Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: May, 2016



Yesterday I finished giving a series of writing workshops in Bathurst, and what a blast they have been.

Twelve months ago, at the very first Bathurst Writers’ & Readers’ Festival, Jen Barry of Books Plus and I received a lot of feedback from writers craving courses and connection in the region. Boy, were they ready to get down and get writing, and chatting about writing, sharing their experiences and hopes. We’ve had a huge amount of fun together, and I’m going to plan some more such get-togethers for next year.

None of this sounds too remarkable, I suppose, but for me this has all been huge.

Twelve months ago I was only just emerging from a long, long period clouded by anxieties that had dogged me, and prevented me from enjoying these kinds of opportunities for, oh, about thirty years. Followers of this blog have heard all about those struggles so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice to say, two years ago, I couldn’t have attended a writing workshop let alone delivered one.

What brought on the change? It seems too easy an answer, but it comes down to the love and belief of others feeding the love and belief in me, so that I could recognise I wasn’t alone in the game, so that I could dare myself to take what have turned out to be some wonderful risks. Dare myself to step out into the sunshine just because it’s there.

It’s all been proof to me that – with this kind of nurturing and a readiness to accept it and nurture it back – we can change our brains in fabulous ways. We can beat our fears.

But it’s also made me reflect on this bloke, pictured above in his natural habitat and traditional costume: my dad, Charlie.

It was his birthday yesterday, and if he was still here, he’d have turned 85, bless his cotton pillow case.

Charlie is probably the main reason I’ve had such difficulties with anxiety. Messy heads really do run in the family, and Dad had a breakdown just after I was born to test the theory. He suffered under the weight of worries I will never know about, because he never shared them.

But what he did share with me, and with everyone around him, was his love for the magic of words and the way they bring us together. He was the kind of English teacher who preferred bowling a few overs at lunchtime with ‘his’ kids by way of a lesson; the kind of father who performed John Cleese silly walks around the ground floor of Grace Brothers at Bondi Junction on Thursday late-night shopping because, well, why not?

Self-proclaimed Professor of Subjective Logic from the University of Little Bay and captain of the German cricket team, in this photo from 1979, Dad was having his customary 5pm beverage in a hotel room somewhere in that ancestral homeland of Germany. In the morning, having forgotten where he was, he walked out onto the balcony to address his people – naked. And burst into song because, well, why not?

The world is so often a sad and terrifying place, so you might as well have some fun.

Thanks Dad, even for the crazy bits, maybe especially for them. I wouldn’t be me without you. And I wouldn’t get the thrill I do from helping others to test their word wings, either. The sheer delight it is to watch another stepping into the sun.





Our latest and most lovely Reflector is the wonderful person who, in her sharp-brained and super-enthusiastic way, said to me one day a few years ago, ‘Kim, I think you should have a blog.’ I told her I wasn’t so sure about that – what on earth would I talk about on a blog? Rather a lot, as it has turned out, hm?

So, now you know who to blame for my mad rambling here. But apart from that, Jo McClelland is a bookseller and a beautiful writer herself, with plenty to say for that self as well. And through our shared love of words, she’s someone who has become a treasured friend.

A brave one, too – answering our Big Seven questions on life and love right here…

Who are you and where were you born?

I was born in a place that no longer exists; North York was swallowed up by Toronto some years ago so that my passport confuses border people. But that is still an easier question than “who am I?”

The problem is it’s easy enough to answer “what am I?” I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a friend. I am a writer and a storyteller. I’m a shop girl and a wonderer, a seeker and climber. I listen well in French and communicate best through email, and if the weather is right, I can sing. I prefer to read outside and eat on the floor. I once swam with stingrays on purpose and the most magical place I’ve ever been is a village in Nice. I have a mountain soul and I sometimes believe six impossible things before breakfast.

But who am I not in regards to you or any other person; not related to what I do or where I am or even what I read?

I’m someone looking for the answer to that question.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

One summer, I decided to create Panda Bear Magazine. I was reporter and illustrator as well as managing editor. I called aunties and asked questions about their families, and wrote articles; included interviews and I think even a family recipe. My mother said that I taught myself to read by writing that magazine.

I distinctly remember asking her to tell me how to spell ‘remember.’ When I write that word I actually can smell what she was cooking in the kitchen. I can feel the chair and table under me. I can see the whole room as it was even though I have to work to remember that house. And I feel my hand writing the word on an envelope even when I’m typing it.  

The first issue of Panda Bear Magazine came out at the end of August, but there was never a second issue, due to the start of school.

What does home mean for you?

Since I was small I have had the ability to make myself at home anywhere. I arranged any new space to feel at home even with minimal belongings and drawings or writings. I’ve always felt transient and never let a space control me. There are some places that I choose to frequent but home is a place inside my head. The closest I’ve ever gotten in the real world is a bookshop in the Lithgow valley, with huge windows, soft chairs, a mountain view and a coffee shop next door.

What makes you smile?

Those wonderful mornings, when I walk out my front door, look up into the mountains and think, “I love living here.” My husband’s way with words and also his kisses on my neck. Like most people, I love getting mail; especially packages and fresh flowers; or saying “hello” to a friend whom I haven’t seen in a while; or curling up in a patch of sunlight with a really, really good book. My baby’s infectious giggles are super contagious and I can’t help but laugh at my dad’s jokes. And nothing gives me more joy than when two people I love share a smile and a cuddle.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

I had a bad case of the “know-it-alls” when I was nineteen. Ten years later I had to face myself in the mirror and accept that sometimes life just doesn’t turn out like you planned, no matter how hard you try to hold onto it. I had to forgive myself, let go of my teenaged-ideals and start from scratch. The result, I hope, is I’m a little wiser, a little kinder, and less judgmental of others who have taken a left turn in life. I have also discovered that thirty isn’t too old to start living the life you want and people who have been hurt are some of the most caring, tolerant, and understanding of those who have lost it all.

Who or what is the love of your life?

A year ago, my answer would have been so different. This year I have fallen in love with a little person who loves music, dogs, books, and Jatz. She’s the delight of my every day and a super warm cuddle buddy when it’s cold. I didn’t realize I could love someone as much as I do my daughter. When she wakes me up in the middle of the night for a cuddle, her warmth lulls me back to sleep. When I see her smiling face in the morning, I don’t mind getting out of bed.  The best smell in the world is the freshly shampooed head of a baby girl. She roars like a scary dragon, chirps like a cricket, and claps for more. I feel like the reason my body hasn’t returned to my pre-pregnancy size is because my heart swelled when she was born.

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

My father came to Canada on a boat from Northern Ireland and my mother’s mother was French Canadienne and could trace her family back generations. Theses cultures, traditions, and languages have enchanted me since I was young, like I was descendant from two magical groups of people here on Earth as much as if my ancestors were Tolkien’s elves.

Even more than the people who lived and led to me, are the readers in my family tree, like my mother, who named me for Jo March in Little Women, by Louise May Alcott. At my most disconnected – A.K.A. my teenaged years – I still felt connected to that book through Alcott’s character. Even on days I hated my own name, I loved that I was named Jo.

Jo was on the lookout for something extraordinary. She longed for Europe and New York and all those place that are “so good for writers”. Through my name, I feel as though I have not only inherited Little Women, but also every book, library and bookstore. These are the homes of my ancestors and each one holds a story from my histories.

My husband and I wanted to pass all this onto our daughter, giving her a name that was both French and Irish in origin, and was fresh from the pages of a book by Joanne Harris. Vianne is a free spirit, following the North wind with a love of chocolate and an imaginary kangaroo. All this felt, to me, like a good starting place to not only share the history I grew up with, but to, also, give my daughter a history all her own.

Isn’t that one of the most beautiful gifts for a child ever? Thank you for sharing that, Jo, and for your sparkling prose.

One thing Jo hasn’t mentioned is the fabulous bookshop she and her husband Paul own in Lithgow – A Reader’s Heaven – and you can find out more about their trove of wonder here.




What would this one say? It looks like a Depression-era snapshot of some ordinary, struggling family.

But it’s my family. My dad, Charlie, is the young fellow on the left gazing whimsically out of the picture with what appears to be a fly on his face.  My grandfather is handsome; my grandmother is disappointed. And little Johnny is calculating his future golfing handicap.

They lived in Coogee, near the beach. Certainly a nice place to be a bit broke, sometime in the mid-1930s.

I saw this photo for the first time last night, my brother, Mark, on a flying visit, whipping it out of his wallet and asking, ‘Have you seen this one?’ I hadn’t, and I fell in love with it instantly, dancing round the kitchen bench trying to get a good focus on my phone.

All of them are gone now. And not gone at all while I’m alive and wondering who they were. How the sand might have felt between their toes, what awful meal Nana had on for dinner (she was the worst cook), how long Pop stayed in the surf that day, avoiding going home (he was the worst husband). Dad practising his modified cursive (for what would become the most beautiful handwriting ever); Johnny scribbling on the front page of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie with a crayon (I still have that book with my uncle’s early masterwork, cherished). Nana knowing, if she could just find her chance in this man’s world, her art and style would clothe every woman in Sydney.

Dreams that echo somehow atomically through me.  Whispers of stories that make up my own.



“Geez, you churn them out,” I’ve been hearing a bit lately from those surprised by my output of scribblings in recent years. And yes, when you look at my novels in a bunch, it does seem I’ve made quite a lot of them – five so far and another due out later this year.

But I wince a bit each time I hear that word ‘churn’. Churning suggests I have some simple mechanism that neatly spins the stories out of me, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Each of my stories is driven from within me by love and a mad curiosity that sends me along vast uphill treks through uncharted wildernesses. Each journey through story and discovery is different, and not once have I returned to the real world unscathed or unchanged.

Right now, I’m in the middle of editing Jewel Sea, that next one, and my gathering nerves at her impending September arrival are jangling against a new story that’s already pushed its way into my heart and taken up residence in my mind. This one is so pushy, and such an unexpected visitor, I woke up at five a.m. on Monday morning with a character literally talking to me.

That character is called Richard Ackerman, and he’s a doctor at Canberra Hospital in 1954. He’s also the youngest son of Daniel and Francine Ackerman, the heroes of my first novel, Black Diamonds. And he won’t leave me alone.

This pushy thing is the Snowy Mountains story I blogged about a few weeks ago – a sketch of a tale of secrets and spies I’d almost forgotten I’d written. Somehow – and I don’t know how – it’s insisted it must be written, as in right now.

Pushing aside my 1860s gold-rush novel waiting to be taken to a final draft and the other story I’d just begun on early twentieth-century circuses in Australia, I’m now deep in the Monaro high country skiing and plotting acts of espionage.

This little machine here doesn’t so much churn as send me at some giddying velocity through time, through dreams, through all I’ve learned and am yet to know.

Making me a little bit insane with weariness every day. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.