Kim Kelly

Australian Author

hill end 1 (2) reduced.jpg


Crime writers might book themselves in for autopsies, thriller writers might throw themselves out of planes, while romance writers might rather fly themselves to Paris, but never let it be said that historical fictioneers don’t love a research challenge, too.

I spent almost two full days this week researching the whereabouts of a nineteenth century pub. Sober.

The pub in question is, or was, quite a famous one – the Weatherboard Inn – which once upon a time fed and watered travellers on their way over the wild and beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

In 1814, or thereabouts, a hut was built here to service those building the Bathurst Road (the forerunner Great Western Highway), and this little hut was constructed of weatherboards, of course. The Blue Mountains being a bit of a fire trail, though, the hut burnt down in 1823, only to be rebuilt – bigger and better – in 1829.

At its height, the Weatherboard Inn boasted seven bedrooms and stabling for seventeen horses, as well as three parlours, a taproom and a bar. Charles Darwin overnighted there in 1836 during the Australian leg of his worldwide Beagle tour. Taking a walk through the bush to view the nearby falls, he looked out across the Jamison Valley and found there in the ancient sandstone cliffs his first inklings of sedimentary geology.

One of the last to see the pub in all its glory was Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who, in 1868, took a lavish, celebrity excursion to the falls and on his return to Sydney was promptly shot in the backside by a Fennian rebel – a bullet which, though it didn’t kill him, rather brought down the tone of his visit. But I digress.

The thing is, this Weatherboard Inn was conspicuous. Being the only building for several miles around, thousands of tourists would have taken refreshments here before it went out business – something that appears to have happened about the time the railway came through and made the place redundant as a travellers’ rest on the hard, steep road through the range.

All of these snippets of history are fascinating – to me at least! But all of them are irrelevant to my research adventure. All I needed to know was where, more or less, the bloody thing was on the map.

Now, I do love me a geographical puzzle. I love to reconstruct long-since bulldozed streetscapes and ragged colonial roads. Give me a stash of 140-year-old train time tables and I’m there with bells and whistles. But this puzzle proved among the trickiest I’ve come across.

The more sources I consulted, the less clear the whereabouts of the pub became. In all manner of newspaper and journal mentions of the place, the name of the village it was supposed to have been located in wasn’t consistent, having been variously and imaginatively said to have been called ‘Weatherboard’, or ‘Weatherboard Creek’, or ‘Weatherboard Falls’, or, on actual train time tables, ‘The Weatherboard’.

In contemporary references to the place, it was said Weatherboard was the original name of Wentworth Falls, and yet, Australian placenames being a fascinating and often infuriating study in themselves, the historical primary sources I looked at had it variously and possibly creatively located in Blackheath (originally named Hounslow), Mount Victoria (originally named One Tree Hill) and Lawson (originally named Blue Mountain). Confused? I certainly was.

So where was the pub at the end of all this?

I eventually found a New South Wales state government report that sites archaeological evidence of the remains of a building’s foundations just north-west of where the village of Wentworth Falls sits today.  But really, who knows?

And who cares? Well, I do. The heroine of my gold-rush bushranging tale makes a visit here on her own wild and beautiful tour.

But for now, this historical fictioneer needs a drink…

(NB: the pic above is of a random timber building in Hill End, because of course no photograph or drawing of the Weatherboard Inn survives either!)




I’ve never gathered much in the way of stuff around me. Nice roof over head, nice frocks and nice bed linen, what more does one need? Apart from a laptop, phone, a stupid number of books, novelty socks and decorative pillows… Ahem.

Yes, I buy far too much crap. I’m not wealthy by Australian standards, but I am very conscious of my privilege: I’m white, well-educated and well-loved. I am my parents’ and my grandparents’ hopes and dreams made manifest. I am the living proof that sunshine, schooling and safety wipe the slate clean of any trace of poverty or dislocation.

But I think the simple living of my forebears must remain somehow in my DNA, so that as much as I buy too much crap, I’m also constantly giving it away. From handbags to lounge suites, I can always find someone to pass things on to, because they might need them, or because they might like them. Because one or several of my sons’ lovely lady pals are in need of a party frock. Or a fruit bowl.

My husband thinks this is a pathological compulsion, and worries that one day he’ll come home and I’ll have given away the cats, the chooks and all the family photographs. Not true!

It is true that having too many things around me, too much clutter of stuff, can make me feel overwhelmed – too greedy perhaps, wracked with remnant Catholic guilt – but there is one thing, one little clutter of things, I could never part with: my grandmother’s teacups.

An eclectic mix of Royal Albert, Wedgwood and Noritake, I’ve carted them around with me since I left home, and I’ve collected teacups of my own to keep them company wherever we go.

Looking at them brings me more than happiness; they bring me back my grandmother, and my mother too. They connect me to them through the stories I hold in my heart, bright and diverse as these hand-painted blooms on porcelain, though neither of them lived to see me write stories of my own. They return me to long, lazy school-holiday afternoons when I nagged them to get out all the good china for me to dream over.

Munching Arnott’s Lemon Crisp biscuits, I’d imagine my grown-up life, all the tea parties I’d throw. I couldn’t have imagined where these teacups would find themselves over the years that followed: mad places, wild places, sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful. Wonderful. And not a chip or crack among them for all that, I hold them so dear.

Of course I do. My grandmother – Nin as we called her – never owned much. She never bought a house or a car; she never saw Paris or London or Rome. But she owned fabulous teacups. She owned fabulous stories, too. I can only imagine the look on her face – and Mum’s – at my telling them that Nin’s favourite actress, Helen Morse, is the narrator of my latest novel. We’d get out the teacups for that!

There’s one little green, gilt-edged cup that’s always been my absolute favourite, though. It has no great name, and no grand style, only a Chinese stamp under the base, blurry and bright gold.

I would ask my Nin on school-holiday loop: ‘And where did you get this one?’ Always wanting the tale, wondering if this little cup came from ancient Greece, or maybe from the table of an Egyptian queen.

And I remember Nin replying with some faraway quizzical frown, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’

As if it had come to her by some magic.

Perhaps it did.




If you’re going to write about lovers, as I do, then invariably sex is going to make an appearance at some point in your story. But for most of us, the question is, how do we do it so that readers are seduced rather than turned off? How do we express sex without it seeming unintentionally creepy or ugly? How do we make it seem natural? How do we depict it as the lovely-amazing-bizarre-shocking-sometimes-painful thing it truly is?

The general advice is, of course, that less is more – unless you really are going for erotica, or there is some other compelling reason for a blow-by-blow description (ahem). If you’re writing a romantic saga or a story that is underpinned by relationships, then you probably want the sex to be just one aspect, maybe even only an embellishment, to a more complex whole. Some writers shut the door on sex altogether, preferring to leave the bedroom entirely up to the reader’s imagination – an off-screen event they can either magic up in their own minds, or not.

Personally, wherever it makes sense for the characters to go there, I love to take readers into the bedroom – into that intimate place where we’re at our most vulnerable, where bonds are forged with our bodies. Where the characters shut up at last and feel for each other through the dark, be that an actual night-time affair or an existential searching for connection between souls. And I love the challenge of exploring and trying to make real this beautiful and baffling human wonder on the page.

How each of us deal with the deed in our work is going to be unique to every author, of course, but when this very question came up recently in a writers’ forum, it got me searching through the old files to have a closer look at just how I have done it across all my novels.

In my first, Black Diamonds, my lovers, Daniel and Francine, are so young and naïve in 1914 that their shock at their own excitement and the strange brutality of sex means it’s all over in a couple of minutes. It’s a fairly typical start to a long and beautiful marriage. Some years later, in 1918, they make love, both of them wounded, and Francine tells us: ‘It is fierce and it is infinitely gentle. Gloria.’ A rush of relief.

Bernadette in This Red Earth says of her first experience of sex with her boy-next-door geologist, Gordon: ‘…my terror becomes wonder against his skin, and then something else altogether as he fills me so that I am the vast warm ball of melted rock that he says is inside the earth. And afterwards, safe and sleepy in his arms I look up at the stars through my window, wondering how it is that a man so strong and heavy in the chest could be so light upon me…’ She’s curious about the whole thing, rather than surprised.

By contrast, In The Blue Mile, my lovers don’t have sex at all. Olivia would love to fall into Eoghan’s arms, and do all manner of delightful things to him, but he won’t let her until he can sort himself out and, because he’s religious, until they can be married. The ship’s whistle at the very end might indicate just how fabulous that off-screen activity turns out to be when they sail off into the sunset, though.

In Paper Daisies, intimacy is fraught with grief and fear. Berylda dares to let Ben love her before she imagines her life will be over, and it’s all pretty explicit, if brief: ‘I have never known such pain, nor such a longing for it to remain. I hold him deeper and deeper to me; I am filled with stone; I am filled fire; I am filled with light. His kiss swallows my cry.’ There’s a bit of Aussie Gothic.

Wild Chicory, by contrast again, is probably the most romantic thing I’ve even penned: ‘Away from the old, draughty, make-do homestead, she made a place for them, a warm and secret place in a corner of the hayshed, where only the chicory could hear them; and on a few precious occasions, deep in the winter, only the softly falling snow.’ So old-fashioned and glancing but somehow all the sexier for it.

Then, most recently, there’s Irene dragging Fin into her cabin aboard the Koombana in Jewel Sea: ‘I take him with such hungry violence my wanting turns the iron bedstead beneath us to dust, to steam, to stars.’ Whoa. Where’s my fan and my smelling salts?

What all these expressions of sex have in common is that each one is a sketch, a glimpse, a few quick brushstrokes that give the reader enough of an idea to take them into the experience, but it remains one the reader must interpret for themselves. In all of my stories, set as they mostly are in the early twentieth century, there’s also the consideration of language appropriate to the times – one wouldn’t have ‘got laid’ in any of them. Who needs a sexual cliché anyway? Inventing languages of love spoken only by two is such a delicious thing to do.

But what do you think? What sort of sex do you like in your stories?



This morning I woke up inside a dream – a nasty one. I was walking along a Sydney beach – Maroubra Beach – on a beautiful sunny day and, as I headed south, I passed two young men and their surfboards.

I saw the water glistening on their deep brown skin, their black hair still heavy with the sea, dripping onto their shoulders. I heard them chatting to each other about the waves. Just two young men who could have been any of the young men I grew up with in that part of the world.

Over my shoulder, I watched as two policemen approached them. There was a brief exchange, one of the young men trying to convince the officers that he was a student at the University of New South Wales, and then – BANG BANG – both of the young men were shot dead.

I stood there in shock, unmoving, a scream trapped inside me.

I woke up with my heart belting, my stomach turning, and my husband asking me: ‘What’s wrong?’

I know where this dream has come from.

There’s been quite a ruckus the last few days over Lionel Shriver’s Brisbane Writers Festival speech examining cultural appropriation and political correctness – howls of outrage that a white woman should think the preserve of fiction, and the strength of fiction, is to pretend, and to do so fearlessly. On all manner of social media threads, anyone suggesting Shriver might have a point in there somewhere has pretty much been told to check their privilege, get back in their white boxes and shut up.

Meanwhile, people of deep brown skin continue to languish on Nauru and die in police custody in Australia, their stories largely untold to the mainstream, or largely ignored. Facts too often drowned out by the relentless white noise of opinion seething from all quarters.

The greatest power of storytelling, of fiction in particular, lies in the way it can spread empathy into popular consciousness. An author can borrow another’s hat and shoes for a time to give readers an enlightening glimpse of what it might feel like to be that other person. But right now it seems we’re imposing rules upon what white authors should or shouldn’t empathise with through fiction – what characters, what identities and histories writers like me can write.

It’s affected me personally. I’m struggling with the ethics of having written a black heroine in a manuscript I finished almost two years ago. On the one hand, do I have any right to speak through a character whose skin and life experience are different from my own? On the other hand, can my conscience deal with being silenced when this character’s story might just have a whisper of a chance to broaden a narrowed mind?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether my story sees the light of day or not – I’ve let stories go before, because they’re not ready or not mine to be told. What’s got me caught up here is a deeper, more fundamental question of what I’m allowed to write. Should that even be a wonder? Am I being a coward in my hesitation? Or virtuous?

My heart can’t draw characters without love – that’s not a moral decision but just the way I roll. I’m no intrepid pillager; I know that my explorations of others’ points of view are never cynically undertaken, never gratuitous or exploitative. These are real people to me, these imaginary friends: never embellishments or trophies. My black heroine represents about forty-three years’ investment of thought. She is part of me somehow, in that way people who are important to you work their way into your soul.

And yet I’m so conflicted over the rightness of these explorations that I am, for the moment, stuck on that beach, struck mute – a guilty witness to crimes my silence will only condone.

The answer will come to me, eventually, at least for my story, but I’m not sure this shutting-up is a good thing for anyone generally. Is it really going to lead to better structural parity of creative opportunity for writers of all colours if white writers stick to writing only white stories, or will it tribalise us in ways that make divisions and misunderstandings worse? Will it only mean that some stories in want of telling simply won’t be told? I just don’t know.




An amazing thing is just about to occur in my world. My new novel, Jewel Sea, is going live as a serial with the brilliantly innovative UK publisher, The Pigeonhole – today!

This means that across the UK and wherever else in the world the Pigeon flies, Jewel Sea will be delivered in snack-sized reading morsels direct to The Pigeonhole subscribers’ phones. These subscribers form one great big digital book club, and at the same time, across this next week of communal Jewel Sea serial reading, I’ll be chatting to those readers – in real time – as we journey through the story together.

This is blowing my mind, and we haven’t even kicked off yet – still two hours to go until showtime!

The way we’re reading and receiving stories is changing at lightning pace, and as much as it can all be a bit bamboozling, it’s pretty wonderful, too. The world feels fabulously small at this moment, for me.

In a lovely way, we’re also returning to an old-fashioned idea here, with the serialisation of novels. Designed for busy people who are reading on the go, it’s not unlike the way Charles Dickens’ works were published more than a hundred and fifty years ago: as chunks to be devoured in a weekly sitting, shared with the family, argued over with friends at the pub. In fact his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, set off the whole trend for this style of reading – and I think he’d be fascinated and delighted at the way the old is becoming new again with the internet. I’m certain he’d be wide-eyed and grinning at the global, instantaneous reach of story today, too.

But there’s another loveliness here for me, in this digital flight of Jewel Sea, and a very unexpected one. This is the first time one of my novels has been taken up by a publisher overseas. Once upon a time, I was told that my stories were too parochial and my language too peculiar to Australia to garner any interest outside these wide brown bounds of home. I was told – quite bluntly and without asking – by a stuffy old-school publisher that the English in particular would never be convinced I had anything much to say.

Well, ahem. Never say never, I say! Especially in this day and age.

What an adventure this Pigeonholing will be. What a thrill. And one that wouldn’t be happening without my equally brilliant and innovative Australian publisher, The Author People.

I’m putting on my virtual flying cap and goggles, synchronising watches and already laughing that the London-Sydney time difference will mean I’m probably not going to get much sleep this week.

Bring it on!


Image above is, of course, the fearless Katherine Hepburn.



Legend has it that if you don’t want to suffer misfortune at the hands of your jewellery, then it’s probably wise not to acquire it by wrongful means. Gems of exceptional beauty have gathered wild tales of theft and retribution about them over the centuries, curses no doubt fabricated to increase their allure, and their value.

Probably the most famous rogue jewel is the Hope Diamond. A brilliant stone of deep ocean blue, it was said to have been stolen from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, sometime in the seventeenth century.

Passing through many illustrious hands, including those of the ill-fated King Louis XIV of France, she vanished during the French Revolution, only to surface a little over a century later in the coat pocket of London banker, Henry Hope.

Hope sold the gem – with its rich provenance – to the daring American heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, and that’s when the curse really came into its own. Tragedy clouded Evalyn’s life from then on: her son was killed in a car accident; her husband Ned ran off with another woman, lost their fortune, and then died from alcoholism; her daughter died from an overdose of valium, and the next year, Evalyn died too, after which the diamond was sold off to pay all the family creditors.

hope diamond

It now lives in the Smithsonian, and as far as anyone knows, none of its seven million visitors a year have perished after looking at it. Well, no-one’s complained, anyway. Perhaps it’s a civic-minded sort of diamond.

A little digging turns up an enormous array of similarly bedevilled minerals: there’s the Black Prince’s Ruby, thieved from the corpse of a sultan by Pedro the Cruel of Castile (seriously) in the fourteenth century, and which Henry V was said to have worn at the bloody battle of Agincourt; there’s the Purple Sapphire of Delhi that’s really only an amethyst but despite which has managed to leave a trail of suicides, disasters and financial ruin in its wake ever since it was looted from a temple to the god Indra; and of course there’s the Star of the Sea, the glittering necklace that was said to be aboard the Titanic when she plunged to the icy depths – at least in the movie.

But then there’s the Roseate Pearl, a perfectly round, perfectly pink, perfectly massive pearl, which legend says really did take down a ship – the SS Koombana, a luxurious liner that was mysteriously lost off the coast of Western Australia in a cyclone in 1912, just one month before the sinking of the Titanic. This pearl sits at the centre of my latest novel, Jewel Sea, as a symbol of greed and desire, but apart from destroying a ship and all aboard her, this pearl, too, had a string of gruesome murders and untimely deaths to her name.

This rosy, deadly pearl was said to have been stolen from a humble pearl diver, finding its way onto the ship some years later via a well-respected and popular pearl dealer, Abraham de Vahl Davis.

But why on earth would Mr Davis – in real-life an extremely wealthy and highly principled gentleman – have purchased a stolen pearl? Rare beauty or not, why would he risk his reputation on such a grubby, backdoor deal? And why was this pearl so accursed, so angered, that it took out its revenge on a ship full of innocents?

These were the questions that drove my curiosity in writing and researching Jewel Sea, but the one thing Rosy couldn’t tell me was where she is today. Unlike all the other jewels of infamy, this pearl appears to have been successful in her quest to escape human clutches. Perhaps she remains with the ship, somewhere on the ocean floor. Perhaps she never existed at all. Or perhaps she floated free, returning to the warm, turquoise waters that made her. Perhaps she simply went home.


 Jewel Sea can be found at your favourite retailers here.

20160826_172303 (3)


Wattle never blooms, it bursts: tiny needles of sunshine laughing at the last days of winter.

I’ve been taking hundreds of photographs of them lately, hoping to capture their laughter, boldest in the late-afternoon sun. My hands blue-cold around the camera, my gumboots slurping along tracks that have turned to ribbons of mud in the biblical quantities of rain we’ve enjoyed since June.

I want to catch just the right shout of mad loveliness, one that might bring inspiration for the cover of a new edition of my first novel, Black Diamonds, which will be published next year. It’s a story of coal and war and invincible love – and wattle bright against the grim struggle for peace.

Ten years ago, when this story was just about to step into the world for the first time, my own heart was breaking. I was still reeling from my mother’s sudden death, a catastrophic cancer having taken her from me before she’d had the chance to read the manuscript. I could still feel her leaving me as I tried to breathe life back into her goneness, on the lounge-room floor where I found her. My father, meanwhile, was returning to the strange childhood that dementia brings, making him unaware of who I was, never mind that I’d written a book. My marriage disintegrated under the weight of grief – a mercy killing of sorts, but nevertheless another space to mourn.

There was no celebration of Black Diamonds then. For almost a year afterwards, I couldn’t go anywhere without walking barefoot over the crushed-glass carpet of my own heart shards. I shredded my feet across the globe to Prague and back. Every shadow I owned engulfed me.

Good friends and a good therapist pulled me out of the black; the needs of my children tugged and tugged at me, too. And words, always my words, made ropeways of light away from any desire to crawl under that sharp carpet and never come out again.

Words, new glimpses of story, would burst like wattle blooms from black branches, bringing new life and new love. Boughs heavy with sunshine would soon garland the adit of my bleak cave, my coal pit, just as they do in my novel.

Yes, ten years on, I can finally celebrate Black Diamonds. I will dance with her in my arms when I hold her again.

Because wattle never fades, either. It smoulders deep gold before it melds into the warmth of spring.

New Microsoft Publisher Document


I’ve spent far too much time online lately – out of necessity, though. The way books are sold and marketed is rapidly changing, and most authors are having to educate themselves quicksticks as to how these changes are affecting the way their stories are reaching readers.

This means I’ve been looking at a lot of blogs – on writing, reading writers and writing readers. My word indeedy there’s a lot going on in that world, and much of it hugely exciting. It’s wonderful to find so many people – thousands and thousands – engaged in talking about writing and reading at any one time across the globe. Nonstop festival for narrative junkies.

But with all this fabulousness, there’s also the attendant truckload of how-to spruikers: how to write a bestseller, how to get published, how to write the perfect pitch, how to create your author brand. This sort of thing has always been with us, of course, but it’s been as magnified as everything else has with the internet.

That’s not to say some of these how-tos aren’t helpful, especially for authors just starting out. It’s useful to know how to present your manuscript professionally and what the current trends in publishing are, as well as publisher and reader expectations within various genres. It’s always useful, too, to discuss what makes stories tick, to examine their parts and interrogate what works.

It’s struck me this week, though, how limiting so much of this clangouring advice can be, especially to women writers. The soup reduced, it says: write in the third person, write heroines that are both indomitable and likeable, and don’t buggerise around with fancy language. Whatever you do: make sure your story is easy to read.

Where are the perky posts on how to be original in this sea of sameness, how to break the rules without breaking your career, or how to find your narrative purpose beyond your desire to call yourself a writer? Or, perhaps most importantly, how to respect readers’ intelligence by daring to offer them something a little different.

Being the odd one out. The quester. The dreamer. These can’t be taught by how-to cheat sheets. You either are these things, or you’re not.

The past few days I’ve found a startling contrast to all this easy-reading blather in editing the new work of an old pillar of Australian literature, someone esteemed for their colourful eccentricities, their mellifluous prose and the playful smile beneath every word. I can’t tell you who it is – that would be breaking the Secret Editors’ Business code of conduct – but I can say what a delight it’s been to be reminded of what writing can do inside the pages of this manuscript.

It opens with a passage written in first person reflective present tense, inside the head of a woman so infuriatingly passive you immediately want to shake her (except she’s so frail she’d disintegrate if you did), even as each sentence races one over the other like an untamed river now and again dashed across jagged rocks.

It’s not easy to read. It’s a joyful challenge. It’s full of heart and wonder and danger. It’s elastic, plastic – constantly surprising.

Oh, but the how-toers will tell you that only the very clever can do these tricky sorts of things. Ordinary writers shouldn’t step outside the lines if they want to succeed. Ordinary writers must aspire to seeing their work displayed between men’s underwear and stationery in discount department stores.

I know what kind of writer I want to be. Clever or not, I want to make some attempt at the extraordinary. I want to do things others say I can’t. I want to take readers to places only we can visit together.

And that’s not easy, nor should it ever be.



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.

IMG_2483 sarah kids

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.

IMG_2443 sarah

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.



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.