Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: January, 2016

butterflies

EDNA’S BUTTERFLIES

Hollywood stars receive free perfume and bling in their Oscars showbags. Sports stars receive free running shoes. Writers traditionally receive diddly, except for words.

‘Can you read my manuscript?’ For free, we are asked.

‘Can you help me get published?’ Laughter is also free.

But now and again, and increasingly for me, I have received some precious, priceless words.

Poetry. I received some this afternoon, a collection written by a woman I don’t know, the mother of a cyber friend, in return for a favour. Her name is Norma Houen, and when she died not long ago, her son, my friend, Charles, and his sister, Jill, decided to publish her work themselves.

As I opened the slim volume, entitled String of Pearls, her first poem, ‘Edna’s Butterflies’, caught my breath:

Embroidering her dreams
our mother shaped our lives
as hers was shaped by ours

her children danced and whirled
floating sequined wings
in silvered light
one she netted
one set free
or that was how it seemed
 
finer than gossamer  spun from love
her fragile nets embraced
supporting  confining  reclaiming
when her children’s children danced the dream
and she filled their lives with light

And my eyes filled with tears. Poems were among my first journeys in words, and such poetry as Norma Houen’s are the songs of our everyday. ‘Edna’s Butterflies’ returned me immediately to my grandmother Ivy’s flat in Coogee, cluttered with her paintings and her fabrics and her giant, sparkling weirdness. It returned me to my young motherhood, too, making sequined wings from wire hangers and an old pair of nylon stockings for one of my boys when he was small. My love beating out into a big blue sky afternoon, willing him endless wonders with every stitch.

Most publishers today consider poetry to be worthless, and as ever women’s domestic reflections are worth quite a bit less than that, but these words – Norma’s words, every poet’s heart-wrought words – will always be treasure for me.

 

‘Edna’s Butterflies’ reproduced here with many thanks to Charles and Jill

blog hop

BOOK’D OUT AUSTRALIA DAY BLOG HOP

(entries are now closed)

I love a sunburnt country – mine, in fact. Telling and sharing tales about Australia is what I do, whether I’m writing a new novel, or editing someone else’s, or mentoring another author along the road of discovering what it is they want to say – most often, about Australia.

All of my own stories delve into some aspect of Australian history, to see what the past might show us about who we are today, and my new novella, Wild Chicory, is no exception. Inspired by stories my grandmother told me when I was small, it’s the tale of an Irish family, the Kennedys, and the trip they make to immigrate to Sydney from Tralee in the early 1900s.

Like the story of Australia itself, Wild Chicory is not always a happy, sunshiny tale. There are clouds, there are obstacles of poverty and bigotry for the Kennedy family to overcome, but, as in all my stories, love breaks through in the end. Of course it does! And in the case of Wild Chicory, it’s love of stories that triumphs over all.

I’d love to share a signed copy of Wild Chicory with one lucky winner on the Book’d Out Australia Day Giveaway Blog Hop.

For a chance to win, simply comment on this here little blog of mine – and while you’re there, you can tell me what you love most about Australia, if you like!

Entries close midnight 27 January, Australian Eastern Standard Time, and the winner will be chosen at random.

For a chance to win all manner of other wonderful tales, visit the Book’d Out Australia Day Giveaway Blog Hop page here, and hop away to your heart’s content – there are so many fabulous books and bloggers to discover over there. Thank you once again, Shellyrae at Book’d Out, for hosting this marvellous event.

Good luck and happy blog-hopping!

While we’re celebrating, though, let’s not forget that Australia Day is not a joyful day for everyone. I acknowledge the pain of First Nations Australians and pledge to do what I can to make a brighter future by telling the truth about injustices, past and present, and by listening to those who are hurt.

Love will break through in the end – it has to.

Blue sky and sunshine to all x

AND THE WINNER IS: Janine!

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TELLING TALES FOR AUSTRALIA

Anyone who’s read my stories knows I love Australia with a massive depth of passion. I love her as my mother. And I love her as a naughty child. I love her even when she does unforgivable things.

But I don’t usually make a particular point of celebrating Australia Day. I never have. It wasn’t fashionable when I was growing up, and seems only to have become A Thing after the bicentenary in 1988. Splashy Ken Done prints have never suited me, though; neither has wrapping myself in the flag – any flag.

Anyway, as a student of history, which flag should I rightly wrap myself in even if I did have a yen (or a yuan to buy one)?

The Australian flag that we know today as The Flag has a bit of a chequered past. It was chosen via a design competition in 1901 following Federation, which was of course when Australia became a nation, which was of course also when we instituted the White Australia Policy, which was designed to lock out anyone of unacceptable skin-colour from participating in Australian society.

It’s worth remembering, too, that this flag was flown across our shiny, brand new nation before women could participate in society by voting, and that for most of the Boer War across those nation-birthing years, Australian soldiers fought under their various colonial ensigns or the Union Jack of Great Britain. Even after Federation, in all the wars Australia has taken part in, Australian soldiers have fought under British flags or the Red Ensign version of the Australian Flag, and our official flag was for swathes of the previous century a white backgrounded reconfiguration called the Federation Flag. Confused?

People don’t fight for flags, though, do they. They fight for home. People, ordinary people, fight for love, which is why war is such an enduring debacle of the worst ironic order – and why we are so easily manipulated into fighting in the first place.

Australia is a land of many flags, and home is a complex concept for many of us.

For people of the First Nations, the experience of the day can be fraught with grief, and for some the unresolved anger that comes from continuing injustice. A day of unhealed and aching wounds.

For many others, Australia Day can be a conflicted time of celebration and homesickness for the piece of their heart that remains in another country. It might be the day you call your mum in some place far away before you fire up the barbie. It might be the day you shed some tears for those lost in bloody battles your new Australian neighbours will never understand. And you pray they will never know. It might me a day of grateful prayer for you.

I’m a sixth generation Australian with both immigrant and convict ancestry. The only Brits related to me came here in chains almost two hundred years ago for petty, pathetic crimes against the Crown. The immigrants came later, from Germany and Ireland; their reasons are lost to the mists, but at a guess they came for same reason most did, to make a home in a peaceful place of sunshine and quality food and education for their children. Hardworking people, just wanting to get along in life.

Hard as it might be to believe, Australia was once called the Working Man’s Paradise. Our spirit of mateship, our egalitarianism was once world famous. The Aussie fair go was not a myth, even though it often seems so now. Before we signed up for any foreign war, men fought and died under the Eureka flag, the Southern Cross, against greedy authoritarianism, and for the right for all men of the bloke variety to vote, which they would eventually force into being in 1856. That flag was sewn by the women who stood beside them – women who would slowly but surely win the right to vote themselves in 1902, among the first across the globe. And when that occurred – when every man and woman could vote and put up their hand to run for parliament (albeit only if you were white) – we were, for that golden moment, the most democratic nation on earth.

These kinds of fierce acts of love, of progress and justice, make me proud to be Australian, and if I have a purpose in this life beyond living it, this excellent life Australia has allowed me to enjoy, it’s to do whatever small but significant thing I can to make our myth of togetherness, tolerance and equality our reality once more.

I try to do that by telling stories about this land I love, unearthing our truths, our quirks and contradictions, shining my little light so that at least I might see her wild canvas of colours more brightly, more deeply – so that hopefully others might, too.

Which is all a very long-winded explanation for why, this year, I will be celebrating Australia Day – in stories – over at the Book’d Out blog hop. I’ll be hooraying Australian tales because they tell us, in all their diversity, who we really are. And I hope you’ll join me there, too.

swallow

WORD LIFE

I woke up this morning in a fug of post-celebration doubt. Copies of my new book, Wild Chicory, had arrived yesterday afternoon and their loveliness sent me on a high – that high every author feels when they see their words in print for the first time. Five books on and it never gets old. But every dawn that follows brings the daunting wonder: will people like it?

This dawn, I took my doubts for a walk, and up the drive of my house a wagtail hopped along towards the bend in the track our property is named after. The little black-and-white bird, fiercely territorial, was warning me to stay away from his family. I smiled: wagtails are so plucky they’ll take on a kookaburra or a magpie – birds ten times their size – and win.

If you’ve read This Red Earth, you might remember that a wagtail flits through the narrative, a symbol of tenacity, of the impossible achieved, and as I walked up the track this morning, I reminded myself of that, too. I am small, but I am big in spirit. Determined.

I looked up to find swallows darting between the branches of the gum trees above; swift arrowheads signifying romance, freedom, hope, they make an appearance in Paper Daisies, promising love for wounded souls.

I smiled again and glanced back towards the house, where a fat rainbow in the western sky had been waiting for me to turn my head, to laugh at me and my fears.

Wild Chicory flies out into the world today, not mine any more. She’s yours now. And I don’t have any words for this emotion, only hope that she brings joy wherever she is found.

 

If you’d like to find her, you can right here.

 

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ALWAYS IN MY SONG

Like most of the world, I’m a little shocked and bewildered that Bowie has gone. At the same time, though, a magic settles inside this grief with the knowledge that, while ever I’m alive, so will he be. And when I’m dead, we’ll be star people together again.

He was both my favourite cartoon and my infinite well of soul. A bigness of mind that showed me something new every time I went to him.

I can’t begin to calculate how much I owe him. When I was twelve and all words were a mad scramble, his rhythms told me it wasn’t just right to be different – it was a responsibility.

He led me to the writings of Nietzsche, my backstop of questing courage.

He was the essential poet and percussionist I have taken with me along every writing journey of my own, sometimes soothing, always challenging.

But I never knew Bowie had listed his top 100 books with some journalist some time ago – here it is – and reading it this morning I’ve found he’s left me one parting surprise.

One of the books on his list is John Braine’s Room at the Top, a novel that’s on my list of influences too. I read it when I was seventeen, in between school and university, when my own strangeness and uncertainty was at its most acute. I found it among Dad’s books and read it on the floor of the small but well-stuffed library in our house. I can still feel the scratch of the olive green carpet under my shoulders, the sound of a storm coming in across the sea outside, as I turned the pages.

I want to write like that one day, I dared myself in secret.

No-one I knew then, and no-one I’ve met since, had ever heard of Room at the Top, a story about a returned soldier and his tortured desires for a betterness that never exists. I’ve carried it around with me these last thirty years as some kind of a talisman, reminding me to hold onto my difference, because really, that’s all we’ve ever got that’s truly ours.

And here it is again now, but a shared thing with one I’ve shared so much.

I’m going to read it again today.

Whole world

GOING GLOBAL

Today is a hugely exciting day for me. I’ve just discovered that the paperback edition of my new baby, Wild Chicory, is available on the Book Depository website. For those who don’t know, the Book Depository is a massive, UK-based bookseller that ships all over the world.

If your book is sold there, it can go anywhere.

For many Australian authors, though, it’s just about impossible to have our work sold internationally in print form. Our complex system of copyright jurisdictions and the smallness of our at-home audience means that most Australian authors won’t find overseas publishers for their books, and since most Australian publishers can’t publish globally, we’re left out of the big picture.

I’m so grateful Wild Chicory is being published by The Author People, whose mission is to break free of the cumbersome and outdated strictures of traditional publishing and reach out to readers wherever they might be.

For my little Wild Chicory, I’ll never have to apologise to a UK or US reader about books not being available to them. If a reader in India or Ireland or Italy wants a copy, all they have to do is order one, and that means the world to me.

If you’d like to order one yourself, you can right here.

Cheers to this new way forward. One day, all Australian stories will be available everywhere – because they should be.