Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Month: December, 2016

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RISK

Writers are fancy gamblers, addicts suffering from collections of random personality disorders. At least I am.

Every novel I write, and I’ve written eight (six in the world and two on the way), I tell myself I won’t make myself ill this time. But each time I do.

In the final weeks of completing the first readable draft, I don’t sleep. I slip into a kind of inescapable mania which, near its end, leaves me physically wrecked and emotionally raw. Skinless. Sore. Exhausted. That’s where I am right now.

The day after Christmas, I finally completed a novel that’s taken me more than two years to write; earlier in the year, I completed another that had been kicking around in my consciousness for three years. There is never a time when I’m not somehow immersed in story, and while huge and happy amounts of research go into those stories, their narrative threads come from me: pulled, coaxed, wrenched directly from my heart. It’s a process of personal interrogation that hurls me towards understanding and empathy as nothing else can. But it’s also often painful.

There are times when I disconnect from my family, friends, colleagues; times when terrifying doubt causes me to disconnect from everything but the tiny light-tunnel of story.

I take every one of these trips not knowing if my story will be published; and knowing that if it is published, it’s unlikely to sell in any quantity that might justify such enormous effort – because that’s life for the vast majority of authors.

All this, but I can’t stop.

I have a co-conspirator, though. My muse de bloke, my lover – Deano. As much as he struggles with my struggles, he’s besotted with my addiction, too. He loves watching those lights switch on in me, how alive my mind becomes.

Three hours after I finished my latest manuscript, we lay in bed, washed up on the shore, and I told him I’m not writing anything for at least two weeks.

He asked me: ‘What do you think you’ll write next?’ Knowing that there are two ideas I have burbling away in the back-brain.

We spent the rest of the day discussing that next book. I’m already itching to dive in.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

newtown

THE HANDS THAT MAKE OUR WORLD

I’ve had a fascinating time in 1860s New South Wales over the past few months, falling down all kinds of research rabbit holes, rich and deep – and usually full of gold.

I’ve spent hundreds of happy hours trying to reconstruct city and townscapes from 150 years ago, tracing the roads my great, great grandfather Georg Schwebel might have travelled as a young man from Germany in love with a strange new land and a girl who was born here.

The world of young men is a place I return to again and again in my stories probably mostly because I am a mother of sons, but also because I’ve always been drawn to the stories of those who make our human world – the artisans, engineers, tradesmen, miners, those who forge all the convenience we enjoy with the strength of their bodies and the skill of their hands. Those who made the roads. And up until recently they were mostly young men.

Georg was a carpenter and a carter hauling building materials here and there under government tender. He lived in Newtown, in Sydney, and died in 1896 in an accident at work. According to the Sydney Evening News that November, Georg was “placing the winkers on a horse attached to a cart in Trafalgar street, Newtown [now Annandale], when the animal bolted, and threw him on the roadway. One of the wheels of the vehicle passed over his face. The injured man was taken to Prince Alfred Hospital and admitted by Dr Zlotkowski for treatment.” But that was the end of the road for him.

In trying to find out what working life brought a young man 30 years earlier, when my story is set, I’ve found many a moving account but none more so than the stark simplicity of this accident report in the Maitland Mercury of 1862 for the township of Murrurundi:

During the past fifteen months the following accidents occurring in the district have been attended by our Medical Practitioner, Mr. Gordon:

15 broken legs, 1 broken thigh, 11 broken arms, 1 amputation of arm through the bursting of a gun, 5 cases of amputation of fingers through same and blasting, 6 broken collar bones, 8 cases of broken ribs, 3 deaths by drowning, 1 ditto by lightning, 1 case of absorption of animal poison, 3 snake bites, 2 dreadful cases of burning, 1 fracture of skull from falling from a horse, 1 death from being jammed against a tree by a dray, 1 attempt at self-destruction by cutting the throat, 4 cases of kicks from horses, 3 cases of goring from horns of oxen, very bad, 1 bite from a pig, 22 cases of jams and cuts upon the hands and arms, some very bad, from picks and blasting stone.

Not one recorded baby born nor woman lost to the fight for it, but men working away, most of them probably thinking about that girl, somewhere, some of them working only for rations.

In Australia, we often save our praise and our accolades for soldiers and sportsmen, for squatters and schemers and rogues, but these ordinary hardworking men who laid the ground of so much we see today deserve to have their stories told too.

I will always place them in the frame. I will always sing their love songs. They are the men who made me.

 

Photo: King Street, Newtown, Paul McCarthy (Wikimedia Commons)