Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: June, 2014

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SO, WHAT DO YOU WRITE?

I’ve tied myself up in all sorts of gordians over this question. I’ve only relatively recently admitted to even being a writer in general company, and that’s mostly because I am more often introduced as one. But when someone asks, ‘Oh, so what sort of books do you write?’ my initial response usually begins, ‘Errrrr. Um…’

Like most writers, I don’t fit neatly into a genre. What I write sits somewhere in Romance and somewhere in Literature, but neither seems entirely happy to claim me. The tag Historical Fiction seems too broad; but say the words ‘Australian Historical Fiction’ and your new acquaintance’s eyes have glazed over before you’ve reached the last syllable. Apart from being Romantic, Historical, Australian and Literature, then, I could really go for the bore factor and add that what I write is underpinned by a labourist interpretation of our cultural touchstones and mythology, and then confuse the issue completely by revealing that my stories are also threaded aplenty with sparkly bits of comedy and magic which aren’t anything but genrelessly and daggily themselves.

We love to categorise things, though, don’t we? We like to know precisely what cup of tea we’re getting – Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast, Whiny Old Cow – before we decide whether it’s our cup of tea or not. We like product presented in neat parcels, too – individually bagged, bite-sized, snack-sized, standardised. Even though size 12 is never going to precisely fit every girl who possesses those measurements – and on some, that frock will just look crap.

Or worse: pretentious. Mutton dressed up as quail with quinoa salad, or something like that. Sometimes, when I try to explain what I write, I feel the new acquaintance thinking: are you a wanker or what? What do you mean you like to play with the form of the romantic saga as an allegory for Australians’ relationship with their own bullshit?

Errrr. Um. I mean that’s what I try to do. Sorry! And, to make it worse, it all comes from a place of deep affection in me, a genuine fascination with my country and the people who live in it that marks me down as a shameless sentimentalist too. And to make it worser and worser still, a bit of romance, I find, is the very best fun one might have on one’s own. Oh dear. I must be out of my mind.

So, bugger it, I’ve decided I’ll just have to make up a new genre. The Politically Motivated Love Story – that’s what I write. Get out your laminator for a new shelf tag, book babes, it could be the next best thing! Indeed, we should all write our own genres, each of us. Writers of the World unite in reckless invention! We have nothing to lose but our marketing chains!

But seriously, I write novels driven by love and wonder that I hope touch others enough to provoke curiosity about whatever it is I’m trying to say. I don’t want to preach to any genre-choir; I want to meet literary strangers across these pages and show them something new; something borrowed, something true. Something of me, for you, whoever you might be. And that’s pretty much what we all do, isn’t it? As simple and as knotty as that…

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Happy Birthday, Henry Lawson. I wouldn’t write what I do or how I do without you. This poem of yours is somehow a part of me, some essential sinew in my heart …

The Faces in the Street

They lie, the men who tell us for reasons of their own 
That want is here a stranger, and that misery’s unknown; 
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet 
My window-sill is level with the faces in the street — 
Drifting past, drifting past, 
To the beat of weary feet — 
While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street. 

And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair, 
To see upon those faces stamped the marks of Want and Care; 
I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet 
In sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street — 
Drifting on, drifting on, 
To the scrape of restless feet; 
I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street. 

In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky 
The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by, 
Increasing as the moments hurry on with morning feet, 
Till like a pallid river flow the faces in the street — 
Flowing in, flowing in, 
To the beat of hurried feet — 
Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street. 

The human river dwindles when ’tis past the hour of eight, 
Its waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late; 
But slowly drag the moments, whilst beneath the dust and heat
The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street — 
Grinding body, grinding soul, 
Yielding scarce enough to eat — 
Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street. 

And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down 
Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town, 
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street,
Tells of the city’s unemployed upon his weary beat — 
Drifting round, drifting round, 
To the tread of listless feet — 
Ah! My heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.

And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away, 
And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day, 
Then flowing past my window like a tide in its retreat, 
Again I see the pallid stream of faces in the street — 
Ebbing out, ebbing out, 
To the drag of tired feet, 
While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street. 

And now all blurred and smirched with vice the day’s sad pages end, 
For while the short `large hours’ toward the longer `small hours’ trend, 
With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat, 
Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street — 
Sinking down, sinking down, 
Battered wreck by tempests beat — 
A dreadful, thankless trade is hers, that Woman of the Street. 

But, ah! to dreader things than these our fair young city comes, 
For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums, 
Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet, 
And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street — 
Rotting out, rotting out, 
For the lack of air and meat — 
In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street. 

I wonder would the apathy of wealthy men endure 
Were all their windows level with the faces of the Poor? 
Ah! Mammon’s slaves, your knees shall knock, your hearts in terror beat, 
When God demands a reason for the sorrows of the street, 
The wrong things and the bad things 
And the sad things that we meet 
In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel, heartless street. 

I left the dreadful corner where the steps are never still, 
And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill; 
But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
They haunted me — the shadows of those faces in the street, 
Flitting by, flitting by, 
Flitting by with noiseless feet, 
And with cheeks but little paler than the real ones in the street. 

Once I cried: `Oh, God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure, 
Now show me in a vision for the wrongs of Earth a cure.’ 
And, lo! with shops all shuttered I beheld a city’s street, 
And in the warning distance heard the tramp of many feet, 
Coming near, coming near, 
To a drum’s dull distant beat, 
And soon I saw the army that was marching down the street. 

Then, like a swollen river that has broken bank and wall, 
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all, 
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution’s heat, 
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street. 
Pouring on, pouring on, 
To a drum’s loud threatening beat, 
And the war-hymns and the cheering of the people in the street. 

And so it must be while the world goes rolling round its course,
The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse, 
But not until a city feels Red Revolution’s feet 
Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street — 
The dreadful everlasting strife 
For scarcely clothes and meat 
In that pent track of living death — the city’s cruel street. 

 

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 NERVES OF STEEL

It’s often said that to be a writer you need nerves of steel. Not just to write, though I seem to need to find my courage there daily too, and the effort of holding it steady is often as exhausting as writing itself. But rather, it’s when you’ve finished the hard graft and handed the manuscript baby over to agent or publisher or The Reading World that you need to whip off the spectacles and don the cape of Super Authorlady, who has those nerves of steel. Somewhere… Perhaps I’ve left my pesky nervy things in the shed…or hidden in the back of the pantry.

I seem to have waited an eternity to learn the fate of my next novel, my beloved Hill End story. It’s only been with the publisher about five weeks now (a nanosecond in traditional publishing terms), but not a waking hour goes past when I don’t feel my heart suddenly belting out the prayer: please, please love my manuscript. Please. I’ll die if you don’t. I even had a dream early this morning that someone from the sales department spotted a one-star review for one of my previous novels somewhere online and thereby decided that this was the end of my career. Kaput. Kim Kelly – gorrrrn. Entirely pulped from human history. Just like that.

These jelly nerves of mine are particularly silly in this instance as I know this novel is a goer. I know that it will be published, like I’ve never known any such thing before. More than any of my previous stories, this one seems to have leapt straight out of my soul and onto the page. It’s richer and deeper in voice; it’s more mature and steely in its narrative resolve. It’s more me than anything I’ve written so far. And perhaps because of all that, the stakes are raised even higher, and I need more derring-do, not less.

Maybe this is why we also often hear writers say that, while technical aspects of the craft might get easier the more you practise them, writing novels doesn’t ever really get easier. Recently, another writer mentioned in passing on a facebook post (so passing I can’t remember who it was!) that she felt every new novel was like starting again at the bottom of a mountain she’d never climbed before. And it is very much like that for me, too – a completely new adventure each time, and undertaken somehow mapless. Daunting from the first step. Perhaps it’s one endeavour in which the easier it gets, the harder it gets too because, with each new story, you want to travel further, take new risks, see new things. Fly those stakes higher and higher.

I love it. I wouldn’t swap this writing caper for quids (just as well, given the usual remuneration it brings). And I wouldn’t swap it for those elusive and possibly mythical nerves of steel either. Somehow, being perpetually terrified is just part of the deal, for me anyway.