Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Category: Reflections of You

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
SARAH

Our intrepid Reflector today is another old pal from uni days, someone whose eloquence and honesty astounded me like a lovely dancing light when we were teens, but someone I lost contact with soon after we each went our separate ways.

I’m not sure that she’d remember, but that crisp candour of hers attempted to warn me off making a terrible mistake with a fellow when I was in my early twenties. I didn’t listen, of course. And of course, she was right about him.

I’ve carried her rightness around with me all these years and, as rightness goes, we’re back in each other’s orbits now.

And I’m delighted to introduce you to her here as she answers our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

I’m Sarah Maddock, born in Chatham, Kent.

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

The first time I played Duran Duran’s eponymous first album. I remember putting the LP on the turntable, playing it over and over again and dancing around the living room like a lunatic. It was such an awakening: the realisation that pop music could excite me so profoundly and transport me from my tedious, suburban life into another world. The world of the New Romantics.

What does home mean for you?

I moved from a little village in Cambridgeshire to Manly when I was seven. My mum was terribly homesick and wanted to return to Australia. It was my first time on a plane and I spent most the journey feeling travel sick. I recall being engulfed in a blanket of humidity when we walked across the tarmac during the stopover at Kuala Lumpur airport.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Australia was vomit in a taxi. I remember my stressed dad shoving a clutch of dollars into the taxi driver’s hand to pay for cleaning the car and the shame I felt at having disgraced myself in this foreign place.  

My first Australian home was a migrant hostel with a communal kitchen. Soon afterwards, we moved into an apartment on the beachfront. Everything was so alien. I’d never had a shower before or heard sea spray lashing the windows on a stormy night.

Mum would pack chocolate milk with cream cheese spread and cucumber sandwiches for our school lunches. She’d forgotten what it was like to live in a hot country. Every day I opened my bag to find the milk was curdled and the white bread sandwich melted into a soggy mass of processed cheese and limp cucumber.

After a few months, we moved again. Out to the western suburbs of Sydney, where I was known at school as ‘Pommie bastard’. I quickly learnt I had to be tough and strident to survive. But at least I wasn’t the Aboriginal girl in the year above me or one of the Greek kids who lived in the purple house around the corner. They were the school pariahs. It was white, outer suburban Australia in the 1970s. Barren, small-minded and mean of spirit.

I guess I’ve spent my adult life running away from that version of home. Searching for somewhere that embraces diversity, where there is always something new to see or do, where history and modernity combine to create a place that is as stimulating and vibrant as it is challenging.

Right now, that place is London. London means home.

What makes you smile?

My kids being silly together. Random acts of kindness in public places. Watching the HBO series, Veep. Unexpected invitations. A beautiful garden. Art galleries of all shapes and sizes. Shaun Micallef. Birdsong. Buying books. My neighbour bringing over a plate of date scones. The Cornish coast.

And more, so much more.

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What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

The hardest lesson, so far, has also been the simplest.

About five years ago my relationship with my son was at an all-time low, so we had some family therapy together, which led me to return for some sessions on my own. I’d been to a therapist in my early thirties, but this time it had a more life-changing effect.

I learnt some hard truths about myself, but also – and most importantly – some simple ways of managing my mind. I’m a lot more self-aware and less anxious as a result, and my relationships with family and friends (old and new) have benefitted hugely. I now understand where my negative, controlling thoughts come from and know how to keep them in check.

Whenever I feel the urge to control my environment or someone else’s behaviour, I ask myself, ‘What’s the worse thing that can happen?’ If it’s not death or permanent injury, then I usually just let it go.

Who or what is the love of your life?

Definitely my partner of twenty-one years. He’s intelligent, empathic, patient, forgiving, level-headed, highly organised and a great dad. He’s easy on the eye, too.

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

Much as I love history, I’m not particularly interested in my own. My past – and that of my parents, grandparents and so on – is done and dusted. I don’t enjoy looking at old photos very much or revisiting ‘the good old days’. I find no comfort in nostalgia. It drains me.

Perhaps I avoid my own past because my childhood is best forgotten. I was unhappy and bored for much of it and family life was strained and dysfunctional.

(Philip Larkin was spot on when he wrote, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad./ They may not mean to, but they do.’)

That’s not to say there aren’t some interesting tales to be told on both sides of my family’s history. But right now, I’m greedy for the here and now and I look forward to tomorrow with the enthusiasm of a small child.

After all, I’ve only a few more decades left to make the most of this one, short life. So I’d better get on with it.

Yes, go on, bugger off now. Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Sarah. And for that precious honesty – may it never fade.

I love the way these Reflections we’re collecting here are creating a kind of a rambling map of women’s experiences. I hope, dear reader, you’re enjoying these glimpses into others’ lives too. We’re all so different, but we share so much, don’t we?

If you’d like to read more about Sarah and her world – and she’s a fabulous writer – you can find her at her blog here.

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
LINDA

One of the best things about the internet and all our fast and far-flung communication these days is that you get to meet great people you otherwise might never have crossed paths with. Today’s intrepid Reflector is one such person – Linda Visman.

I can’t even remember how it is we actually met – online, that is – but I had the lovely pleasure of meeting her for realz at a library event at Lake Macquarie a few weeks ago. Linda is a writer, reader and blogger herself, and she’s a big-hearted woman, generous in spirit and mind.

And here she is answering our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

I am the middle child of the five children (two boys and three girls) who lived beyond birth. I was born of working class parents in Oswaldtwistle, a cotton town in Lancashire, northern England, sixty-eight years ago – though I am sure there’s a mistake in the number there; I don’t feel that old!

I am a mother, grandmother, wife to my second, wonderful husband of eleven years and a lover of books. I am a former teacher of all levels and ages; the people I have taught in a formal sense range from four years old to eighty-three. And I am also a writer, after finally discovering, about ten or eleven years ago that I could write stories as well as uni assignments (thanks to hubby for encouraging me in that!).

What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

My family went through many hard times when I was young. We were poor, Dad worked hard to build our own house, then almost died of polio. I had to deal with a religion that created lots of guilt through my never being good enough. But there was always something I could do that allowed me to escape into different worlds. You guessed it – I was an avid reader. I can’t remember how often I would be so totally immersed in a book that I wouldn’t hear my mother calling me to do something. She got annoyed, but she understood – reading was also her pleasure.

What does home mean for you?

Even though I was born in England and have always had an unrequited desire to go back for a visit there, I love my adopted country where I have lived for over sixty-two years. Australia is and will always be my home. I can live and have lived in a wide range of locations, climates, geographical areas, towns – but not cities. I have been fortunate to get to know many lovely places in my journey through life, as well as many lovely people.

Because I have lived in so many places in my life, I have come to see home as being the place I am comfortable in with the people I love. It is where I am relaxed and happy and can do the things that interest me. My home now is with my husband in a lakeside village where others come for holidays. We have made this house our own, surrounded by trees and birds that make it really feel alive.

It is the place I have now lived in for the second-longest period in my life – twelve years. We have many friends around us who enrich our lives, and great country and gorgeous lake to visit and to sail on. It is also the base from where we set out to visit our far-flung family: my five sons, my husband’s three children and their families; our total of seven siblings, and some of our friends. We love travelling to see them all, but it is extra special when we come back to this home of ours.

Lake Macquarie

What makes you smile?

There are many things that make me smile, but particularly the following:

  • Seeing my grandchildren at play. I love when they want me to be with them;
  • a beautiful sunset (I rarely see sunrises J);
  • the beauty and grandeur of nature and its power awe me, but it is the little things in it that make me smile: the sound of the possums as they race across our galvanised iron roof at night; a flower blooming in a dead area; a pelican gliding in to land on the lake and putting down its feet to brake;
  • memories of my times teaching in remote area schools in the Northern Territory;
  • the sound of children playing – anywhere and at any time, but especially with an animal;
  • the thought of how fortunate I am in my life, even though we are not well off financially;
  • I even smile when I make a comment on a well-written post on Facebook or a blog, and I have to include a smiley face to show that.

I think those who do not smile much have very sad lives. I love the feeling when your mouth widens in pleasure, your cheeks and eyes crinkle and a wonderful feeling of joy envelops you.

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

When my children were still young (my eldest was fourteen), my marriage broke up – partly from incompatibility and partly from my falling in love with someone else. I had to leave him but, through circumstances I could do nothing about, I also had to leave my children behind. That was the hardest and worst thing I have done in my life.

The following years taught me how one decision could change lives so much – not just my own, but also those of others. The courts, so conservative then, refused to give me custody of my five beautiful and innocent children and I had to go through years of limited contact not knowing how that would affect my long-term relationship with them.

I have been extremely fortunate that in the end our relationships, both individual and as a family, are strong, loving and accepting. It could so easily have been terribly different.

Holland boys Maimuru 1982

Who or what is the love of your life?

That’s a hard one, because the love of your life can change over time. My children and their families, though, will also be my greatest love. That will never change. The love of my life for almost twenty years was a woman I met at a bible study group when I was thirty-six. She became my partner and we embarked together on a life of love, and loss of our children, a life that was at times insecure, at others stable, full of challenge and adventure and, in the end, loss.

Now, my wonderfully loving and supportive husband of over eleven years is my rock, my mentor and my soul-mate. Our relationship may not have the physical passion of our younger selves, but I am older and more settled now. We share a deep, honest, trusting and more mature love than we might have if we were young. Our love is full of respect for each other and free from the need to impress.

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

My dad went through WWII as a fighter pilot, and Mum as a munitions worker and worried wife. Dad first applied for assisted passage to Australia in 1947, but it wasn’t until January 1954 that he was successful. We left England for Australia that February, and this opened up possibilities and opportunities we’d never have had. Our lives changed beyond measure.

People tell me I’ve had an interesting life, and I agree. For a start, my working class Catholic childhood taught me both positive and negative lessons, but also gave me a real appreciation of where I came from and what my parents, grandparents and those before them went through that resulted in my even being in this world. It has given me an appreciation for history and a strong dislike for institutionalised religion.

I have been fortunate that decisions I made that seemed wrong to many at the time have actually given me a greater experience of the world and of people in both a personal sense and a more balanced perspective on life. I have learned what fear of those who are different or who do not conform means – from both the receiving end and from working with Indigenous Australians in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. From my dad, I have learned the value of living with an attitude of gratitude.

I have discovered just how important family is; circumstances could have led them to deny me, or me to deny some of them, but didn’t. I have discovered how wonderful it is to have children who are good people of whom I can be proud, and who are carrying on a legacy of love and care for their world and its inhabitants. I have discovered the destructive nature of hate and the redemptive nature of forgiveness through my personal relationships and through observation of the past and of the world around me.

So I suppose I can say that past experiences, my history and background have worked, with my own efforts and insights, to give me more understanding and acceptance of people, and also a strong sense of what is wrong with our political, economic, social and religious systems, and the need to change them for the benefit of all. It’s also made me aware that, being an introvert, I need to retreat from the world at times and renew myself.

Thank you so much, Linda, for sharing this glimpse of you with us, and with such honesty and warmth. Cheers to a long and fruitful friendship in words!

For those who’d like to find out more about Linda and her writing, you can browse her wonderful blog here.

 

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REFLECTIONS OF YOU
JENN

I have a very special authorlady Reflector on the blog today – the one and only, the most fabulous, Jenn J McLeod. For those who don’t know Jenn, she is the author of four novels, and her latest, The Other Side of the Season, has just been published.

Apart from writing richly textured stories of family, friends, lovers and small town Australia, Jenn is one of the most generous people I know in the writing business. She’s so supportive of other writers and their work, and she’s been a massive support to me over the last few years. I couldn’t wish for a lovelier confrere.  Even if she’s recently taken to calling me Swiz, after ‘swizzle stick’ because she’s so grown up.

And now here she is, answering our Big Seven questions on life and love…

Who are you and where were you born?

Good question.

I am a gypsy, a blogging, tweeting, facebooking fifty-six year old sea-change champion, and an advocate for dogs, because they can’t speak for themselves (although they do speak to me).

I was born in Manly hospital and spoilt rotten by wonderful parents. So what did I do? I ran away from a perfectly good marriage (well, my family thought it was perfectly good) and started again.

Not sure where I would be or what I’d be doing if I hadn’t been brave enough to go with my heart. I do know I wouldn’t be Jenn J McLeod – a bestselling Aussie author of contemporary women’s fiction (and bloody proud of myself, too!).

 What’s your most treasured childhood memory?

My dad was a hard-working man—a policeman by day and a musician by night. The Don Lewis Trio did weddings, parties, anything!

When I’d wake up the morning after he’d been at a gig, I’d find my bedroom filled with balloons, streamers, party favours and wedding bombonieres—whatever was left after the party was over.

Dads band smiling don

What does home mean for you?

For the last two years it’s meant learning to adapt to life on the road. I am writing my way around Oz in a 24-foot fifth-wheeler caravan. We’d never towed anything bigger than a box trailer before this, so it has been daunting, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. Hoping the scales will tip to ‘free and easy’ eventually. We feel very vulnerable without the security of four brick walls and a roof. So I’m learning to listen to the seasons and I’m seeing things with fresh eyes. (I’m also learning to read weather forecasts in order to prepare for storms. Not that there’s much we can do. And let me tell you, a hailstorm in a caravan is something else!)

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 What makes you smile?

Dogs! Any dogs. I can be having the worst day until I see a dog and I am filled with joy. I’ve owned two sets of rescue dogs over the last thirty years. Sadly I lost my two little white muses—Strawberry in 2104 and Daiquiri recently. My little one-eyed dude dog was the bravest dog in the world and I both cry and smile at the same time when I picture her face.

The caravan feels very empty right now. But The J and I have decided we need to get to know who we are as a couple without dogs. (Yes, we actually have to talk to each other, rather than the dogs! You’d be surprised how much a dog can factor into the every day.) We’ve also decided, rather than go and get a dog, we’ll wait for a little dog to find us. We know there’ll be one out there when the time’s right. Maybe then we’ll call her Chance, Karma, Destiny, or Serendipity (or maybe Daisy, coz I love saying upsidaisy!)

What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?

Patience – and there is no better teacher than the publishing biz!! I’m still learning!

(Oh, and plucking your eyebrows too thin as a teenager will leave you with something akin to two deranged-looking caterpillars when you are older. Take note, young people.)

Who or what is the love of your life?

My partner of 33 years, who is also ‘The J’ in Jenn J McLeod. I ran away from a marriage in 1984 and we travelled the country in a Ford F100 and a tent. In 2014 we hit the road again, but this time with style and comfort (and an en suite!). There would be no Jenn J McLeod Author without The J and I feel blessed every day that I was brave enough to let myself love and be loved in return.

jj_2

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

Wow! I think answering this question taught me something about myself. I didn’t know how to answer this at first, as I’ve never really been family oriented and that made me sound a bit . . . well, indifferent. Of course family is important. I LOVE that ‘Find My Family’ show on the tele and ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, and I know a lot about my own family tree:

  • I know my first settler was a grave planner in Paynham, South Australia (and yes there is a family plot!)
  • I know my grandfather, Clement Lewis, was pretty high up in the South Australian Government (managing the SA War Loans campaign)
  • And I totally LOVE that my Aunty Joy was Joy Richardson—founder of the South Australian Animal Welfare League that still exists today (and will be the benefactor of my $millions in book royalties, once I’m gone!! I kind thought that a nice full-circle thing to do!)

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 Anyway . . .

Late in his teens, my dad moved away from his very strong Methodist family. He worked hard, married, and as a family we lived independently of the South Aussie crew. (Dad used to say we were the black sheep in NSW!!) That, and perhaps having no children myself, is why I’m not particularly family oriented.

But . . .  could this explain why I write the stories I do? Is this ‘family’ thing a bit of an enigma and I secretly have a desire to reconnect and rediscover my own country roots through storytelling? Hmm!!!

I’m not saying family isn’t important in my life. I am fortunate to have people who are loving and accepting, as many others don’t.

Feeling blessed.

Thank you, Jenn, for sharing these glimpses of you with us. What a beautiful, inspiring woman you are.

If you, dear reader, would like to explore more of Jenn’s world, you can find her blog here.

And if you’d like to have a look at Jenn’s new novel The Other Side of the Season, and I heartily suggest you do, you can find it here. By sweet coincidence, this novel has quite a theme of reflections in it, too…