Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: April, 2016

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
DONNA

My word, I’m enjoying this series of spotlights on the wonderful people who colour my world, and I hope you are, too. Our next intrepid Reflector is someone I first met at university, when I was seventeen and pretty naïve about most things. Donna was a couple of years older; she was articulate, confident and worldly – someone who actually knew what the word feminist meant – and her long blonde hair and fabulous laugh seemed always at the centre of the party.

She was dazzling then and remains so today. Wise, honest, smart and still with that fabulous laugh, I’m thrilled she’s agreed to share something of herself with us here in answering the Big Seven questions. Read on and you’ll catch a glimpse of one of the best real-life love stories I know, too…

Who are you and where were you born?

My name is Donna Meadows and I was born in London in 1965. My father is Australian and was working as a musician for big bands in London when he met my mother. My parents, my grandmother (my mother’s mum) and I came to Australia by boat in 1968. My parents separated not long after arriving in Australia and I lived with my mum and nan but spent weekends with my dad. I am the only child of my parents’ union but have four brothers and two sisters from other marriages. I have two daughters, aged 14 and 10, and have a shared care arrangement with the girls’ Dad. I have a partner, Konrad, who lives in Canada, and we have a long distance relationship.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

Catching a ferry with my nan when I was five or six from Circular Quay to Manly at night and sitting in the ‘ladies compartment ‘while going through the heads – the boat was rocking from the swell, and we were accompanied by seagulls catching a ride in the wind alongside the ferry. Thrilling!

What does home mean for you?

Being a child of separated parents, I had a number of ‘homes’ in my childhood. I lived with my mother, stepfather and brothers in four places on the Northern beaches, and would spend time across the bridge in Glebe and Newtown with my father and his family. 

My father moved up the mid north coast when I was fifteen, so I then had that place as a home as well. I also left the family home quite young, just before I turned sixteen, as I had a fraught relationship with my stepfather, and my mother rightly thought it would be more stable, and in the best interests of doing my HSC, for me to live with one of my stepsisters, not far away in the next suburb.

When I was eighteen, the lure of the urban environment drew me back to Newtown and I then moved into share accommodation with strangers, in a terrace house, while going to university. The strangers became lifelong friends, and I continued to stay around the inner west in share accommodation for most of my twenties. ‘Home’ was about parties, boyfriends, breakups and fantastic friendships.  

My sense of ‘home’ was always about the people around me. I always felt loved and safe in whatever ‘home’ I was in, and had the constant support and security of my parents as backup wherever I was. In many ways, it was a great way to experience ‘home’ as I am not scared of change and continued to live in a number of places, including overseas, with friends and partners throughout my thirties and forties.

I hope my daughters also have the opportunity to live in different homes at different stages of their lives as it teaches you an enormous amount about getting on with a variety of personalities, being considerate of others, and being independent – all great skills for a fulfilling life.

I think I am settled now for a few years with my daughters, living back in the house I consider the ‘family’ home; the one where my mother and brothers lived. I’ve built a granny flat for my mother at the back, and my daughters and I live in the main house. It is a great beach cottage and is a welcoming port for all the brothers and sisters, my father, stepmother and my partner Konrad.

‘Home’ continues to be a place of relationships for me, but I also feel very fortunate and grateful to live in such a beautiful environment and try to impart this sense of appreciation to my daughters.

What makes you smile?

  • When my daughters show mettle and resilience at life’s challenges
  • Heading east towards the ocean on Seal Rocks Road, NSW, any time of day
  • An illicit afternoon with my partner, Konrad.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

Too many to list here! The only thing I will say is NOTHING beats getting professional help for overcoming patterns of behaviour and choices that are not positive – a good therapist is worth every cent.

Who or what is the love of your life?

I’ve had three significant relationships with men in my life and they have all been based on either love or friendship at that time, and gave me maturity, confidence and my beautiful children. They have all been worth the pain and heartache that comes with the waning of love and ultimately breakup.

However, the relationship that I have now is without a doubt the love of my life. Konrad and I met in our twenties and had a brief but intense fling before parting ways; me travelling, and him returning to Canada. We didn’t stay in touch but both had a sense of ‘the one that got way’ about each other.

While clearing out his mother’s basement, Konrad rediscovered a postcard I’d written from Nepal all those years ago and felt a burning need to find me again. It wasn’t easy as I was not on Facebook or any social media, so he had to do some digging. He is a collector, which helped as he is tenacious and good at research. He eventually found me and fired off an email to my work address.

Both of us were in relationships that were ending, with small children, so writing to each other was a form of support and distraction from our domestic issues. Over the course of this old fashioned epistolary romance, we fell in love all over again. It was sealed when Konrad eventually flew to Sydney to meet me in person and we knew then that there was no turning back.

The challenge of having a long distance relationship is nothing compared to the challenges that face most failed relationships; communication breakdowns, contempt, and different values. We talk every day, and see each other for a few weeks every three months. We will continue long distance for a few more years as we both have jobs and children in our respective countries.

The advantage of having a long distance relationship is that there is a constant hum of yearning, and that is good for any relationship. The thousands of emails that we wrote also provided a very solid foundation for knowing each other extremely well, which is important. People ask us about ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ but for us it’s a non-issue. Frankly, if we couldn’t trust each other, it just wouldn’t be worth it. This relationship is a gift, and I will be forever grateful to Konrad for finding and wooing me. He is, without a doubt, the love of my life.

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

In a nutshell, not much. Neither of my parents have shared much about their parents or their grandparents’ lives. It is like getting blood from a stone finding out anything. My mother’s mother came from a family of strong women and business owners in England, and her father came from working class stock from Perth, Scotland. He was an abusive alcoholic and my mother and grandmother left him when my mother was twelve or so. I think this is why my mother hasn’t looked back much and has always been more focussed on the present. My father grew up in Sydney and is third generation Australian, with Scottish background. He is now starting to tell me stories of spending fun childhood holidays with his grandparents who lived fairly simply in the bush, in western NSW.

Now that I have a partner who is a collector, and very interested in stories of history and family heritage, I have taken more of an interest but it is difficult getting any information out of my parents.

Although it is not my bloodline, I am particularly interested in a story from my late stepfather’s family history, to which my brothers Bill and Frank are connected, which involves a ‘kidnapping’ in the mid nineteenth century of a great grandmother ‘Rosie’ by an Aboriginal tribe in Victoria. We still have the walking stick that was carved by her ‘Aboriginal’ father for her when she was a toddler. The story itself needs to be researched for the truth to emerge and I am planning to do this over the next couple of years.

My own family heritage is vague and unreliable, a few stories here and there. My main take away from it is the value that feminism has brought to women’s lives. I have a sense of strong women in my family history who were limited by inequality and misogyny. This political view was formed in me early on, at the age of fifteen or so, and I always look at history, including my own family history, from a feminist perspective.

And what a magnificent woman you are, Donna Meadows. Thank you so much for your openness and generosity here. Cheers to many, many more years of story-sharing friendship ahead. And when you find out about Rosie’s ‘kidnapping’, you have to tell me all about it – my wordy, indeedy you do!

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MOUNTAIN MAGIC

Memory is such a tricky fish, I say it all the time – unreliable, selective, eccentric – and mine sometimes leaves me completely baffled.

Almost three years ago now, while I was waiting for publisher feedback on the first draft of Paper Daisies, I scratched down the opening third of another story, one set in Canberra and the Snowy Mountains high country. It was a tale of soviet spies and shifting identities, full of suspense and political intrigue – and skiing. I’d written it quickly, thrilled by the pace and the taste of something a little different, for me.

Then I gave it to someone to read, and that someone said, ‘Hm. It’s a bit too masculine, this one. If you publish it, you should use a pseudonym. It’s not a Kim Kelly novel.’

I was disappointed at the response but I didn’t have much of a moment to worry about it. Apart from my husband Dean being very ill at the time, I was soon busy with edits for Paper Daisies, and I forgot all about my snowy spy story.

Well, not quite entirely. It’d flit through my mind every so often, but whenever it did the words ‘too masculine’ forced it to flit out again. It was a silly idea, the whole thing, I decided, and I put it away – literally, I filed it on my laptop under ‘story junk’ and didn’t open that file again.

Then, earlier this year, desperate for a holiday, I randomly booked a much needed week away – where? In the Snowies.

Last Sunday, driving out of Canberra, with the wild slopes of the Brindabellas kissing a grey sky, I had a flicker of what seemed like déjà vu before the story came to me again, and I said to Dean, ‘Remember that thing I was writing ages ago? The spy thing? I should look at it again while I’m here.’

‘Yeah,’ Dean laughed. Because of course I’d taken my laptop with me.

And of course I wasn’t going to do any work on this holiday. Was I. No. Neither was Dean.

Driving up towards Charlotte Pass the following day to gaze out at the highest peaks in all Australia, I’d given myself over entirely to the superlative beauty of this country, precipitous shards of craggy granite riven by a thousand sparkling streams – there was little going on in my mind but the theme song from The Man From Snowy River.

Then, while Dean was taking a work call on the side of the mountain in a pocket of clear reception, I found myself looking out over a mad blue creek and thinking, ‘I’ve got to set a story here.’ I even posted a photo of said creek on Facebook, as you do.

Before I realised, truly realised, I already had written a story here, or at least I had begun one.

So, last night, when we got back to our little bolthole in the alpine village of Thredbo, I dared to finally open that file.

And I read the first few chapters in blinking wonder. It’s not how I remembered it. Somehow it’s even better.

 

 

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SELLING YOURSELF

I’ve learned an interesting lesson this week about the subtleties of selling that most important of commodities that is yourself – that fine line between appealing to the market and misrepresenting your work and your wares.

Excitingly, I’ve been going through all of the back cover blurbs of my novels looking for ways to refresh them for republication, but in doing that, I’ve noticed how boxed in to the notion of clichéd romantic hooks and passive heroines my original blurbs were.

I have no-one to blame for this but myself, really. Because I’m a book editor who’s been writing blurbs for other authors for twenty years, the publishers of my own novels have tended to say, ‘Hey, Kim, mind writing the back cover copy for us?’

But of course. And in the process I’ve managed to strip my leading ladies of their personality in possibly the most important sales calling card they have: the book description.

Take this snippet from This Red Earth as one of the more startling examples:

It’s 1939, another war in Europe. And Bernie Cooper is wondering what’s ahead for her. She knows Gordon Brock is about to propose. An honest country boy and graduating geologist, he’s a good catch. And she’s going to say no.

She sounds like a vacuous, characterless flake, and he sounds like a cardboard cut-out, compared to what I’ve now changed it to:

On the cusp of summer 1939, another war has begun in Europe. Bernie Cooper is wondering what might be in it for her; she’s looking for adventure, some way to stretch her wings. The boy next door, Gordon Brock, is wondering if Bernie will marry him – before he heads off on his own adventure, his first job as a geologist with an oil company in New Guinea.  

More to the point, the latter more accurately describes the situation. It also dares to include the male protagonist as a character in his own right, which is also more accurately representative of the story considering half the novel is written from his perspective – indeed, from inside his freaking head.

Why then did I tone down Bernie’s sparkle and make Gordon disappear? I can only suppose that at some level I thought this would be more attractive to readers. When I look at it now it only seems insulting to readers, and insulting to me, dumbing down my work this way.

And I’ve made a promise to myself here – and to you, too – that I’ll never do that again.

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
NARELLE

Everyone has one of those friends – you know, that mad one – and our next intrepid Reflector is mine. I know her as Nelly, and I love her enormously. Just the sound of her name takes me back to when we were kids laughing ourselves stupid over nothing by the glow of the 1970s lime green curtains in my bedroom.

She’s also someone I’m enormously proud to know. Our lives have run with some uncanny parallels: both of us are obsessive word nerds; both of us were solo mums who took some time to let our talents shine; both of us are the daughters of strong, slightly scary women we lost too young. Narelle and I are those strong women today – and I know her mum would be thrilled with her achievements. She’s too modest to say it here, but Narelle is a brilliant English teacher, passionate about learning and seeing her students shine, and her dedication is a constant inspiration to me.

All the same, I’m sure both our mothers, wherever they are in the stars, still shake their heads in wonder whenever Narelle and I get together, though – she can still make my face hurt with laughter.

So here she is now, answering our Big Seven questions, my fabulous ‘one of those’…

Who are you and where were you born?

My name is Narelle Daniels (nee Woodberry) and I was born in Rotorua, New Zealand. I am the third (and best) child of Joyce Woodberry (nee Ralph), an Aboriginal woman from La Perouse, and Syd Woodberry, a Pakeha (white man) from Opotikiri, New Zealand.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

Spending time with my extended family after being at Yarra Bay beach or La Perouse beach, swimming and eating fresh fish and abalone caught that day. Sitting around, listening to stories of my mum and aunties and uncles growing up – sharing laughs is a huge part of my family culture. In my family, no matter what the situation, there was always room for laughter and food.

What does home mean for you?

My family and Saltwater – essentially anywhere that I can see the ocean makes me feel happy as I am a Saltwater Koori. I feel disconnected if I haven’t placed my feet in the ocean and scrunched sand between my toes; no matter how long I’ve been away, just walking along Yarra Beach or standing on the edge of Botany Bay reconnects me.

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What makes you smile?

Three things –

  1. Spending time with my son – just mother and son time.
  2. Watching a student’s face when they have that ‘aha’ moment, that connection between them and learning that allows a great boost to their self-esteem and helps them to realise they can do it – when they achieve a new understanding of their skills and themselves.
  3. The smell of a book – whether it’s an old favourite or a new book. It must be my inner nerd coming out.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

That no matter how hard you try sometimes you just can’t save or fix everyone or everything. Circumstances combine and once that happens you just have to acknowledge that no matter how hard you may wish for something or someone to change it’s not up to you. Just let go that which you have no control over.

Who or what is the love of your life?

My son Ryan. Even though he frustrates me no end, which I’m pretty sure is what kids are supposed to do, I am so proud of him and the way he is growing up to be a good person.

narele & ryan

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

Essentially my Aboriginality is part of who I am but so is my non-Aboriginal heritage. I come from a line of strong Aboriginal women who in varying ways stood up for their children and those children who did not or were not allowed a voice. I think it’s why I became a teacher. One thing I always remember my mother saying is, ‘Racism is just ignorance, and that usually can be fixed by education.’ I took that to heart and I know I can’t change society but I can educate the child in front of me so they can work towards bettering society, one person at a time.

Throughout my life many people have said, ‘Oh you don’t look Aboriginal’; depending on the situation (and my mood), I have been known to say in response, ‘Oh well you don’t look ignorant, I guess appearances can be deceiving.’ Generally, however, I try to educate them by using the coffee analogy a lovely old man from La Perouse once told me: ‘Aboriginality is like coffee – no matter how much milk you put in, it’s still coffee.’

I am proud of both sides of my heritage and I connect to my New Zealand side as often as I can. Keeping that connection occasionally involves cousinly bets around the Bledisloe Cup (Rugby Union) or any NRL game where the Warriors are playing. I also support New Zealand in the Olympics as well as Australia – because, well, why not?

The diversity in my heritage is something to be proud of and not denied because of some mainstream media beat up. I think the things that happened in my past have influenced me to be the person who I am today. I am a teacher – that was a hard five years of university, working and being a single mum, but I would do it all again. Sometimes I wish I did things differently but if I did I wouldn’t be in the place I am now, and obviously I am meant to be here. So to all those people who thought I wouldn’t be able to do it or shouldn’t be where I am, I pity your lives filled with negativity, just let it go and focus on your own shortcomings and don’t worry about me – I’m doing just fine.

You sure are, Nells. Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful glimpses of your story here. Now, back to work – haven’t you got papers to mark or lessons to write or something…?

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
JANNINE

It’s the loveliest pleasure to introduce you to our next intrepid Reflector – Jannine Smith. Jannine is someone I met through my writing – she’s read all my stories – but I didn’t meet her face-to-face until the launch of my fourth novel, Paper Daisies, last year, at A Reader’s Heaven bookshop in Lithgow. She’d festooned the shop with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous display of flowers she’d made from old book pages. I’ll never forget it – I have a bunch of those ‘paper daisies’ sitting in my office.

But it’s Jannine’s bright, generous spirit that is most gorgeous of all. She’s one of those people you want to stand next to at the party, to listen to her wonderful stories, and just to be near her warmth.

So, here she is now answering our Big Seven questions on life and love – take it away, Jannine…

Who are you and where were you born?

My name is Jannine Smith. I was born in Waverly, New South Wales. I grew up in the Orange area and have called Lithgow home for almost 40 years.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

Memories of family times… My mum’s baked dinners on a Sunday and her ‘light as a feather’ sponges. My dad taking us for long drives on country back roads – we never knew where we would end up. Spending time with my grandparents, we always felt so loved… My grandmother Sylvia would take my sister and I to the horse races with her. It was such fun. She loved to dress up and wore beautiful hats. Visits to my other grandparents in Vaucluse –their house always seemed so big and from the front room you could see views of the Harbour Bridge – it was magical! Moving to Millthorpe as a teenager, our Dad bought an old pub and restored it to its former glory. To this day I cannot walk the streets of Millthorpe without feeling nostalgic and shedding a few tears. It will always hold a piece of my heart.

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What does home mean for you?

Home to me is where I am surrounded by the ones I love and where family and friends will always feel welcome.

What makes you smile?

My granddaughters Betsy and Agnes – they are so entertaining and I love them to bits.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

That I was stronger than I ever thought I could be. When I was pregnant with my first born child Daniel we discovered that he would be born with his brain exposed and may not even survive birth. As young parents, barely 20, we were in shock but somehow we coped. It was the other people in our lives who didn’t handle it all so well. And here we are 38 years later, Daniel survived, we had two more beautiful sons Luke and Jake, and our lives are rich with so many life experiences.

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Who or what is the love of your life?

The love of my life is my husband Charlie. We have been through so much together. I love him more as each day passes. So glad he rode into my life all those years ago.

What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?

I am surrounded by pieces of my family history, constant reminders of who I am. The oak table in my kitchen where my family & friends gather was handmade by grandfather Bill in the 1920s. My kitchen cupboards and the cedar mirror in the hallway were made with love for me by my father. Memories of my grandfather Jack, another talented carpenter, come to me in the house he built – where my Mum lives now. My grandmother Margaret’s hand-knitted bed jacket. My grandmother Sylvia’s beautiful ‘fancy worked’ aprons. A tin of milliner’s tools belonging to my mother. All these things evoke stories of my parents and grandparents. They make me who I am and give me a sense of belonging.

Thank you so much for sharing these precious pieces of you, Jannine.  And here is the woman herself larking about last Halloween – totally rocking it in orange! Always creative, always shining…

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