by Kim Kelly

me and mum


I’ve got a new book coming out in January – woot! It’s a tiny thing, a little novella called Wild Chicory, inspired by stories my grandmother told me when I was a child, stories about Ireland and being Irish in Sydney, stories that explore where stories come from and who I really am. And I’ve never been more excited about a book of mine.

This excitement is a pretty big deal in itself. When each of the four novels I’ve previously written stepped out on the stage, fear has been the overriding emotion, a screaming jumble of OHMYGODFOOLIDIOTCRAZYSHITSTOPITNOW. This time, I seem to be free of the fear. This time, I feel my road is opening out before me and that, in so many ways, I’ve only just begun to walk it. With the sun on my shoulders. With some deep internal permission to smile.

Why? If you know me you know that I’ve long had issues with anxiety, and I’ve talked about all that elsewhere in this blog. The one thing I’ve never talked about here is the great big dark hole of grief I fell into just as I began to believe I might have a crack at writing, and it’s at the core of all the fear I’ve carried about it since.

This hole swallowed me up the day my mother died, January 17, 2005. I’d printed out my first draft of my first novel, Black Diamonds, two days earlier for her. We joked that reading the first chapter is what killed her, but really, she died of an aggressive, terminal cancer she hadn’t even had time to admit to us she had. I found her dead in the loungeroom of her home. She was not quite cold, but she went cold as I desperately tried to revive her.

My heart broke and my brain broke all at once. It took me about three years to start to feel alive inside again.

But while I was still lost down in that hole, the first thing I did in trying to find my way up was to make her live in my writing. I adopted her maiden name Kelly and it would be stamped on everything I wrote from then on.

That’s not as sentimental as it sounds. My wonderful mum was really a bit of a hardarse, for her own and many reasons. She was often much more forthcoming with criticism of me than with praise. I never felt she was particularly proud of me. That is, until one day, a few years before she died. We were in the car – doing some mundane thing, like going to K-mart – and she said almost out of the corner of her mouth and quite randomly: “You’re doing all right. Hm. You’re a Kelly.”

In my mother’s often mangled language, that translates to: “I’m very bloody proud of you.”

Of course this was followed by more criticism, but it was criticism I heard in every good way. “Stop talking about writing a story and start writing one,” she said.

Two years later I did, and here I am, another decade on. I am Kim Kelly. And I’m a little bit proud of it. I am that small smiling girl again. Thanks, Mum.