Acting at the London Academy of Performing Arts).

Trying to keep Bryson talking on one subject is tough. She doesn't show off: the difficulty is that she is genuinely interested in all her endeavours, and wants to communicate that. Sooner or later, though, we have to get back to the books.

There's been a notion, long-held now, that women respond only to very 'subtle' erotica. But the Sapphire books are out to prove that's not necessarily right.

"Of course, the goal is always to arouse the reader," says Bryson. "But it can eb done in different ways. Women can appreciate raw, if that's what they egt. Sapphire books are varied in style, from 'urban contemporary' to 'languorous' to 'lyrical', but they're all strong on plot - and strong on sex."

The Idol series has, surprisingly, garnered a large audience among married men, Virgin's research has shown.

"That's interesting - and fine," she says. "Again, it's about boundaries. ALso, we get a lot of straight women who read the Idol books, and plenty who want to write them. Now that's 'queer'!"


February 1999

Kathleen Bryson, Commissioning Editor for Virgin Publishing's new lesbian erotic fiction

Favourite thing about being a dyke?

The nervous smiles of strangers when they realise you're 30 and unmarried.

Most treasured possession?

My witch rag doll.

What item have you spent the most on?

Thigh-high leather boots.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Berkeley, California.

Where do you see yourself in 5 hours' time?

Figuring out how I'll pay for my travelcard this week.

Favourite place to eat out?

Pumpkins in Hackney.

Who do you respect most in the world?

People who say the truth at unpopular times.

Which historical figure would you most like to meet?

Hildegard von Bingen.

What/who in your life has inspired you most?

Pippi Longstocking.

Most passionate/butterfly-inducing kiss?

New Year's Eve, 1994/5.

Favourite sexual deviance?

1950s swimming caps.

Most unlikely-to-be-fulfilled sexual fantasy?

Menage-a-cinque, with me, my girlfriend, Jarvis Cocker, Xena and Anna Nicole Smith.

Favourite bodily fluid?


What turns you off?

Misplaced arrogance.

Favourite part of a woman's body?

Her dirty mind.

What makes you smile?

People laughing at funerals or while saying grace.

What's your favourite place you'll be going to this week?

Outside London.

With whom would you like to go?

My main squeeze.


July 1998 (with Mel Steel)

The first and long-awaited series of British full-length lesbian erotic fiction is to be launched early next summer by Virgin Publishing, writes Mel Steel. Promising sexy and explicit writing by and for lesbians, the new Sapphire imprint also has a lesbian commissioning editor.

Virgin already has three successful and established imprints of full-length erotic fiction: Nexus, for straight men with fetish interests; Black Lace, for straight women; and Idol, for gay men. But Sapphire represents the first substantial investment in the lesbian erotic market by a mainstream publisher.

"Virgin has put its neck out and cornered the market with its other imprints," said commissioning editor Kathleen Bryson; "and they felt that a lesbian imprint was a natural progression." The time is right, she feels. "A sexual revolution has gone on in the lesbian community since the sex wars of the 80s," she says. "This couldn't have been done ten years ago. But I'm not going to be promoting a lipstick lesbian culture to titillate men. This is for dykes."

Sapphire will launch with two flagship titles and follow up with one title every month afterwards. Submissions - from lesbian and bisexual writers only - are welcome. Bryson is looking for well-written, interesting novels; arousing, escapist fantasy; an atmosphere dripping with eroticism; and themes which embrace the experimental, forbidden, kinky, secret, decadent and liberating.

"Sapphire books are not wafty lesbian romances with a few sultry scenes thrown in," she says; and "won't strive to be politically correct separatist or feminist tracts."

But she stresses that there will be limits, including no sex with children; no [non-consensual/permanent] physical harm; and no incest.

Laurence Jauget-Paget, co-editor of lesbian sex magazine Flirt!, welcomed the news of the series. "There's a huge gap in the market," she said, "and the more there is to fill it the better."


April 1997 (with Tom Allen)

"You're always a fish out of water when you originate from Alaska," laughs artist, writer and actress Kathleen Bryson.

But on the eve of her first London exhibition of paintings at First Out, she seems to feel quite at home.

"The major art form in Alaska is painting these pans they use to look for gold. They paint mountain stills on them and sell them to tourists. The big running joke when you're growing up is that you don't want to end up doing that. I got out of there when I was 18!"

Moving to study in Sweden, Kathleen started acting.

"I appeared in short films, videos and plays, but kept on painting. I didn't really start exhibiting them [her paintings] until I moved to Seattle three years later. People's reactions ranged from disgust to fanaticism, both of which I loved."

As commissions started coming in for magazine covers and posters, she continued to work on her degree in Anthropology and played electric Hawaiian slide-guitar in a Riot Grrl band called Thommy Goes Down.

"The band was fun, but we gave up after a while; we kind of lost interest. I ended up pawning my bike in order to come to London. I haven't looked back since."

Arriving here in '94 to study drama, she ended up not painting for nine months.

"I didn't even bring my previous work with me. It was kind of good to distance myself for awhile. I got my old paintings shipped over in '96 and decided to re-immerse myself in them. A lot of the materials I use now are either found or 'stolen' [the Tippex]. Kids' paint, nail varnish, Tippex, glitter glue, even lipstick. Some pieces are very collage-styled."

But while there is a light-hearted aspect to Kathleen's work, there is a darker side as well.

"I love beautiful art, but ugliness fascinates me. I like to delve really deep into what society finds repellent. My work is definitely not minimalist. I guess you could call it 'representational': you can see what's there. But just because it's not a fish in a plastic bag doesn't mean it's not conceptual."

In keeping with her electric personality, Kathleen doesn't shy away from exploring taboos.

"My next project is going to be based around the subject of bestiality. I'm looking at the side of it that is an issue of exploitation. Throughout history people have been oppressed and dehumanised to the point of being treated like animals. As for bestiality itself, it's such a taboo in society that nobody wants to even think about it, but laws aren't made unless something exists. To me the question is one of consent [which animals are unable to give]."

From one extreme to another (something Kathleen practices with pride), she can be found down at First Out most nights for the duration of her showing, playing electric Hawaiian slide-guitar.

"I don't know if that'll create the right atmosphere to view my paintings in, but it'll make things more fun. I might even get a bubble machine. Why not?!"