Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: March, 2014


This is Lillian Bridget Kelly, nee O’Reilly, my grandmother – the other grandmother and inspirer of all things Blue Mile I promised I’d write a post about. We called her Nin. Or more correctly, Nin the Pin, as she was a tiny person and a mad keen stitcher.

She made most of my clothes when I was a little girl. I have the best memories of catching the bus into town with her to go to DJs and Farmers to choose fabrics and patterns. She’d always buy me a treat of either a chocolate umbrella from the sweets counter or a pink-iced cake from the cafeteria afterwards. And back home again, she’d stitch me midriff tops and gypsy skirts and harem pants and party dress after party dress.

When my mother was a smart young thing about Sydney in the 1950s, Nin created all her evening gowns. They didn’t have much money, so couture had to be run up on the Singer in their little Coogee flat, and dresses ever reinvented with the addition of trims – laces, fringing, clouds of tulle and rainspot net. And it was all haute indeed: my mum was always fabulously decked out.

Nin was never wealthy, never owned a home or a car, despite working very hard in one way or another all her life. Legend has it that in the 1940s, just about when this photo was taken and when her daughters were small, Nin fibbed to her employer saying she was unmarried so that she could keep her job as stenographer – so that she and Granddad could send their daughters to the best school. There’s no price on good style, is there?

Back in the 1930s, during the Depression and before she met Granddad, Nin was a flapper, a cigarette-smoking, whisky-quaffing imp. If you look carefully, you can still see the glint of it in her eyes. She’d tell me stories when I was small, too many of which I have forgotten, about daring deeds – most memorably that she was among the first to climb right over the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge when it was opened. I can’t look at the Bridge without thinking of tiny Nin up there. The breeze in her flame-red curls. The quiet fearlessness she had about her.

The youngest of thirteen and the luckiest for it in love, she also told me stories of growing up very poor, very Catholic and rather Irish in inner Sydney during the First War and into the 1920s, stories about inequity and prejudice that have in turn whispered down the years and through me. Snippets of tragedies and triumphs and excellent lines that have made their way into my Blue Mile. I wonder if she knows somewhere, somehow, that I couldn’t have written a word of this novel without her. I hope so.

rose seeeds


I’ve been tagged in a writer’s blog chain by author, singer and ABC radio host Mary-Lou Stephens to talk about my writing – what I do and how I do it. Mary-Lou is one of those wonderful people who manage to combine generosity and sharp-mindedness in the same person-package. In the olden days I think we called it wisdom and you’ll find plenty of that in Mary-Lou’s memoir, Sex, Drugs and Meditation. Find out more about Mary-Lou here. I’m chuffed she dobbed me into this blog chain.

I’ve been writing now for almost a decade. Really, a decade? Gosh, it doesn’t feel that long. My third novel, The Blue Mile, is about to be published and I still feel like a newbie at this game – despite having worked as a book editor for almost twenty years, too. You’d think I’d be an old hand at banging on about writing. But I’m not. I can discuss in intimate detail the structure and intention of a novel with its author. Other than that, I know as little or as much as anyone else.

Because it’s a personal thing, this writing business. There are as many ways to go about it, and as many reasons for doing it in the first place, as there are people-packages on earth. But it’s good to take stock and reconsider what I’m doing and why I’m doing it with this prompt from Mary-Lou, so here, without further ado, are my answers to the blog chain questions.

So . . .  what am I working on now?

I’m working on the final chapters of a novel, a second draft of a story set in the old gold rush town of Hill End. Oh please, let it be everything I need it to be with these revisions I’m making now. It’s a bit of a departure from my first three novels, which use romance and humour as a way into some big moments in Australian history – bringing some lightness and brightness to the dusty corners of our social and political nation-ness. This next manuscript is much darker and knottier, in subject and in its history. And yet it’s also a romance – because I just can’t help writing about love. I hope I never stop writing about love.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

This is really a question for readers to decide, but I hope that playfulness and research are the things that make my work stand out from the crowd. I love traditional romance – stories about love and adventure and triumph and tragedy and characters shining their best selves at you like beacons of hope that you can be fabulous too – and I love to play with the rules of the genre and break some of them as well. But romance, in the mind of many readers, equals cliché, cliché, cliché, chicks’ stuff, cliché, cliché. I hope that my work turns that on its head, that readers – chicks and blokes alike – are surprised to be taken somewhere they thought was familiar but ends up showing them things about their world, their history, and themselves that they hadn’t considered before, or had perhaps forgotten.

Why do I write about what I do?

As I said, I am compelled to write about love. It’s a highly underrated subject, considering how important it is not only to human happiness but to our survival. It’s a subject that gets very little literary respect, but one I’m determined to keep on writing about – partly because I believe it’s a worthy subject and partly because I’m just damn contrary. Australian history also has a hold on me like nothing else. I’ve always been curious about being Australian, about never having quite fitted into the white-bread-still-call-England-Home dominant culture, and about our ability as a people to demonstrate the extremes of humanity – massive bigness of spirit and massive meanness too – while at the same time never giving into radicalism of any sort. Why would you when it’s almost always nearly beer o’clock? I’ll probably always write about Australia too, particularly the conflicting ideologies that plague us – there goes the career as a bestselling romance author. Oh well.

How does my writing process work?

First, characters start jabbering to me – they tend to emerge from reading, usually history, essays and narrative works, and idly trawling the old newspapers on the National Library’s Trove database. Suddenly I have a bunch of imaginary friends who need to speak and get their story out fairly urgently. I tend to bash out a first draft over a period of around six months, working around editing commitments (i.e. making actual money to support stupid writing compulsion). Then after a few more months’ cooking time, I read the manuscript again and, largely horrified by what I have written, I begin revisions, which will take a few more months or several. So it takes me about a year to come up with something readable – that then will be edited again, and again… until agent and publisher are happy.

My writing day usually falls into two parts: first, the period in which I must convince myself that I am not a useless waste of a brain (sometimes this takes up most of the day); the second, where I drill down and write, write, write, just let it take over me. I never stop researching, either – not until the manuscript is typeset into pages. I’m still scrabbling around in my world, checking facts and finding new ones, right up until the final whistle blows.

And now, last but not least, as part of this blog chain, it’s my turn to tag two writers for you to have a good squizz at. I’ve chosen two writers who mean a lot to me, not only for their talents and the uniqueness of their writerly quests, but because, just by being themselves, they have encouraged me.

Belinda Castles

Belinda is an award-winning author of three novels – Falling Woman, The River Baptists and her most recent Hannah and Emil. She’s also a teacher and one of the wittiest and large-brained people I know. We were publishing industry babies working at Random House together many years ago. As a writer, she walks a line between objectivity and love that makes me green. Check Belinda out here.

Beth Spencer

Beth is the author of the book that got me hooked (or re-hooked) on the magic of story. All those moons ago, as a baby editor, I was given the typeset pages of her collection of tales and reflections, How To Conceive of a Girl, to check through. Something beautiful happened and the rest is history, still fabulously unfolding. Beth’s new work, a collection of poetry called Vagabondage, will be published later this year. Check Beth out here.

Thanks for the blog chain fun, Mary-Lou xx

It’s never too late. There will never be enough hours in the day. Life will always get in the way. So now is as good a time as any? Isn’t it? To do it. To push your little boat out from your safe harbour and chase that dream.

I’m almost forty-six years old and it took me about thirty-five of those years to summon the courage. I’m so glad I did. Grateful every day. In a few short weeks when my third novel, The Blue Mile, hits the bookstores, a total of 400,000 of my words will be in the world. I’m finessing the next novel right now and then I’ll have half a million words under my belt. This blows me away.

It’s hard work, most of the time. Life certainly does get in the way. For starters, a year ago, I almost lost my husband Dean to acute renal failure. That really would have put the kybosh on romance for a while had the worst happened. But it didn’t. It’s been a wobbly old road back into normality, whatever that is, with crazy rounds of doctors’ visits and tests for me to see if I can sling him one of my kidneys – and I’m pleased to say I can, and we’ll be bonding in this extreme way in the next few months, all being well. In and around all that, though, I’ve been missing my ‘grown-up’ kids terribly, searching for a house to call home, together with worrying about money and how to fit writing around proper-job work and all the shit that goes along with being alive day after day.

Never frigging stops, does it?!

But day after day I have recommitted to writing, too. My push back at the shoves I’ve received. Sometimes it’s an escape. Sometimes it’s a blessed relief. And it’s always a challenge, to myself: just bloody do it.

You only get one life. Mine is half over, I reckon. I have to do it. And whatever dream you cherish and long to fulfill, I hope you do it too.

Yes, if you’re wondering, that’s Dean there in the photo above, a few weeks out of ICU, down on the Macquarie at Ophir being in his element, being alive. Being a bloody legend.

So do it. Start now. You know you want to…

For the sadness of children,
Butter hard, bread stale,
Knees stinging on the inside,
Bones jellified,
I cry.

Scrambling back to apologise,
Milk spilt, fruit bruised,
Bolting a plateful of cold peas
And awful cheese,
Yes, please.

Anything, for you.