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Loud-mouthed and loving life... but comedy can be Kathy's retreat, too

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 02, 2013

Kathy Lette pictured in 1997 at the British Library. The Australian funnywoman will be appearing at Chagword later this month

Kathy Lette pictured in 1997 at the British Library. The Australian funnywoman will be appearing at Chagword later this month

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She's been nicknamed "the mouth from the south", thanks to her quick-fire humour, endless put-downs and hilarious one-liners.

Keeping up with wise-cracking Australian wit Kathy Lette, whose best-selling books include Puberty Blues, Mad Cows and How To Kill Your Husband (And Other Handy Household Hints), can be an exhausting experience.

We last met nearly ten years ago, when she was writer-in-residence at London's swanky Savoy Hotel for three months, pestering her friends to ring her up and ask her the time, just so she could say, "Let me look out of the window at Big Ben."

Since then, her first novel, Puberty Blues, has been made into a TV mini-series and she has sold the rights of To Love, Honour And Betray to the BBC, while Emily Mortimer has bought the rights to her novel The Boy Who Fell To Earth.

A former TV sitcom writer for Columbia Pictures, more recently Sydney-born Kathy penned some dialogue for the 500th episode of The Simpsons – but there are no trips to Hollywood planned at the moment, she says.

"I love Ian McEwan's line about Hollywood – that you go there and lie by a pool while people betray you," she muses.

Today, she's still spouting off about men's weaknesses and women's strengths in hilarious tones similar to those in her novels, banging the drum for women's rights through her satirical prose. But has she mellowed in the last decade?

"Oh, darling, no!" she exclaims. "It's unseemly. I should have mellowed now, but no. It's getting embarrassing. I've actually got a little bit wilder. I'm 54 and found that once you hit menopause you just become so liberated. I've swung off more chandeliers in the last couple of years than I ever did."

She even tried to spice up a rather stuffy royal polo event by jokingly offering to French-kiss Princes William and Harry when she was presenting the cups, causing great hilarity among the royals. You can almost imagine her husband's eyes turning skywards.

"I never cared that much what people thought about me, but at 50 I cared even less. I thought, I've got three decades of fun and frivolity left in me if I'm lucky, so the 'now or never' thing kicked in."

Kathy, who is married to human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robinson, with whom she has two children, Julius and Georgie, plays for laughs but behind the fireball of fun is an extremely intelligent woman who has long fought for women's rights through her craft.

"If you can sugar-coat your message with humour, you're much more likely to have an impact," she insists.

Her latest book, Love Is Blind, is a bite-sized novel penned as part of the Quick Reads campaign, an adult literacy charity producing six new titles by famous authors in an attempt to hook reluctant readers.

Kathy's contribution, in all its pink-jacketed glory, is about Jane, a woman who moves to the Australian outback in search of a husband, to the horror of her prettier sister Anthea, who already has a fiance. When Anthea receives a wedding invitation, she ventures to Australia to try to stop her sister's latest crazy plan – and ends up taking a walk on the wild side herself.

In typical Kathy style, she shows how women stick together when the chips are down and, perhaps more unusually, that not all men are idiots (but some are).

Behind the wall of comedy, however, writing has been Kathy's salvation while going through her own personal anguish when it was discovered her son Julius, now 21, has Asperger's Syndrome.

She opened up about it last year in her novel The Boy Who Fell To Earth, about a boy with Asperger's, and while it had the trademark humour of all her books, it was a darker read.

Julius was diagnosed when he was three and had stopped talking. "When you get a diagnosis like that it's like a cold knife sliding into your heart," she says. "You are just in the dark. The first thing that happened was denial. I just ricocheted around the country seeing every expert I could."

Her husband could compartmentalise things to get on with everyday life, but she couldn't, she reveals. She kept sane by writing.

"I just wrote and wrote and wrote. I escaped into comedy at the worst times. It's a defence mechanism. If you can crack a joke, you don't have to strip off your emotional underwear."

But she found she was socially isolated at the school gate because Julius was different.

"I remember when Jules had just been expelled from his fourth pre-school. I was desolate and desperately upset about what to do with him. I saw this other mother weeping at the school gate and I thought she must have had a diagnosis of some kind. I put my arm around her and said, 'What is it?' She said, 'It's my son. He's five and he's not taking to his French.' I could have got into my car and run her over repeatedly."

Kathy now sees the positive aspects of her son's condition – many people with Asperger's have a very high IQ (she describes Julius as "Wikipedia with a pulse") – and that with the right help they can have a very productive life.

Plus, she's had many hilarious moments with Julius, who cannot filter his thoughts so just says what he is thinking. "He can't lie – he just says the truth all the time. I took Julius to 10 Downing Street once when he was 11 or 12 and introduced him to Tony Blair. Julius said, 'Ah, you're the one my mother calls Tony blah, blah, blah'."

While Julius's condition inevitably put a strain on the family, Kathy's marriage to Robertson remained solid. They've been together for more than 20 years after meeting on his Australian chat show.

At the time they were both already in relationships. Kathy was married to a TV executive but left him a week later. Robertson was dating Nigella Lawson.

"It was traumatic but really exciting. But when I came here, the gossip columns put me in social Siberia. It took me a while to make friends," she has said.

These days her pals include Stephen Fry, Salman Rushdie and a clutch of best-selling female novelists. She regularly meets up with Joanna Trollope, Joanne Harris, Fay Weldon and Deborah Moggach.

Her next book is set in the law courts of London and she promises it will be female-led, funny and feisty.

There's little doubt Kathy will be having the last laugh.

Love Is Blind by Kathy Lette is out now. Published by Black Swan, it is priced £1.

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