Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: March, 2016

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SYNCHRONICITY

You know I’m fond of a little bit of magic: the way love trails through our lives and things sometimes happen right when we need them to; the way connections appear and disappear and reappear as if part of a crazy plan we can’t see; the way sweet coincidences bring a blast of sunshine for no discernable reason at all.

A particularly sweet slip of synchronicity occurred in my little corner of the universe just recently, one that involves a book, a very important book, at least to me – Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy.

I was thirteen when I first read this bestselling page-turner about grubby politics and fist-thumping thuggery, set in Melbourne in the early twentieth century. I read it, as I read so many books, on the floor of my parents’ small but well-stuffed library. Barely out of pigtails, half the shenanigans that unfolded throughout the story went straight over my head, but it switched me on in so many other ways, the debt I owe Power Without Glory is incalculable.

For all that I didn’t understand, this novel fascinated me, shining a bright light on the truths that lurk in the dark halls of power. It sent sparks through my young mind about a diverse bunch of issues – the evil that is gambling, the even greater evil that sends young men to war, as well as the arguments for republicanism, which continue today, with the idea that not every Australian calls England ‘Home’. I related to that last spark: no-one in my own home was interested in toasting the Queen. I could recognise the story of the Irish in this novel as an echo of my own history, too.

And there’s no doubt in my mind that this book is a big reason why my own writing focusses on Australian social history today, and why I am ever mistrustful of the right-wing of the Labor Party. I use a different frame for my own novels, but the driver of my narratives, the fire that stokes my curiosity, springs straight from the engine that Frank Hardy gave me.

So, imagine how thrilled I was about twenty years later, in 2000, when I was an editor at Random House and a copy of Power Without Glory landed on my desk – the same edition as the one I’d read when I was a kid – and I was asked to produce the 50th anniversary edition of it. I squealed with untold thrill. A thrill that would remain untold, too, for no-one in the office could have known of its significance to me, and wouldn’t know, because I couldn’t tell anyone of my secret writing dreams back then.

I held that 50th anniversary copy of Power Without Glory to my heart with silent promises to myself: One day… One day, I will be brave enough to write my own stories.

It would take another four years before I would find the courage to do that, and since then, stories have charged out of me like freight trains. But that’s not the end of this story, of course.

A couple of weeks ago, idling on Facebook, I came across a blog conversation on another writer’s page – it was Sophie Masson chatting with Michael Johnson about his new novel, Noah’s Park, and his past exploits in publishing. Michael mentioned that while a publisher, he bought the paperback rights to Power Without Glory – the very same edition I’d read as a kid.

I laughed out loud with deeper and deeper delight. Michael Johnson happens to be the father of my publisher today, Lou Johnson – Lou, who also happened to be one of my colleagues at Random House back in 2000 when the anniversary edition was published and I was too shy to squeak about anything.

Funny, funny old world. I can’t think of Lou’s dad Michael now without shaking my head in envy and disbelief: you had lunch with Frank Hardy? Really? Really. Just a little snippet of everyday magic.

 

If you’d like to read Power Without Glory, you can get a copy here.

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ONE FOR THE GIRLS

It’s International Women’s Day again and all kinds of wonderful ladies of the girl variety are being asked what they would tell their younger selves if they could.

I’d tell small Kim to stop worrying. I’d tell her that most people are kind and only want the same things you do; and they’re all as frail and faulty as you are, too. I’d remind her more often, as my own mother tried to tell me, usually exasperated at my too-easily crumbling confidence: ‘Why should you care what other people think? Just be yourself.’

Because being yourself is the most powerful thing you can do. And forget telling all this to small Kim. I needed to hear it only last year.

I’m almost forty-eight years old, and yet I’m so programmed to capitulate to others’ expectations, I found myself in an excruciating bind between what I wanted and what I was being offered. It had been building for a while – oh, for about twenty years.

Do as you’re told, and be grateful – that’s the basic instruction for most women working in publishing, whether you’re a writer or an editor. If you speak up or object, there are a hundred other women knocking at the door, ready to replace you.

Last year, I made the decision to step away from that door altogether, at least for a while, and at least as far as the big-house publishing scene goes. The door remains ajar, and in the chink of light I can see from here a lot of good feeling remains, too.

But for this next chapter in my life, I’m constructing my own door.

I am working only with those who value collaboration and conversation. I am listening only to those who speak with respect. Because I only have one life and I want to make the best books I can with every moment I have left to me. Because my books are made of love and wonder, a bigness of heart that doesn’t always fit into spreadsheet boxes, or genre pigeon-holes, or covers that depict a sales department’s idea of what a woman should be. Because women’s literature is better than this.

I keep waiting for the fear and regret to kick in. I keep waiting for my flimsy and as yet unvarnished door frame to fall over.

But it hasn’t. Only good things have happened since I made that decision. My little Wild Chicory, so much a cry out against the machine, a yearning to express who I am and why I do what I do, seems to have the loudest and richest voice of all my stories so far, so I’m being told now. And whatever might happen in the future, however I might succeed or fail, I’ll own that future as I have never done before.

So cheers to that, and to you, too, for whatever brave and bold thing you are willing yourself to do. Do it.

 

You can find out more about Wild Chicory here.