Kim Kelly

Australian Author

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
SARAH

Our intrepid Reflector today is another old pal from uni days, someone whose eloquence and honesty astounded me like a lovely dancing light when we were teens, but someone I lost contact with soon after we each went our separate ways.

I’m not sure that she’d remember, but that crisp candour of hers attempted to warn me off making a terrible mistake with a fellow when I was in my early twenties. I didn’t listen, of course. And of course, she was right about him.

I’ve carried her rightness around with me all these years and, as rightness goes, we’re back in each other’s orbits now.

And I’m delighted to introduce you to her here as she answers our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

I’m Sarah Maddock, born in Chatham, Kent.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

The first time I played Duran Duran’s eponymous first album. I remember putting the LP on the turntable, playing it over and over again and dancing around the living room like a lunatic. It was such an awakening: the realisation that pop music could excite me so profoundly and transport me from my tedious, suburban life into another world. The world of the New Romantics.

What does home mean for you?

I moved from a little village in Cambridgeshire to Manly when I was seven. My mum was terribly homesick and wanted to return to Australia. It was my first time on a plane and I spent most the journey feeling travel sick. I recall being engulfed in a blanket of humidity when we walked across the tarmac during the stopover at Kuala Lumpur airport.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Australia was vomit in a taxi. I remember my stressed dad shoving a clutch of dollars into the taxi driver’s hand to pay for cleaning the car and the shame I felt at having disgraced myself in this foreign place.  

My first Australian home was a migrant hostel with a communal kitchen. Soon afterwards, we moved into an apartment on the beachfront. Everything was so alien. I’d never had a shower before or heard sea spray lashing the windows on a stormy night.

Mum would pack chocolate milk with cream cheese spread and cucumber sandwiches for our school lunches. She’d forgotten what it was like to live in a hot country. Every day I opened my bag to find the milk was curdled and the white bread sandwich melted into a soggy mass of processed cheese and limp cucumber.

After a few months, we moved again. Out to the western suburbs of Sydney, where I was known at school as ‘Pommie bastard’. I quickly learnt I had to be tough and strident to survive. But at least I wasn’t the Aboriginal girl in the year above me or one of the Greek kids who lived in the purple house around the corner. They were the school pariahs. It was white, outer suburban Australia in the 1970s. Barren, small-minded and mean of spirit.

I guess I’ve spent my adult life running away from that version of home. Searching for somewhere that embraces diversity, where there is always something new to see or do, where history and modernity combine to create a place that is as stimulating and vibrant as it is challenging.

Right now, that place is London. London means home.

What makes you smile?

My kids being silly together. Random acts of kindness in public places. Watching the HBO series, Veep. Unexpected invitations. A beautiful garden. Art galleries of all shapes and sizes. Shaun Micallef. Birdsong. Buying books. My neighbour bringing over a plate of date scones. The Cornish coast.

And more, so much more.

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What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

The hardest lesson, so far, has also been the simplest.

About five years ago my relationship with my son was at an all-time low, so we had some family therapy together, which led me to return for some sessions on my own. I’d been to a therapist in my early thirties, but this time it had a more life-changing effect.

I learnt some hard truths about myself, but also – and most importantly – some simple ways of managing my mind. I’m a lot more self-aware and less anxious as a result, and my relationships with family and friends (old and new) have benefitted hugely. I now understand where my negative, controlling thoughts come from and know how to keep them in check.

Whenever I feel the urge to control my environment or someone else’s behaviour, I ask myself, ‘What’s the worse thing that can happen?’ If it’s not death or permanent injury, then I usually just let it go.

Who or what is the love of your life?

Definitely my partner of twenty-one years. He’s intelligent, empathic, patient, forgiving, level-headed, highly organised and a great dad. He’s easy on the eye, too.

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What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

Much as I love history, I’m not particularly interested in my own. My past – and that of my parents, grandparents and so on – is done and dusted. I don’t enjoy looking at old photos very much or revisiting ‘the good old days’. I find no comfort in nostalgia. It drains me.

Perhaps I avoid my own past because my childhood is best forgotten. I was unhappy and bored for much of it and family life was strained and dysfunctional.

(Philip Larkin was spot on when he wrote, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do.’)

That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting tales to be told on both sides of my family’s history. But right now, I’m greedy for the here and now and I look forward to tomorrow with the enthusiasm of a small child.

After all, I’ve only a few more decades left to make the most of this one, short life. So I’d better get on with it.

Yes, go on, bugger off now. Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Sarah. And for that precious honesty – may it never fade.

I love the way these Reflections we’re collecting here are creating a kind of a rambling map of women’s experiences. I hope, dear reader, you’re enjoying these glimpses into others’ lives too. We’re all so different, but we share so much, don’t we?

If you’d like to read more about Sarah and her world – and she’s a fabulous writer – you can find her at her blog here.

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REMEMBRANCE

I love old, decaying tin sheds, which is just as well since there are plenty of them around where I live, in rural New South Wales. This shed here lives just at the end of my lane, in a neighbour’s paddock.

Of course, there’s a certain beauty to things of metal and wood slowly, almost imperceptibly returning to the earth, by rust, by mites, so that their demise seems more transformation than death.

But they’re deceptively rich little troves of story, too, these long-abandoned huts. With hawthorn growing through their roofs and up their chimneys, panels blown away who knows how many years past by the bitter wind that belts across the ridge tops here winter after winter, windows empty, doorways agape, it’s easy to forget that these places were once dwellings.

People lived and loved, laughed and lost here, hoped most among it all. When? I don’t know. Sometime before I was born. Perhaps 1960. Perhaps 1860. The design of these homes possibly didn’t change much across that century. Hundreds, maybe thousands of these prefabricated abodes were shipped across the Pacific from San Francisco during gold-rush days, sent over the Blue Mountains on bullock drays, with the bolt holes drilled and fixings provided, so that you only needed a hammer and wrench to whack one up in your paddock of choice.

Someone built the chimney from bricks kilned nearby. Someone made the curtains from bright remnants to keep out the flies. Someone cooked a mutton stew above the fire. Someone put the children to bed in a loft built into the rafters. Times have changed; we don’t live like this anymore.

Don’t we? This house was the original flat pack – cheap and temporary. I can hear whoever made this one swearing across time that they haven’t been supplied the right bloody screws and that the bolt holes are all wrong. Rip-roaring row between man and wife ensues.

We forget too easily these echoes and continuities. We think we do things so differently now. We think our challenges have never been faced before.

We forget that the mistakes we make have all been made before.

I take a photograph of a little tin shed in a neighbour’s paddock and pray to a deaf god for a wounded child in faraway Syria, his world rent apart by a war my country has played its part in causing, and wonder what I can do to stop this history repeating and repeating.

All I can do is tell this story.

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EVER AFTER

Orson Welles purportedly said, ‘If you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop the story.’

Indeed. Someone else said the best stories end with a new story about to begin. I don’t know who said that, but I say it a lot myself, and certainly end all my own tales that way – not with an ending but with the opening of another door. I love to let the reader, whose story this has now become, decide what will happen next, beyond the resolution, and the happiness it brings.

Why, though, does there so often seem to be an aversion to the happy ending in what we consider to be worthwhile literature?

Are the dark shadows and excruciating confusions of life the only stuff that’s good for our brains?

In real life, that way madness lies. In the everyday grind of existence our ability to draw upon optimism, to look forward to the new day despite the shitfight of today, and to understand the ephemeral nature of absolutely everything is the foundation of mental health and resilience.

Personally, for me, the idea of happiness as some kind of permanent state is a crock. But I damn well grab it with both hands when it comes and hold onto it for as long as it lasts, be that a second or a day. I’ve had to work hardest at dragging myself up from the swamps of despair than at any other aspect of being, and still do, all the time – which probably explains why hope and new beginnings are such important take-away themes in my own writing.

All stories that remind us love and light are ours to have and to share, all stories that show us compassion and empathy are intellectual skills, are valuable stories. Well, I think so, anyway.

Those who know my own will know that I think of love and hope as political acts, too. Bright banners against those who tell us that happy endings should come with price tags, sales spreadsheets and share-holder dividends. In this context, I sometimes wonder if the shunning of love in literature is an acceptance of despair and fear – and that that’s precisely where capitalism’s greedmeisters want us to be, so that we’ll buy their crap unthinkingly, or in the belief that it might make us, um, happy.

But my pink-tinged politics aside, I really do think it’s about time we brought a bit of happy back into style. A bit of a sense that although life is often miserable and baffling, our capacities to give and learn and grow with each resolution not only make life bearable – they’re important to our survival. Perhaps really, truly. Unless we turn this ship around, away from the grim black of endless war and mindless destruction we seem to have on loop right now, things probably won’t end well for any of us.

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MORE HAPPY LOVE!
MORE HAPPY, HAPPY LOVE!

You know how groany and eyeball-rolly I get at unthinking, automated disparagements of romance from those who really should know better. I’ve heard it all – had my work called chicklit by a feminist (!), been told my work suffers from too much sentiment, been asked, a bit too often, when I’m going to write something serious.

Because love – and the need to laugh, to sing, to heal, to be joyful, to be insane with it and smashed by it – is not serious business? Not worthy of examination? Not stuff to be shared in any intellectual sense? Not fairly vital to being alive, like air and food? And never a vehicle for significant thought? As if love and curiosity are mutually exclusive things – as if, say, I couldn’t donate a kidney to my husband because I love him desperately and because I expected the experience would lead me to deeper existential truths.

I tend not to engage with critics and other writers who hold these sorts of wearingly narrow views. As they say in the classics, don’t get mad, get down and get lovin’ – and that’s what I prefer to do.

I’ve done it liberally in my next novel, Jewel Sea. It’s a fictional telling of the tale of the Koombana, a luxurious steamship lost off the West Australian coast in 1912 – a small but no less tragic Titanic. From the moment I first read about the wreck and its haunting mystery in Annie Boyd’s history of the ship, I knew I’d have to write about it myself. And as soon as I learned that the detail on the fingerplates of the first-class saloon doors was a little Grecian urn, I knew I’d be cranking my love engine to full throttle.

What more perfect symbol of both enduring passion and enduring mystery than Keats’ ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’? And damn sexy, too.  The poem swirls through my story like smoke, and mingles with images from his most decadent, indulgent ‘Endymion’.

Keats, the king of romance. But hey, we all know it’s so much better when a man does it, hm? Whatever, his explorations of high and wild emotion are curled permanently around my heart – along with Beethoven’s vaulting symphonies and Turner’s violent seas, with Eliot’s burnt-out ends and Elgar’s melancholy cello mourning the death of love as the guns on the Western Front rolled in.

Romance – I doubt I could write a word without it.

And Keats’ timeless, yearning ‘Urn’ will outlive and out love all this, too:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Find out more about Jewel Sea here :

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
LINDA

One of the best things about the internet and all our fast and far-flung communication these days is that you get to meet great people you otherwise might never have crossed paths with. Today’s intrepid Reflector is one such person – Linda Visman.

I can’t even remember how it is we actually met – online, that is – but I had the lovely pleasure of meeting her for realz at a library event at Lake Macquarie a few weeks ago. Linda is a writer, reader and blogger herself, and she’s a big-hearted woman, generous in spirit and mind.

And here she is answering our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

I am the middle child of the five children (two boys and three girls) who lived beyond birth. I was born of working class parents in Oswaldtwistle, a cotton town in Lancashire, northern England, sixty-eight years ago – though I am sure there’s a mistake in the number there; I don’t feel that old!

I am a mother, grandmother, wife to my second, wonderful husband of eleven years and a lover of books. I am a former teacher of all levels and ages; the people I have taught in a formal sense range from four years old to eighty-three. And I am also a writer, after finally discovering, about ten or eleven years ago that I could write stories as well as uni assignments (thanks to hubby for encouraging me in that!).

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

My family went through many hard times when I was young. We were poor, Dad worked hard to build our own house, then almost died of polio. I had to deal with a religion that created lots of guilt through my never being good enough. But there was always something I could do that allowed me to escape into different worlds. You guessed it – I was an avid reader. I can’t remember how often I would be so totally immersed in a book that I wouldn’t hear my mother calling me to do something. She got annoyed, but she understood – reading was also her pleasure.

What does home mean for you?

Even though I was born in England and have always had an unrequited desire to go back for a visit there, I love my adopted country where I have lived for over sixty-two years. Australia is and will always be my home. I can live and have lived in a wide range of locations, climates, geographical areas, towns – but not cities. I have been fortunate to get to know many lovely places in my journey through life, as well as many lovely people.

Because I have lived in so many places in my life, I have come to see home as being the place I am comfortable in with the people I love. It is where I am relaxed and happy and can do the things that interest me. My home now is with my husband in a lakeside village where others come for holidays. We have made this house our own, surrounded by trees and birds that make it really feel alive.

It is the place I have now lived in for the second-longest period in my life – twelve years. We have many friends around us who enrich our lives, and great country and gorgeous lake to visit and to sail on. It is also the base from where we set out to visit our far-flung family: my five sons, my husband’s three children and their families; our total of seven siblings, and some of our friends. We love travelling to see them all, but it is extra special when we come back to this home of ours.

Lake Macquarie

What makes you smile?

There are many things that make me smile, but particularly the following:

  • Seeing my grandchildren at play. I love when they want me to be with them;
  • a beautiful sunset (I rarely see sunrises J);
  • the beauty and grandeur of nature and its power awe me, but it is the little things in it that make me smile: the sound of the possums as they race across our galvanised iron roof at night; a flower blooming in a dead area; a pelican gliding in to land on the lake and putting down its feet to brake;
  • memories of my times teaching in remote area schools in the Northern Territory;
  • the sound of children playing – anywhere and at any time, but especially with an animal;
  • the thought of how fortunate I am in my life, even though we are not well off financially;
  • I even smile when I make a comment on a well-written post on Facebook or a blog, and I have to include a smiley face to show that.

I think those who do not smile much have very sad lives. I love the feeling when your mouth widens in pleasure, your cheeks and eyes crinkle and a wonderful feeling of joy envelops you.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

When my children were still young (my eldest was fourteen), my marriage broke up – partly from incompatibility and partly from my falling in love with someone else. I had to leave him but, through circumstances I could do nothing about, I also had to leave my children behind. That was the hardest and worst thing I have done in my life.

The following years taught me how one decision could change lives so much – not just my own, but also those of others. The courts, so conservative then, refused to give me custody of my five beautiful and innocent children and I had to go through years of limited contact not knowing how that would affect my long-term relationship with them.

I have been extremely fortunate that in the end our relationships, both individual and as a family, are strong, loving and accepting. It could so easily have been terribly different.

Holland boys Maimuru 1982

Who or what is the love of your life?

That’s a hard one, because the love of your life can change over time. My children and their families, though, will also be my greatest love. That will never change. The love of my life for almost twenty years was a woman I met at a bible study group when I was thirty-six. She became my partner and we embarked together on a life of love, and loss of our children, a life that was at times insecure, at others stable, full of challenge and adventure and, in the end, loss.

Now, my wonderfully loving and supportive husband of over eleven years is my rock, my mentor and my soul-mate. Our relationship may not have the physical passion of our younger selves, but I am older and more settled now. We share a deep, honest, trusting and more mature love than we might have if we were young. Our love is full of respect for each other and free from the need to impress.

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

My dad went through WWII as a fighter pilot, and Mum as a munitions worker and worried wife. Dad first applied for assisted passage to Australia in 1947, but it wasn’t until January 1954 that he was successful. We left England for Australia that February, and this opened up possibilities and opportunities we’d never have had. Our lives changed beyond measure.

People tell me I’ve had an interesting life, and I agree. For a start, my working class Catholic childhood taught me both positive and negative lessons, but also gave me a real appreciation of where I came from and what my parents, grandparents and those before them went through that resulted in my even being in this world. It has given me an appreciation for history and a strong dislike for institutionalised religion.

I have been fortunate that decisions I made that seemed wrong to many at the time have actually given me a greater experience of the world and of people in both a personal sense and a more balanced perspective on life. I have learned what fear of those who are different or who do not conform means – from both the receiving end and from working with Indigenous Australians in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. From my dad, I have learned the value of living with an attitude of gratitude.

I have discovered just how important family is; circumstances could have led them to deny me, or me to deny some of them, but didn’t. I have discovered how wonderful it is to have children who are good people of whom I can be proud, and who are carrying on a legacy of love and care for their world and its inhabitants. I have discovered the destructive nature of hate and the redemptive nature of forgiveness through my personal relationships and through observation of the past and of the world around me.

So I suppose I can say that past experiences, my history and background have worked, with my own efforts and insights, to give me more understanding and acceptance of people, and also a strong sense of what is wrong with our political, economic, social and religious systems, and the need to change them for the benefit of all. It’s also made me aware that, being an introvert, I need to retreat from the world at times and renew myself.

Thank you so much, Linda, for sharing this glimpse of you with us, and with such honesty and warmth. Cheers to a long and fruitful friendship in words!

For those who’d like to find out more about Linda and her writing, you can browse her wonderful blog here.

 

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GLOBAL & LOCAL

Last night I went to an arts networking soiree in what passes for the big smoke in my shire – the town of Blayney.

My kind of town, Blayney has a population of about five thousand – a figure that jumps to a whopping almost seven thousand if you include all the little villages dotted around her. It’s essentially a farming centre, a place to get the tractor serviced, and set as it is in the spectacular green and gold hills of the Central West of New South Wales, it’s endlessly beautiful, too.

But the truly wonderful thing about living in a shire like this is that it’s brimming with people who do stuff rather than talk about it. Over the past two years I’ve called this place home, I’ve met a seemingly disproportionate number of artists and they’re an eclectic bunch.

There’s Rebecca Price, the silversmith, who makes exquisite, bespoke jewelry in her workshop on the main street, White Rock Silver. There’s Tom Miller the blacksmith and his partner Monika Altmann who have a magical bush gallery called Metal as Anything out at Newbridge. There’s Cecily Walters who creates images from handmade felt that look like dreamy watercolours, and Loretta Kervin, who paints and crotchets her sunshine onto just about anything. There’s the rainbow joy of Tracey Mackie’s canvases capturing the creatures we share this space with – the cows, chooks, horses, dogs and sheep.

There’s internationally renowned Wiradjuri artist, Nyree Reynolds, whose ethereal depictions of people and place seem to step out of the ancient mists that clothe these hills. Nyree spends a great deal of her time with the school children of the region, too, switching their little souls on to the power of their creativity, and – so I learned last night – always paints while cuddling either a Siamese cat or a chihuahua.

Last night I also learned that there’s a piano museum in the tiny village of Neville – the only piano museum in Australia. There, they restore old pianos – as old as the 1840s! – bringing them back to life not only as playable instruments but so that a new generation might marvel at their breathtakingly intricate craftsmanship.

And I’ll never forget the lad who swaggered into the pop-up art gallery in town last Christmas, boots dusty and still smelling of the paddock, with his portfolio of photographs under his arm. Gorgeous! And his photos weren’t too bad either.

None of the people I’ve just mentioned do what they do for the money or the glory or because someone in Sydney thinks it might be fashionable. They do this stuff because they love it, because they want to create beauty, and because exploring and recording and expressing our experience of life always makes a contribution to understanding who and what we are as humans. And I’ve only mentioned a handful of them here.

Our networking soirees happen every winter via Charles Sturt University’s Arts OutWest program – by the sparkling energy and enthusiasm of Tracey Callinan, who heads up the team, and Penny May, who’s just joined them as our local mover and shaker. Clinking glasses with us last night was also General Manager of Blayney Council, Rebecca Ryan, who spoke about all the creative ways she’s promoting our shire to the rest of the country – and the world. Rebecca’s vision is that when people find out what’s on offer they’ll want to spend whole holidays here, visiting each of the villages, discovering our artists, tasting our produce, delighting in the landscape, breathing in the fresh, cool air…

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As we were all chatting away, inspiring each other, I was reminded of a comment made a few weeks ago by a young woman over the other side of the world, in London, when she was asked about what Brexit – the UK’s exit from the European Union – meant to her. She said, appearing astonished that anyone should ever consider a boundary to connectedness a good thing: ‘The future is global and local.’

And so it is. It’s an idea that’s being harnessed by my publisher – The Author People – right now. Breaking boundaries. Valuing the authentic over mass-market corporate machinery. Valuing passion and its multilayered transactional power over productivity spreadsheets. Many of us are tired of being told what to buy and what to love. But the tide is turning. Or perhaps returning to a time when how and why things are made is of equal importance to the thing itself. A time when there was no metropolitan monopoly on the vanguard.

It’s a little-known historical fact that no-one embraces the new like rural Australians do. Our farmers were among the first in the world to embrace the automobile and the aeroplane, and then radio, and now the internet. The tyranny of distance makes it so. And I think our future will show a resurgence in the worth of our cultural connectedness to the land out here, too. Our diversity, complexity. All our colours.

Why not? After all, my novella, Wild Chicory, is making her sweet mark these days – a story, ultimately, of how I came to live and write in this place, the flowers of my country lane sprinkled across her cover. A little piece of Blayney Shire set free across the globe.

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The launch of Wild Chicory at White Rock Silver earlier this year, photo by local scriptwriter Joe Velikovsky.
The photograph that heads up this piece shows one of the garden installations at Metal As Anything.

 

 

 

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AHOY!

I love ships. I love their sweeping, classical lines; their slow but mighty power; their history. Without them, we’d never have discovered all the worlds beyond our shores. Empires would never have reigned their terrors so far and wide; but neither would the globe have become small enough to bring us all together, mixing us around, blending cultures, sharing ideas.

This love affair with ships began when I was eleven, in 1979, and I was travelling with my parents and my brother from Denmark back to England after a tour. For some reason lost to the mists, we boarded a vessel that, in my memory at least, was some kind of Scandinavian version of the Fairstar – a notorious Aussie floating party palace, thankfully also now lost to the mists.

It was an overnight journey, and after dinner Mum took me to the disco that was raging on board. Our parents obviously believed in giving us a broad, if random education in diversity wherever we travelled because my memory prior to that disco is one of becoming quite practically lost, en famille, some days earlier, somewhere in the red-light district of Amsterdam, and asking Mum why the ladies in the windows were all wearing their swimming cossies – and why my thirteen-year-old brother had lost interest in finding our hotel.

Anyway, the Scandinavian shipboard disco was just as unfathomable to small me. Boogie music thumping and rainbow lights flashing through a darkness thick with cigarette smoke, Mum and I were dancing away when I was literally whisked off my feet by a giant Viking – long blond hair, long blond beard, seven feet tall – who then began tossing me in the air to the beat of the boogie. That was the most amazing fun I had had in my young life, of course, and I’m sure the Great Dane would still be tossing me in the air if Mum hadn’t yanked me out of there, a bit freaked out, no doubt, at how off his face Sven must have been.

I was more interested in wanting to know why he’d been wearing clogs – actual wooden clogs – if he was Scandinavian and not Dutch – indeed not a Dutch farmer from the nineteenth century. Mum answered with something typical, such as: ‘I don’t know. He must like clogs.’

And I’d probably still be nagging her for a better answer, if she were still here with me, and if I hadn’t at that moment felt the rocking of the ship in our little twin-berth cabin.

‘What’s that?’ I asked Mum.

‘That’s the ship moving through the water,’ she told me.

‘Where are we?’ I asked the black night.

‘Somewhere in the North Sea,’ Mum said. ‘It’s rough out there.’

And the thrill that planted in my brain topped the whole experience. We were inside the belly of a ship, being tossed on the sea.

‘Can we go back out and have a look?’

‘No. Go to sleep.’

In the morning the sea was grey and calm and boring and English, but the thrill of the night before stayed with me and has done ever since.

I haven’t had a chance to relive the experience very often over all these years, only coming close to it on my honeymoon with Dean, in Cairns, North Queensland, when we took a big catamaran out on the Great Barrier Reef and where, on our return to port, the sea turned bone-judderingly choppy on us. It was so madly rough, most of the passengers were playing tag for the bathroom. Even Dean, who can sail yachts, was green. But I was gripping the rails and wooting: ‘YEAH!’

Those who know me will understand what a contradiction this is. I’m terrified of my own shadow. I hate flying and most of the time I hate driving too. But put me in a sturdy vessel on the sea, and I just go: ‘YEAH!’

Maybe it’s some ancient memory in me, whipping up on the wind. I don’t know. Even still, and strangely enough, I never imagined I would ever write a story about the sea. Until, of course, I randomly read Annie Boyd’s – her history of the SS Koombana ­– and my own, Jewel Sea, rocked out of my heart and onto the page.

Writing that tale was an exhilarating experience in itself. I became that ship – a luxurious Edwardian party ship, she was, carrying the cattle and gold and pearls that made her passengers some of the wealthiest people in the world. And I became the storm that took her down, pulling her to the bottom of the sea off the coast of Western Australia, where she is yet to be found.  

I can’t wait to share her with you. Only sixty-nine sleeps until official publication day. But who’s counting…

Jewel Sea Preliminary for Kim_Page_2

 

 

If you’d like to know more about Jewel Sea, you can here.

Jewel Sea Preliminary for Kim_Page_2

COVER LOVE

Don’t judge a book by its proverbial, so the saying goes – oh but how we do.

I once had a fairly influential publishing industry fabulosa come up to me at a festival and say, ‘Yeah right, you’re Kim Kelly – with the moody ladies on your covers. My girlfriend and I were only having a laugh about them yesterday.’

She meant that in the nicest possible way, of course. Those of us who’ve been around the traps for a while have learned to have a sense of humour about the reductive nature of our books’ outer apparel – especially if you happen to be female and write anything that involves a bit of girl-boy action.

I’ve heard a lot of laughter over the years from all sorts – publishers, designers, booksellers and authors. ‘If I see another girl in an Akubra…’ is the most common refrain.

I’ve also been asked some serious questions about the phenomenon of women’s fiction in particular being so uniformly dumbed down this way before it’s even left the warehouse. And up until fairly recently, I’ve shrugged in response, repeating the generally accepted wisdom: ‘It’s not the author’s decision to make. Sales & Marketing know what they’re doing…’

Do they? I wouldn’t know. No-one from Sales & Marketing had ever had a conversation with me about any aspect of my work.

That all changed for me, though, a year ago when I jumped ship from traditional Australian publishing to The Author People – a deliciously disruptive, international publisher whose mission it is to smash boundaries and expand possibilities for writers, through cleverness and collaboration.

One of the first things my publisher there, Lou Johnson, asked me was how I’d felt about my marketing to date – and more specifically, how I felt about my book covers.

‘Er, um,’ I said. ‘Maybe we could try a different tack from the moody ladies…?’

‘Right. Well, let’s do that,’ was her response.

And so we did.

WC coverThe cover of my first book with The Author People – Wild Chicory – is a wonderful story of clever collaboration in itself. The field of chicory that appears in the image is from a random photo I’d taken the summer before along the country lane on which I live. And the little girl running through it is Lou’s daughter, Ruby, captured by her dad and Lou’s husband, the photographer Douglas Frost. The designer who put the images together to create such a gorgeous, dreamy vibe is Alissa Dinallo.

And now, for my next novel, Jewel Sea, we’ve all teamed up again – minus any random photos from me. The exquisite image of the seashore with its sparkling gold-edged swash is Douglas’s and the delicate composition of the design is Alissa’s, but if you look closely, you can see the faint impression of a map of the coast of Western Australia – a map which adds more than a little magic to the story of this cover for me.

This map was created by writer, historian and designer, Annie Boyd. She’s an amazingly accomplished person and I’ll have to dedicate a separate blog post to tell you all about her down the track. But for now, I have to tell you it was a book Annie wrote a couple of years ago that inspired me to write Jewel Sea in the first place – Koombana Days – the story of the life and times and disappearance of a luxury passenger ship in a storm off the coast of Port Hedland in 1912, and one that contains this very map.

Throughout all my scribblings I’d refer to Annie’s map of the coast just about daily – as well as to her lively history, her timeline of events and the photographs she reproduced in her book. But really, if I hadn’t stumbled across Annie’s work a couple of years ago when I was just idling on Goodreads, searching for something interesting to lose myself in, there would be no Jewel Sea at all.

Annie Boyd’s influence on me is in every page of my story, so how could she not be part of the cover as well?

We could so easily have gone for a moody lady for Jewel Sea – the narrator of the story, Irene Everley, certainly has some shifting moods and she is arrestingly beautiful, too – but the story is much more than Irene. It’s about fatal desire and loss, greed and theft, courage and redemption.

Another tale about Australia, the beautiful, moody country that made me.

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The Nor’West Run
Annie Boyd, Blue Ruin Design

For more information on Annie Boyd’s Koombana Days, go here.

For more information on Jewel Sea, go here.

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
JENN

I have a very special authorlady Reflector on the blog today – the one and only, the most fabulous, Jenn J McLeod. For those who don’t know Jenn, she is the author of four novels, and her latest, The Other Side of the Season, has just been published.

Apart from writing richly textured stories of family, friends, lovers and small town Australia, Jenn is one of the most generous people I know in the writing business. She’s so supportive of other writers and their work, and she’s been a massive support to me over the last few years. I couldn’t wish for a lovelier confrere.  Even if she’s recently taken to calling me Swiz, after ‘swizzle stick’ because she’s so grown up.

And now here she is, answering our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

Good question.

I am a gypsy, a blogging, tweeting, facebooking fifty-six year old sea-change champion, and an advocate for dogs, because they can’t speak for themselves (although they do speak to me).

I was born in Manly hospital and spoilt rotten by wonderful parents. So what did I do? I ran away from a perfectly good marriage (well, my family thought it was perfectly good) and started again.

Not sure where I would be or what I’d be doing if I hadn’t been brave enough to go with my heart. I do know I wouldn’t be Jenn J McLeod – a bestselling Aussie author of contemporary women’s fiction (and bloody proud of myself, too!).

 What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

My dad was a hard-working man—a policeman by day and a musician by night. The Don Lewis Trio did weddings, parties, anything!

When I’d wake up the morning after he’d been at a gig, I’d find my bedroom filled with balloons, streamers, party favours and wedding bombonieres—whatever was left after the party was over.

Dads band smiling don

What does home mean for you?

For the last two years it’s meant learning to adapt to life on the road. I am writing my way around Oz in a 24-foot fifth-wheeler caravan. We’d never towed anything bigger than a box trailer before this, so it has been daunting, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Hoping the scales will tip to ‘free and easy’ eventually. We feel very vulnerable without the security of four brick walls and a roof. So I’m learning to listen to the seasons and I’m seeing things with fresh eyes. (I’m also learning to read weather forecasts in order to prepare for storms. Not that there’s much we can do. And let me tell you, a hailstorm in a caravan is something else!)

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 What makes you smile?

Dogs! Any dogs. I can be having the worst day until I see a dog and I am filled with joy. I’ve owned two sets of rescue dogs over the last thirty years. Sadly I lost my two little white muses—Strawberry in 2104 and Daiquiri recently. My little one-eyed dude dog was the bravest dog in the world and I both cry and smile at the same time when I picture her face.

The caravan feels very empty right now. But The J and I have decided we need to get to know who we are as a couple without dogs. (Yes, we actually have to talk to each other, rather than the dogs! You’d be surprised how much a dog can factor into the every day.) We’ve also decided, rather than go and get a dog, we’ll wait for a little dog to find us. We know there’ll be one out there when the time’s right. Maybe then we’ll call her Chance, Karma, Destiny, or Serendipity (or maybe Daisy, coz I love saying upsidaisy!)

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

Patience – and there is no better teacher than the publishing biz!! I’m still learning!

(Oh, and plucking your eyebrows too thin as a teenager will leave you with something akin to two deranged-looking caterpillars when you are older. Take note, young people.)

Who or what is the love of your life?

My partner of 33 years, who is also ‘The J’ in Jenn J McLeod. I ran away from a marriage in 1984 and we travelled the country in a Ford F100 and a tent. In 2014 we hit the road again, but this time with style and comfort (and an en suite!). There would be no Jenn J McLeod Author without The J and I feel blessed every day that I was brave enough to let myself love and be loved in return.

jj_2

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

Wow! I think answering this question taught me something about myself. I didn’t know how to answer this at first, as I’ve never really been family oriented and that made me sound a bit . . . well, indifferent. Of course family is important. I LOVE that ‘Find My Family’ show on the tele and ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, and I know a lot about my own family tree:

  • I know my first settler was a grave planner in Paynham, South Australia (and yes there is a family plot!)
  • I know my grandfather, Clement Lewis, was pretty high up in the South Australian Government (managing the SA War Loans campaign)
  • And I totally LOVE that my Aunty Joy was Joy Richardson—founder of the South Australian Animal Welfare League that still exists today (and will be the benefactor of my $millions in book royalties, once I’m gone!! I kind thought that a nice full-circle thing to do!)

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 Anyway . . .

Late in his teens, my dad moved away from his very strong Methodist family. He worked hard, married, and as a family we lived independently of the South Aussie crew. (Dad used to say we were the black sheep in NSW!!) That, and perhaps having no children myself, is why I’m not particularly family oriented.

But . . .  could this explain why I write the stories I do? Is this ‘family’ thing a bit of an enigma and I secretly have a desire to reconnect and rediscover my own country roots through storytelling? Hmm!!!

I’m not saying family isn’t important in my life. I am fortunate to have people who are loving and accepting, as many others don’t.

Feeling blessed.

Thank you, Jenn, for sharing these glimpses of you with us. What a beautiful, inspiring woman you are.

If you, dear reader, would like to explore more of Jenn’s world, you can find her blog here.

And if you’d like to have a look at Jenn’s new novel The Other Side of the Season, and I heartily suggest you do, you can find it here. By sweet coincidence, this novel has quite a theme of reflections in it, too…

roof aus

WHAT HAVE THE POLES EVER DONE FOR US?

This morning I woke up to the news that cards are being dropped into letterboxes in Britain saying, ‘Leave the EU. No more Polish vermin.’

Vermin.

How long will it be before these faceless bigots bring out the arsenic and brickbats to get rid of them? It makes me shiver for all the Polish people have endured over the past century by way of psychotic hatred from their neighbours – Germany and Russia have both had a go at mass extermination.

But really, what the actual freak is this about?

There’s the theory that Poles are simply an easy target because they’re white. It’s not politically correct to attack a person with brown skin these days, but kicking a Pole is somehow fine. That makes a horrible load of sense, sadly.

But it feels personal this time. It seems most of my forebears – all of them white – have at some point in time been referred to as vermin. Of course I grew up with the stories my Irish grandmother told me about her own experiences of the phenomenon – and I wrote all about it in Wild Chicory. The narrator of that tale, Brigid Boszko, just happens to be half Polish, too, her paternal grandparents having immigrated to Sydney after the Second World War.

The Polish in Australia are everywhere, for me. Polish miners worked the diamond drills that excavated dams for one of our many Eighth Wonders of the World – the Snowy Mountains Hydro. Before that, the geologist Pawel Strzelecki named our highest peak after Poland’s greatest national hero – Tadeusz Kosciuszko – and went on to have the Strzelecki Desert named after himself. And then there was my great great grandfather, Benjamin Mier, who played his part in making me.

As for the world, what would it be without Chopin’s Nocturne In E Flat Major, Op.9 No.2? Even if you don’t know the name of this piece of music, you know it like it’s in your bones – listen to it here.

What would the Battle of Britain have been without Polish Squadron 303, those wildly brave men who brought down some 140 enemy Luftwaffe planes, and flew 9900 combat sorties?

Where would the NHS or Medicare be without Marie Sklodowska Curie’s self-sacrificing studies into radioactivity that, with terrible irony, brought us one of our greatest weapons against cancer?

Today’s irony, I suppose, is that the news also tells us there’s been a flood of Brits applying for Irish citizenship. Ouch.

I am sad for Britain but at the same time whatever slim ties I might have had to that land seem to have stretched to even slighter threads. I am happy to be vermin, if that is what I am.

Na zdrowie. Sláinte. Cheers.

*

The photograph above was taken on a recent ramble in Kosciuszko National Park.

Want to read Wild Chicory? Go here.

 

 

 

 

 

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