Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Category: Real Life

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LIFE WELL LIVED

Letting go of a story that’s lived in your imagination for years is no easy thing to do. In fact, for me, it’s not so much a matter of letting go as riding a cold wave of change – a little like dealing with grief, or at least shades of it. It’s not a goodbye so much as an adjustment to a new reality.

None of my characters are just characters; none of them are inventions serving only a plot. They’re pieces of me, cyphers that lead me to an understanding of something I need to know, a line of love I need to follow, and for all that, they are very real.

Hugo Winter, the orthopaedic surgeon at the centre of the novel I finished last month, has been with me for the last twelve years, a man whose tale of love in all its colours insisted I tell it. Sometimes it’s felt as if he’s been sitting beside me, looking over my shoulder, telling me to hurry up with whatever I’m writing so that I can be with him.

He’s based on a real chap: a doctor called Max Herz who lived and worked in Sydney across the first half of the twentieth century, quietly curing children of disabling injuries, reconstructing their bones, reshaping their lives. A man who would charge the rich and famous a premium for his services so that he could treat the poor and the small for free. A man who put a lot of important noses out of joint because of that – and because he was a foreigner, a German, a Jew. Not someone the Establishment was ever going to love; not someone who ever cared what the Establishment thought, either.

Apart from the surgical skills and a few other obvious details, Hugo is me: an outsider, a solo flyer, an unashamed unfitter-innerer, but one with a lot to give, and one who will continue to give regardless of whether or not those in power value what’s being offered. That’s not something I could ever farewell or put away: it’s indelibly tattooed upon my own character.

As I set off now on a new story adventure – a dazzling date with an acrobat, and an actual cup of tea with one of Australia’s leading physical performers next week – Hugo continues to sit with me. Right now he’s harassing me about a few lines in one of the last chapters of the manuscript. It’s called Walking, and as an orthopaedist he’s concerned I have one of the other characters – a fellow called Jim Cleary – up out of bed and walking too quickly after a badly broken leg. Yes, I’m arguing a point of medicine with man who doesn’t exist. But he loves Jim as much as I do; and he’s especially fond of Jim’s physiotherapist Lucy Brynne. Hugo taught Lucy everything she knows – they’ve been close ever since he treated her for a terrible injury she suffered when she was a little girl – and he doesn’t want her getting any medicine wrong, never mind things not working out well with Jim’s leg. The stakes are dizzyingly high! For Hugo, anyway.

And I listen to him. He’s more than a friend, imaginary or otherwise. He’s taught me so much about living, and giving, and the point of it all. He’s taught me so much about dignity and diligence, and the wisdom of walking away from those who aren’t ever going to share your page.

As an old man reflecting on his achievements and his readiness for making his final cheerio in the spring of 1948, he understands: ‘He’d made others smile; he’d made children smile. He’d taken care of those in need wherever he could and changed their circumstances for the better… He’d felt more joy than sadness on balance across all the years. He was loved.’

What else is there?

Thank you, Hugo, for all your hanging around. Now, back to that point of medicine…

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THE PRICE OF FREEDOM

By some miracle of immigration, all my forebears managed to escape most of the great horrors of the twentieth century. The Irish avoided the Troubles, the Jews avoided the Holocaust, the Germans avoided the firestorms of World War II.

But it’s that last which has kept returning to me in recent writings. Both my Snowy Mountains story and my latest manuscript about a German-Australian surgeon hold the destruction of Dresden in their hearts.

My family didn’t come from Dresden but it’s a city of deep personal significance for me. A decade ago, when I was very lost and lonely, wounded and in quite desperate need of healing, I washed up here on the banks of this jewel of the Elbe not really knowing where I was. I had run away from home for a few weeks to try to get a grip, that was all.

I got more than a grip. I’ll never forget walking across the Altmarkt and seeing the Frauenkirche for the first time. This magnificent church had been reduced to rubble during the bombing in World War II and had only recently been restored to its former gilt-edged rococo glory. The people of Dresden had had such hopes even then – in that deadly February of 1945 – that one day this beautiful building would stand again, they collected as much of the original stone as possible to use in the restoration.

When I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed with such a force of love and possibility I had to sit down. I’m not a religious person, but here, in this church, something of goodness and faith hit me like a tonne of bricks.

I walked back through the city with clearer eyes. I saw the last remnant holes in the ground left by the war now as building sites, I saw the unashamed contrasts of elegant old buildings sitting cheek by jowl with bold new ones as symbols of regeneration and resilience. Suddenly, for me, joy seemed not only achievable but a responsibility. Get up and get on with it, Kimbo.

I did, and a few years later, I dragged my teenaged kids across the world with my new man, Deano, so they could experience it too. The three of them survived the trip and my mad need to have all my love and wonder in one place for a spell. My eldest boy turned eighteen there and Deano shouted him his first legal pilsner on the Altmarkt. Beautiful, beautiful memories.

But this morning, I was confronted anew with destruction that has lain a little closer to home all this time.

My German family is from a small town called Wald-Michelbach, nestled in the gentle fir-clad slopes of the Odenwald, and in my imagination it’s always seemed a little slice of fantasy fairytale, an idyllic place from which two brothers stepped long ago, taking a ship from Bremen across the seas to Australia. I’ve been thinking I should rattle the dream and see what true tale I might find there – one I can turn into a new novel. A glimpse of such a story flitted through my mind, beginning here in the mid-nineteenth century, a young travelling musician…

‘I want to go back to Germany,’ I called out to Deano.

He groaned. We have this conversation a lot. He’d like to go back to Germany too, but we don’t have time, can’t justify the expense right now, and at six feet, five inches tall, he groans at the mere idea of long-haul flight.

Nevertheless, I started plotting a trip. We could come into Frankfurt, tootle around Wiesbaden, Weinheim, Heidelberg, Darmstadt, Pforzheim, Mannheim… And then I realised half these places no longer exist as my ancestors would have known them – the last three had their centres almost completely obliterated by fire-bombing. Frankfurt’s medieval streets – gone.

With some other sudden clarity, I saw the scale of destruction right across the entire country. So much history lost; so many people. To give a sense of the numbers involved, if 32,000 ordinary workaday civilians were killed by the Germans during the Blitz throughout Britain, no-one knows how many were killed in Dresden alone by the Allies – estimates range from 35,000 to 135,000. In Darmstadt, 12,000; in Pforzheim, 17,000; Frankfurt 5,000, and on and on; by 1945 millions throughout Germany were homeless.

Of course, this is the price of freedom. No-one argues that. The British remain quietly, sombrely defensive about the figures; the Germans cling to lessons of mass madness and contrition in a Europe that seems set to tumble towards fascism again.

Whatever happens now, only one thing is clear: none of us can go back. We can only continue to seek out and tell our tales, to try to keep the truths of the past alive – and heed their warnings.

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(Photos: the Frauenkirche, Dresden, before and after)

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A LITTLE KINDNESS

They say write what you know – whoever they are. I’m not sure about that advice.

First, it’s my own ignorance, and the questing curiosity always hoping to rectify it, that drives my desire to investigate all kinds of stuff through narrative and character – everything from surgery to nuclear fission, from underground mining to botanical classification. Second, since I write historical fiction, I can’t in any authentic sense know anything much of the experiences I write about.

What I do know about, though, is the emotional landscape of the stories that weave their way from heart and brain onto the page.

Love. Grief. Friendship. What home means. Disconnection and reconnection. Hurt. Healing. The deep, intimate madnesses that all of the above can trigger.

But I’ve realised over the past little while that the pulse that runs beneath all my tale-telling is kindness. Characters who have too little of it learn it. Characters who don’t have any of it lose. Heroes possess it in spades.

My heroes – the guys and the gals – are all flawed and frail in some way. Sometimes they’re annoying: stubborn, foul-mouthed, shoulders chipped and packaging damaged inside and out. Sometimes they betray those they love – and themselves. But kindness is at the top tip of their growth, their success and their nobility.

I’ve copped a bit of shit over this from both sides of the literary fence. Lovers of romance can occasionally get uppity that my heroes are, really, a bunch of basket cases. Culture creatures, on the other hand, accuse me of sentimentality and Pollyanna-ism.

The thing is, though, these characters are, to me, in all their feels very real. They are me. The more I write, the more I realise I am writing not so much what I know but what I live.

The pursuit of kindness – how to be generous towards others, to be compassionate, a listener, a forgiver, an understander, how to be larger than your own smallness and stronger than all your weaknesses, how to walk away from anger – is a quest at the centre of my own life. I fail daily, but I will die trying.

Why? It’s no moral cause. Those who know my work well know I fall firmly into Nietzsche’s camp on that: good and evil are crap constructs, reductive idiocies that cause untold war and pain. I don’t want to be kind because I think I’ll be rewarded – in heaven or by others. I want to be kind because it makes sense, because it reduces conflict and creates safe bases in chaos, because, as a chronic anxiety sufferer, I need as much peace and order as I can get.

But more than this, I’ve been on the receiving end of unkindness. I know what it’s like to be bullied, raped, kicked, spat on, belittled, told I’m worthless. I know what it feels like to have the life of someone you love ripped from you so that all you can do in response is scream. I know that these terrifying experiences never go away.

This afternoon, Deano – my husband, best mate and muse de bloke – came in from work talking about a program he’d just heard on the radio about economic violence, that mind-twisting, sadistic game where someone takes such control over your life, they steal your money. I started to cry as we talked about it, because I know what that feels like too, to be shrunk so low, and the conversation sent me straight into a traumatic flashback from many years ago.

Why don’t I write about those experiences instead? Why don’t I write about that darkness and disempowerment? Because I want to tear the power from bullies and bigots of all kinds while I’m alive. Sharp-eyed readers might have spotted that I never mention the name of a certain genocidal German leader whose name was barely off the front page during World War Two. I don’t mention his name because to do so maintains his power. I might detail the acts – but not that man.

I detail the triumph of kindness instead because it’s the only truly effective weapon I have.

Plus Deano, of course. He’s the kindest man I know.

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FOR THE RECORD

Well, I just finished that novel I began in January. Forty-three days, it took to write, or probably thirty-eight taking away real-life interruptions. I’ve broken more personal bests than the weather with this one. I’ve never written anything so quickly, with such a desperate, aching need to pour a story from my heart and onto the page.

It’s called Walking, and it’s inspired by a true tale of a brilliant German orthopaedic surgeon who became quietly famous in Sydney for making crippled children walk when others said it was impossible. The Australian-British medical establishment was so miffed by his success they arrested him at one point and threw him into prison. It’s a sprawling novel that spans two continents, two world wars and two love stories.

I’m still inside that mad infatuation any writer can feel for a completed story – a dangerous time when all emotions are raw and all words should be put away for a while. But words don’t stop, do they – they’re a part of every day.

A few days ago, I was having dinner with some friends and the conversation turned to the idea of retirement. Everyone at the table was in their forties, some getting more tired of the grind than others. In the thick of my madness, the last few chapters of Walking shouting to get themselves out of my head and somewhere more comfortable, I told the table: ‘I’m terrified of the idea of retiring.’

My husband said dryly: ‘She wouldn’t retire if she had an off switch.’

But the crack was lost in the dismissive response of another: ‘It’s different when you’re doing something you love.’

I mumbled something about it not being a daily frolic in the woods, and shovelled some food into my mouth to stop anymore words escaping.

Like: ‘I’m in physical and psychic pain right now from lack of sleep and the almost indescribable rush of anxiety that overtakes me when the novel I’m writing begins to end. I have a permanent headache from crying because one of my characters has died and this grief feels so real it’s a new form of mental illness. It’s not much fun at the moment doing this thing I love.’

And I’m not getting paid for it. Doesn’t work like that for writers, or most other artists. You do the work first and then maybe someone will want to pay for it, but not always; sometimes not often; sometimes never.

I’ve written six published novels and have three manuscripts at present to shop. I’ve had no amazing record of sales, but not a terrible record either. I love my readers like my writing life depends on them – because it does. I work very hard at book promotion and all sorts of author profile palaver, as expected by publishers. I’m very easy to work with because, when I’m not writing, I work in the industry as an editor, and I know what a shitfight it can be on that side of the curtain. I have bundles of energy for all this work and not enough years left to live to write all the stories I want to write.

Despite all this, I find myself with no publisher right now for my new works. This is not in any way uncommon for a writer. The constantly shifting circumstances of publishers and their lists mean the whole thing is a circus precariously arranged upon a damp paper plate balancing on a mile-high pin. It’s a tough business.

And it means I’ve just busted my guts to write a story that has every chance of not being picked up by a publisher. It means I might get nothing in return except for the fact of having done it.

Just as well I love it. Just as well I’m in love with it.

Not everyone, given the opportunity – the time, the space, the financial wherewithal – has the guts to put themselves on the line this way. All artists do it every day.

So yeah, maybe next time I’m told I have an easy time of things, I might say: ‘Have a go yourself. Take forty-three days out of the grind. Do that thing you love. I dare you.’

(Photo: Judy Davis, ‘My Brilliant Career’)

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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)

 

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LOVE IN A TEACUP

I’ve never gathered much in the way of stuff around me. Nice roof over head, nice frocks and nice bed linen, what more does one need? Apart from a laptop, phone, a stupid number of books, novelty socks and decorative pillows… Ahem.

Yes, I buy far too much crap. I’m not wealthy by Australian standards, but I am very conscious of my privilege: I’m white, well-educated and well-loved. I am my parents’ and my grandparents’ hopes and dreams made manifest. I am the living proof that sunshine, schooling and safety wipe the slate clean of any trace of poverty or dislocation.

But I think the simple living of my forebears must remain somehow in my DNA, so that as much as I buy too much crap, I’m also constantly giving it away. From handbags to lounge suites, I can always find someone to pass things on to, because they might need them, or because they might like them. Because one or several of my sons’ lovely lady pals are in need of a party frock. Or a fruit bowl.

My husband thinks this is a pathological compulsion, and worries that one day he’ll come home and I’ll have given away the cats, the chooks and all the family photographs. Not true!

It is true that having too many things around me, too much clutter of stuff, can make me feel overwhelmed – too greedy perhaps, wracked with remnant Catholic guilt – but there is one thing, one little clutter of things, I could never part with: my grandmother’s teacups.

An eclectic mix of Royal Albert, Wedgwood and Noritake, I’ve carted them around with me since I left home, and I’ve collected teacups of my own to keep them company wherever we go.

Looking at them brings me more than happiness; they bring me back my grandmother, and my mother too. They connect me to them through the stories I hold in my heart, bright and diverse as these hand-painted blooms on porcelain, though neither of them lived to see me write stories of my own. They return me to long, lazy school-holiday afternoons when I nagged them to get out all the good china for me to dream over.

Munching Arnott’s Lemon Crisp biscuits, I’d imagine my grown-up life, all the tea parties I’d throw. I couldn’t have imagined where these teacups would find themselves over the years that followed: mad places, wild places, sometimes frightening, sometimes beautiful. Wonderful. And not a chip or crack among them for all that, I hold them so dear.

Of course I do. My grandmother – Nin as we called her – never owned much. She never bought a house or a car; she never saw Paris or London or Rome. But she owned fabulous teacups. She owned fabulous stories, too. I can only imagine the look on her face – and Mum’s – at my telling them that Nin’s favourite actress, Helen Morse, is the narrator of my latest novel. We’d get out the teacups for that!

There’s one little green, gilt-edged cup that’s always been my absolute favourite, though. It has no great name, and no grand style, only a Chinese stamp under the base, blurry and bright gold.

I would ask my Nin on school-holiday loop: ‘And where did you get this one?’ Always wanting the tale, wondering if this little cup came from ancient Greece, or maybe from the table of an Egyptian queen.

And I remember Nin replying with some faraway quizzical frown, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’

As if it had come to her by some magic.

Perhaps it did.

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ALMOST SPRING

Wattle never blooms, it bursts: tiny needles of sunshine laughing at the last days of winter.

I’ve been taking hundreds of photographs of them lately, hoping to capture their laughter, boldest in the late-afternoon sun. My hands blue-cold around the camera, my gumboots slurping along tracks that have turned to ribbons of mud in the biblical quantities of rain we’ve enjoyed since June.

I want to catch just the right shout of mad loveliness, one that might bring inspiration for the cover of a new edition of my first novel, Black Diamonds, which will be published next year. It’s a story of coal and war and invincible love – and wattle bright against the grim struggle for peace.

Ten years ago, when this story was just about to step into the world for the first time, my own heart was breaking. I was still reeling from my mother’s sudden death, a catastrophic cancer having taken her from me before she’d had the chance to read the manuscript. I could still feel her leaving me as I tried to breathe life back into her goneness, on the lounge-room floor where I found her. My father, meanwhile, was returning to the strange childhood that dementia brings, making him unaware of who I was, never mind that I’d written a book. My marriage disintegrated under the weight of grief – a mercy killing of sorts, but nevertheless another space to mourn.

There was no celebration of Black Diamonds then. For almost a year afterwards, I couldn’t go anywhere without walking barefoot over the crushed-glass carpet of my own heart shards. I shredded my feet across the globe to Prague and back. Every shadow I owned engulfed me.

Good friends and a good therapist pulled me out of the black; the needs of my children tugged and tugged at me, too. And words, always my words, made ropeways of light away from any desire to crawl under that sharp carpet and never come out again.

Words, new glimpses of story, would burst like wattle blooms from black branches, bringing new life and new love. Boughs heavy with sunshine would soon garland the adit of my bleak cave, my coal pit, just as they do in my novel.

Yes, ten years on, I can finally celebrate Black Diamonds. I will dance with her in my arms when I hold her again.

Because wattle never fades, either. It smoulders deep gold before it melds into the warmth of spring.

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REMEMBRANCE

I love old, decaying tin sheds, which is just as well since there are plenty of them around where I live, in rural New South Wales. This shed here lives just at the end of my lane, in a neighbour’s paddock.

Of course, there’s a certain beauty to things of metal and wood slowly, almost imperceptibly returning to the earth, by rust, by mites, so that their demise seems more transformation than death.

But they’re deceptively rich little troves of story, too, these long-abandoned huts. With hawthorn growing through their roofs and up their chimneys, panels blown away who knows how many years past by the bitter wind that belts across the ridge tops here winter after winter, windows empty, doorways agape, it’s easy to forget that these places were once dwellings.

People lived and loved, laughed and lost here, hoped most among it all. When? I don’t know. Sometime before I was born. Perhaps 1960. Perhaps 1860. The design of these homes possibly didn’t change much across that century. Hundreds, maybe thousands of these prefabricated abodes were shipped across the Pacific from San Francisco during gold-rush days, sent over the Blue Mountains on bullock drays, with the bolt holes drilled and fixings provided, so that you only needed a hammer and wrench to whack one up in your paddock of choice.

Someone built the chimney from bricks kilned nearby. Someone made the curtains from bright remnants to keep out the flies. Someone cooked a mutton stew above the fire. Someone put the children to bed in a loft built into the rafters. Times have changed; we don’t live like this anymore.

Don’t we? This house was the original flat pack – cheap and temporary. I can hear whoever made this one swearing across time that they haven’t been supplied the right bloody screws and that the bolt holes are all wrong. Rip-roaring row between man and wife ensues.

We forget too easily these echoes and continuities. We think we do things so differently now. We think our challenges have never been faced before.

We forget that the mistakes we make have all been made before.

I take a photograph of a little tin shed in a neighbour’s paddock and pray to a deaf god for a wounded child in faraway Syria, his world rent apart by a war my country has played its part in causing, and wonder what I can do to stop this history repeating and repeating.

All I can do is tell this story.

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GLOBAL & LOCAL

Last night I went to an arts networking soiree in what passes for the big smoke in my shire – the town of Blayney.

My kind of town, Blayney has a population of about five thousand – a figure that jumps to a whopping almost seven thousand if you include all the little villages dotted around her. It’s essentially a farming centre, a place to get the tractor serviced, and set as it is in the spectacular green and gold hills of the Central West of New South Wales, it’s endlessly beautiful, too.

But the truly wonderful thing about living in a shire like this is that it’s brimming with people who do stuff rather than talk about it. Over the past two years I’ve called this place home, I’ve met a seemingly disproportionate number of artists and they’re an eclectic bunch.

There’s Rebecca Price, the silversmith, who makes exquisite, bespoke jewelry in her workshop on the main street, White Rock Silver. There’s Tom Miller the blacksmith and his partner Monika Altmann who have a magical bush gallery called Metal as Anything out at Newbridge. There’s Cecily Walters who creates images from handmade felt that look like dreamy watercolours, and Loretta Kervin, who paints and crotchets her sunshine onto just about anything. There’s the rainbow joy of Tracey Mackie’s canvases capturing the creatures we share this space with – the cows, chooks, horses, dogs and sheep.

There’s internationally renowned Wiradjuri artist, Nyree Reynolds, whose ethereal depictions of people and place seem to step out of the ancient mists that clothe these hills. Nyree spends a great deal of her time with the school children of the region, too, switching their little souls on to the power of their creativity, and – so I learned last night – always paints while cuddling either a Siamese cat or a chihuahua.

Last night I also learned that there’s a piano museum in the tiny village of Neville – the only piano museum in Australia. There, they restore old pianos – as old as the 1840s! – bringing them back to life not only as playable instruments but so that a new generation might marvel at their breathtakingly intricate craftsmanship.

And I’ll never forget the lad who swaggered into the pop-up art gallery in town last Christmas, boots dusty and still smelling of the paddock, with his portfolio of photographs under his arm. Gorgeous! And his photos weren’t too bad either.

None of the people I’ve just mentioned do what they do for the money or the glory or because someone in Sydney thinks it might be fashionable. They do this stuff because they love it, because they want to create beauty, and because exploring and recording and expressing our experience of life always makes a contribution to understanding who and what we are as humans. And I’ve only mentioned a handful of them here.

Our networking soirees happen every winter via Charles Sturt University’s Arts OutWest program – by the sparkling energy and enthusiasm of Tracey Callinan, who heads up the team, and Penny May, who’s just joined them as our local mover and shaker. Clinking glasses with us last night was also General Manager of Blayney Council, Rebecca Ryan, who spoke about all the creative ways she’s promoting our shire to the rest of the country – and the world. Rebecca’s vision is that when people find out what’s on offer they’ll want to spend whole holidays here, visiting each of the villages, discovering our artists, tasting our produce, delighting in the landscape, breathing in the fresh, cool air…

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As we were all chatting away, inspiring each other, I was reminded of a comment made a few weeks ago by a young woman over the other side of the world, in London, when she was asked about what Brexit – the UK’s exit from the European Union – meant to her. She said, appearing astonished that anyone should ever consider a boundary to connectedness a good thing: ‘The future is global and local.’

And so it is. It’s an idea that’s being harnessed by my publisher – The Author People – right now. Breaking boundaries. Valuing the authentic over mass-market corporate machinery. Valuing passion and its multilayered transactional power over productivity spreadsheets. Many of us are tired of being told what to buy and what to love. But the tide is turning. Or perhaps returning to a time when how and why things are made is of equal importance to the thing itself. A time when there was no metropolitan monopoly on the vanguard.

It’s a little-known historical fact that no-one embraces the new like rural Australians do. Our farmers were among the first in the world to embrace the automobile and the aeroplane, and then radio, and now the internet. The tyranny of distance makes it so. And I think our future will show a resurgence in the worth of our cultural connectedness to the land out here, too. Our diversity, complexity. All our colours.

Why not? After all, my novella, Wild Chicory, is making her sweet mark these days – a story, ultimately, of how I came to live and write in this place, the flowers of my country lane sprinkled across her cover. A little piece of Blayney Shire set free across the globe.

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The launch of Wild Chicory at White Rock Silver earlier this year, photo by local scriptwriter Joe Velikovsky.
The photograph that heads up this piece shows one of the garden installations at Metal As Anything.

 

 

 

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AHOY!

I love ships. I love their sweeping, classical lines; their slow but mighty power; their history. Without them, we’d never have discovered all the worlds beyond our shores. Empires would never have reigned their terrors so far and wide; but neither would the globe have become small enough to bring us all together, mixing us around, blending cultures, sharing ideas.

This love affair with ships began when I was eleven, in 1979, and I was travelling with my parents and my brother from Denmark back to England after a tour. For some reason lost to the mists, we boarded a vessel that, in my memory at least, was some kind of Scandinavian version of the Fairstar – a notorious Aussie floating party palace, thankfully also now lost to the mists.

It was an overnight journey, and after dinner Mum took me to the disco that was raging on board. Our parents obviously believed in giving us a broad, if random education in diversity wherever we travelled because my memory prior to that disco is one of becoming quite practically lost, en famille, some days earlier, somewhere in the red-light district of Amsterdam, and asking Mum why the ladies in the windows were all wearing their swimming cossies – and why my thirteen-year-old brother had lost interest in finding our hotel.

Anyway, the Scandinavian shipboard disco was just as unfathomable to small me. Boogie music thumping and rainbow lights flashing through a darkness thick with cigarette smoke, Mum and I were dancing away when I was literally whisked off my feet by a giant Viking – long blond hair, long blond beard, seven feet tall – who then began tossing me in the air to the beat of the boogie. That was the most amazing fun I had had in my young life, of course, and I’m sure the Great Dane would still be tossing me in the air if Mum hadn’t yanked me out of there, a bit freaked out, no doubt, at how off his face Sven must have been.

I was more interested in wanting to know why he’d been wearing clogs – actual wooden clogs – if he was Scandinavian and not Dutch – indeed not a Dutch farmer from the nineteenth century. Mum answered with something typical, such as: ‘I don’t know. He must like clogs.’

And I’d probably still be nagging her for a better answer, if she were still here with me, and if I hadn’t at that moment felt the rocking of the ship in our little twin-berth cabin.

‘What’s that?’ I asked Mum.

‘That’s the ship moving through the water,’ she told me.

‘Where are we?’ I asked the black night.

‘Somewhere in the North Sea,’ Mum said. ‘It’s rough out there.’

And the thrill that planted in my brain topped the whole experience. We were inside the belly of a ship, being tossed on the sea.

‘Can we go back out and have a look?’

‘No. Go to sleep.’

In the morning the sea was grey and calm and boring and English, but the thrill of the night before stayed with me and has done ever since.

I haven’t had a chance to relive the experience very often over all these years, only coming close to it on my honeymoon with Dean, in Cairns, North Queensland, when we took a big catamaran out on the Great Barrier Reef and where, on our return to port, the sea turned bone-judderingly choppy on us. It was so madly rough, most of the passengers were playing tag for the bathroom. Even Dean, who can sail yachts, was green. But I was gripping the rails and wooting: ‘YEAH!’

Those who know me will understand what a contradiction this is. I’m terrified of my own shadow. I hate flying and most of the time I hate driving too. But put me in a sturdy vessel on the sea, and I just go: ‘YEAH!’

Maybe it’s some ancient memory in me, whipping up on the wind. I don’t know. Even still, and strangely enough, I never imagined I would ever write a story about the sea. Until, of course, I randomly read Annie Boyd’s – her history of the SS Koombana ­– and my own, Jewel Sea, rocked out of my heart and onto the page.

Writing that tale was an exhilarating experience in itself. I became that ship – a luxurious Edwardian party ship, she was, carrying the cattle and gold and pearls that made her passengers some of the wealthiest people in the world. And I became the storm that took her down, pulling her to the bottom of the sea off the coast of Western Australia, where she is yet to be found.  

I can’t wait to share her with you. Only sixty-nine sleeps until official publication day. But who’s counting…

Jewel Sea Preliminary for Kim_Page_2

 

 

If you’d like to know more about Jewel Sea, you can here.