Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: November, 2014

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TRULY, MADLY, KIDNEY

This time next week I’m going to give my husband one of my kidneys – the left one or the right one, the surgeon hasn’t yet decided. Whichever one it is, it’s pretty amazing, yes. But brave? I don’t know.

I’ve spent most of my life in some kind of cowering fear. Neurotic describes me fairly well. A good deal of all my mistakes – in love and raising my children and raising myself – have sprung from these irrational fears. In varying degrees I’ve suffered from anxiety since my first attack on a bus when I was 18 – it was the classic case: heart-thumping out of my chest, dripping with sweat on the outside and parched on the inside. All for no apparent reason. No trigger: just me. And my genes – non-specific nutbaggery runs in the family.

This little personal tic blew up into a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after series of personally terrifying events, which I won’t talk about here, except to say that facing a couple of very real fears didn’t give me much insight into my mind – it just sent me right over the edge. At my worst, I couldn’t get out of the house to pick my kids up from school. I was too paralysed with fear to drive the car. On one particularly heart-breaking occasion, one of my sons was talking to me and I couldn’t hear him for the pounding in my head. That still makes me cry.

Anyone who has never experienced anxiety and what it can do might dismiss all this as a first world problem, self-indulgent rubbish. Don’t worry – part of me agrees. Despite coming from a long line of Nervous Nellies I often wonder, if I wasn’t so privileged, would I have been such an over-thinker, such a catastrophiser? It’s academic, though. Anxiety is with me and it’s with me to stay. Unfortunately, for all that it is a load of hyper-confabulated crap, it’s very real.

I spent a long time fighting it – about eighteen months. And I was fortunate to be able to do it without drugs, by sheer luck having found a therapist happy to take that path with me. I was, of course, terrified of the drugs! A combination of counselling, talking things through, and techniques designed to challenge or interrupt my anxiety cycle worked for me. Slowly but surely, I got back in the car. I got on top of it.

Then, just as I began to feel really great about life, and really comfortable in my own skin and brain, I met and fell in love with my darling Dean. The timing and poetry of it all could not have been more perfect. He was my sweetest reward for all my hard work on myself.

From the beginning, I knew Dean had a glitch in his system, though. I knew he had a genetic illness called polycystic kidney disease. It was a faintly ticking time-bomb, an illness that would inevitably lead to his kidneys going on permanent strike, but something we thought was at least a decade off – if not two.

Then, in March 2013, Dean became suddenly and terrifyingly ill. No rhyme or reason to that either, just the luck of the draw, and virtually overnight that was it for the kidneys. One day they were muddling along; the next day kaput.

And that’s about the length of time I needed to think about the idea of slinging him one of mine. And the oddest thing occurred in that moment: I felt no fear. None. Well, despite the barrage of tests I had to undergo, I’m fearful that somehow my kidney will be defective, that Dean will reject it or it will make him sick. I was out of my mind with fear that one of my tests would come back saying I was dying of cancer or that I was really an alien from the planet Ergamom and it was time for me to leave Earth. All that sort of barking bullshit. But as for the personal overthinking rubbish of ‘am I doing the right thing?’ – nada. Not one second of doubt.

Perhaps, seeing Dean in the Intensive Care Unit on the precipice of death, I’d reached some kind of threshold of fear, some kind of psychic overload. I prefer to think that something might really have shifted in me, not to obliterate my anxiety but to allow me to embrace it. To recognise my own courage as a good thing, and something that’s been with me all along. To love, to create children, to live is to be courageous – every single day. We are all heroes to the people who hold us dear. But this gift I’m giving to Dean isn’t entirely selfless. I’m putting up a fight for what I want – one I’m fairly desperate to win. And I’m allowing myself to feel a bit joyful that, by taking this risk, I get the chance – a very real chance – to have my husband back, restored to reasonably good health.

Or maybe it’s just love after all, and I’m grown up enough, and practiced at it enough these days to give it without thinking too much about it. It doesn’t matter why, I guess. I’m bloody well doing it anyway. Next Wednesday morning at about 9am, the Magic Kidney Santas will be delivering that special piece of me to my darling. Bless them.

So please wish us luck – and have a merry, merry Christmas yourself. Have some big, fabulous, fearless joy in your bonbons one and all.

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JINGLE BOOKS

You know that books are an easy cop-out for Chrissie prezzers, don’t you. You know that Aunty Mavis probably won’t read that copy of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North you bought because you were in a rush in Dymocks and really want it for yourself because you can’t believe you still haven’t read it. You know Uncle Ted will look admiringly at that copy of Barrie Cassidy’s Private Bill you bought him that will go straight to the book shelf in the pool room where nothing is ever read because Ted refuses to get a new prescription for his specs.

But here are three good reasons to do it anyway.

1. You love Aunty Mave and Uncle T and really want them to read those books as much as you want to read them yourself. And there’s always hope. Aunty Mave might have that one sherry too many on Boxing Day afternoon, retire to the verandah with the book and fall in love. Uncle T might, while thusly neglected by Mave, fall a little in love with Mrs Overthebackfence and thereby be prompted to make that appointment at the optometrist in the new year all the better to see her, and in doing so reopen the world of reading he forgot had meant so much to him, thereby falling in love with his darling Mave all over again as they take up reading in bed together. The possibilities are endless and, if enough books are bought across the globe, will eventually and inevitably result in world peace.

2. You will be putting vital cash into the book publishing money-go-round to make more books, hopefully by all of the authors you love too, which will also eventually and inevitably result in world peace.

3. Some random person – maybe a cousin you don’t like or the plumber or a Mormon or some weird kid off the street – will pass by the book shelf of Aunty Mave and Uncle T and see those books of love you put there and pick them up, and love them as you do. Again – world peace.

So, do your bit for geopolitical stability and buy books for Christmas, yeah?

Here’s what’s on my wish list for holiday world peace reading…

The Thing About Prague by Rachael Weiss

Nightingale by Fiona McIntosh

Time and Again by Ben Elton

One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

Vagabondage by Beth Spencer

What’s on yours?

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WRITERS GOTTA WRITE

With my daily-bread editor’s hat on, throughout this year I seem to have fielded an extraordinary number of queries from aspiring authors that go something like this:

“I have a fantastic idea for a book that I know will appeal to publishers but I need an editor to help me put it together.”

And one, I kid you not, that said:

“As a busy executive, I don’t have time to finesse the finer points of writing, so I’m looking for the right editor to…” basically write his Matthew Reilly rip-off for him, having noted that this mega-selling author and I share the same publisher (!).

I’ve felt like asking in reply: why do you want to write if you, erm, don’t want to write? Politeness prevents me from responding with anything but a diplomatic decline, though, and I suspect I know the answer to my question anyway. Such aspiring authors probably like the idea of seeing their name on the cover of a book and wearing that Very Important Writer Person feather in their cap for all the world to see. But they don’t really want to do the work to get there.

Why so many Edit My Novel queries, though? I must have had at least fifty enquiries from the public this year – more than twice the normal number. Is it just the advent of ebooks and self-publishing or something else going on? I don’t know. But it’s got me wondering about that old chestnut of why we’re so attracted to the idea of writing – why we think it’s such a special thing to do – and the growing industry around it.

Today, we have a mind-boggling number of options through which we might explore our writing potential, from the humble (and often very helpful) village writers’ group through to PhD odysseys at prestigious universities. We have editors galore jostling in the cyber market for clients, some alarmingly fresh out of undergraduate degrees, and authors earning pocket money dispensing writing tips to the masses on the strength of having punched out one or two books themselves. We have libraries full of books on how to write. We have casual short-courses on all manner of authorly topics, from unlocking your creativity to promoting your work. There is even a course out there on how to use a computer program that will organise your novel for you and choose your characters’ names (convenient for some, I guess, but if a computer tried to choose one of my character’s names, I’d have to throw it out the window). There’s the ever-swelling plethora of online publishers offering instant books (just add $$), and then there’s the magnificently manic NaNoWriMo for those who want to smash that novel out of the park in a month – huzzah!

It’s exhausting just having a look at what’s out there for the hopeful word-scaping dreamer. I imagine, too, that most people involved in all this narrative activity are genuine storytellers looking for a path through. And good luck to every one of those hungry hearts. Writing a novel – whether you publish it or not, and whether it’s a financial success or not – will undoubtedly be one of the best things you will ever do. There’s no exhilaration like that we enjoy when we type those magic words: The End. That sense of having completed such a whole Big Thing.

But it’s curious, isn’t it, that no other creative endeavour seems to generate such a need in those who chase after it? In my little world, I personally know more visual artists, actors and musicians than I do writers. Of course there are a huge number of study options you can pursue in any of these fields as well, but there seems to be an emphasis on the doing and the learning bits in these sorts of arts courses. You can enjoy learning to dance without thinking that you’re going to turn pro in a year or two; you can learn to throw a pot in clay, to create beautiful things and feel your hands in the mud, without expecting to become a famous ceramist.

Why then do so many embark on the writing journey with the goal of publication so much front and centre? Whatever happened to the idea of writing for writing’s sake? For the thrill of that kind of expression; for the need simply to tell the tale. I did it – secretly and deliciously and yearningly – for about twenty-five years before I came out as an actual aspirer. Twenty-five years of piecing it all together, finding my voice, discovering what I really wanted to say, waiting for my courage to come. Reading. Thinking. Staring at rusty old engines and making them steam into life in my mind. I wrote a lot of poetry to experiment with my one true love: words. I wrote song lyrics and scene sketches on buses and trains for that quick fix. Spent thousands of hours poring over others’ work, suspended in breathless envy.

Where is the course that tells you it’s this love and your addiction to it that will drive any success you have? No tricks. No shortcuts. No programs.  Just love, wonder and a mother load of longing.

There’s only one place you’ll find such a course, of course – inside you. And it doesn’t cost a cent.