Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Category: Uncategorized

SIX QUICK WINTER-WARMING THOUGHTS

With Pamela Cook

pam cook

It’s so lovely to welcome wonderful fellow author Pamela Cook onto my blog today for a little Q&A and book giveaway. Pam and I have been cahooting a bit lately on ways that women can stretch their literary wings and write outside the lines too often imposed upon us by the publishing industry. Here, Pam talks about her latest novel, Cross My Heart, and shares her thoughts on what it means for her to write out her authentic self on the page.

 Your latest novel, Cross My Heart, is a such a soulful story about friendship. Tell us a little bit about it, and what inspired you to dig into such deep emotional territory?

Thanks so much, Kim. My previous books all focused primarily on family relationships, with any friendship element on the periphery. I’ve always believed that for women, strong friendships can truly be lifelines and I wanted to honour that by putting a friend relationship at the centre of the story. My closest friend passed away four and half years ago after a terrible battle with motor neurone disease. We had been friends for 40 years, travelled the world together, watched our children grow up together and spent many hours sharing the joys of a beautiful friendship. To say I feel her loss deeply does not capture the level of my grief, so writing about the death of a close friend was also a way for me to process some of those emotions.

Relationships between women feature strongly in your work. What’s the most special thing about female connection for you?

Women connect to each other in completely different ways to women and men. Maybe because we share the same biology and hormones, we empathise with the experiences our friends, mothers and sisters are going through. I know in difficult times in my own life, my circle of women has been there for me and pulled me through. I’m so inspired by the strength I see in women around me who have been through heartache and tragedy and yet have survived and become even stronger.

Women writers are the engine-room of the publishing industry – we are phenomenally creative and giving and sparklingly clever. What’s the deepest delight you take in reading books written by women?

You are so right, Kim! I pretty much read books exclusively by women these days, most of them Australian. I love the way these stories focus on women taking the lead in their lives, often taking back control they may have lost or given away, becoming more empowered by challenging the status quo. I’m seeing this as a real feature of writing by Australian women right now, whether they write contemporary or historical, romance or general fiction. It’s inspiring and definitely something to celebrate. Long may it continue!

Your own work is very original, straight from the heart, and it’s not always easy to fit into a genre box. What words of wisdom do you have for others yearning to tread their own path?

I’ve struggled with the whole box thing for a while now. For years my books were marketed as rural romance but I never felt comfortable with the label because they aren’t romances, they’re stories about women coming to terms with their past and with themselves. All of them have rural settings because that’s the environment I love and draw inspiration from. The whole box thing is really for marketing purposes – so publishers know who to target in advertising and on bookstore shelves. My most recent publishing experience, as an indie author, has confirmed my suspicion that it’s okay to write across genres. Cross My Heart is a contemporary or women’s fiction title but it has elements of mystery and suspense. Feedback from readers has been that they are fine with a mixture of elements. If you’re a traditionally published author, what I would say is to be aware of the boxes and be comfortable with where you are placed, but also know it’s possible to break out of those confines.

What kind of heart country are you going to take us into next with your writing?

I have two projects on the go right now. One is a revision and re-packaging of my second novel Essie’s Way. It was written to a very tight deadline and while I’ve always loved the characters and story, I’m relishing the opportunity to tighten the writing and give it more depth. It has a historical thread which I really enjoyed writing, so there’s another genre boundary I’ve crossed! I’m also writing a new contemporary story about a woman who loses her children to a narcissistic ex-husband and resolves to get them back. Both these books have a mother-daughter thread running through them, and also a grandmother thread, and hopefully will tug at readers’ heartstrings in the best possible way.

So many have had a rough time lately, with all the worry, fear and loss COVID-19 has left in its wake. What’s your warmest thought to help carry us through the winter days to come?

It’s certainly been a worrying time, particularly for the more vulnerable in our society – the elderly, those already living on the breadline and women living in situations of abuse. But we have also seen so much kindness, people reaching out to help and support each other, and it’s been a time where we have been forced to stay home and perhaps reflect on the business of our lives. I hope the kindnesses we have witnessed during this time, to ourselves, each other and the planet continue. My mother is 96 and has lived through world war, depression, becoming a widow at the age of 40 with four children to care for, and losing most of her friends and siblings. Watching the way she has come through all this has taught me that we are stronger than we think we are, and that even when we think we can’t go on, we have the strength deep down inside us to survive and even thrive.

Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Pam.

Reading friends, if you’d like to be in the running to win one of two copies of Cross My Heart, please comment on this blog post or on the Facebook post here – we’d especially love to hear your thoughts on the importance of women’s stories. Two lucky winners will be chosen at 5pm, Friday, 3 July 2020 (Australian addressees only, please).  

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pam picPamela Cook is the author of five page-turning women’s fiction novels. Her stories feature flawed but strong women, tangled family relationships and deal with the complications of life. Her latest novel, Cross My Heart, is a haunting story of friendship, guilt and redemption set in the beautiful central west of New South Wales.

Pamela’s previous novels are Blackwattle Lake, Essie’s Way, Close To Home, and The Crossroads. She is the co-host of the exciting new podcasts Writes4Women and Writes4Festivals, and is proud to be a Writer Ambassador for Room To Read, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes literacy and gender equality in developing countries. When she’s not writing, reading or podcasting, Pamela wastes as much time as possible riding her handsome quarter horses, Morocco and Rio.

Find out more about Pamela and all her books here:

Website: https://www.pamelacook.com.au/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PamelaCookAuthor/

Instagram: @pamelacookwrites

Twitter: @PamelaCookAU

Writes4Women Podcast: https://www.writes4women.com/

her last words roses

DON’T GIVE UP

It’s the most inappropriate time to be even thinking about promoting a new book. There is so much pain and uncertainty throughout the world right now, so much injustice and tragedy that is all too real for too many. Black Americans are pleading for peace after four centuries of exploitation and murder, while their president swaggers, brandishing a bible. The UK is under the charge of a giant, dishevelled toddler up past his bedtime, and Australian leadership, bereft of all imagination, wants to ‘snap back’ to normal with bulk kitchen renovations for the rich and near silence on the black deaths in custody that continue in this country like fresh strikes upon an open wound. And meanwhile, in my sleepy arcadian patch of central New South Wales, the Rural Fire Service is backburning forested hills ahead of the extreme fire conditions expected to return as a result of our collective abuse of the planet.

Yeah, buy my book.

But if books are little lights in the dark, I hope mine is, in its own way, a plea for good things: understanding, kindness, a walk in another’s shoes. I hope all my stories seek these ends, however humble my skill at this business of writing might be. I hope my stories are objects of healing. Some nourishment in the brain space. Some resting of the soul in places near and far. Whispered words that encourage other hearts to fight another day. A soft place to land after a crap day. I hope I use my privilege well, to lift rather than crush. I hope I put helpful thoughts into the world.

So, yeah, this latest one – Her Last Words – is out on audiobook this week, from the lovely people at Bolinda; the paperback and ebook will follow on 7 July. Yayo. Before I say anything else about it, though, if you can’t afford to buy books in any format right now, please ask your local library to order in the books, audios and other reading joys you crave. No-one who needs one should go without a story. Ever.

That’s the philosophy of the heroic bookseller in Her Last Words, Rich O’Driscoll – erstwhile Irish backpacker and loser in love, he’s the quiet, steady heart of my version of a romcom. Because it’s my romcom, it has a murder in it and lots of gags about the publishing industry, too. It also has a few serious things to say about depression, especially the kind of depression brought by grief, and the way the past haunts the present.

In real-life, it all began when a friend from uni days, the incomparable Jennifer Smith, was assaulted and murdered on an inner-city Sydney street one summer night in 1998 – a bag-snatch gone very, very wrong. I can still see where I was and even what I was wearing when I heard the news.

I can still see every moment of Jen’s memorial service, and all that day my heart had wondered: what will become of the novel she was writing? I had little idea of what she was writing about, only that she’d nearly finished it and that I couldn’t wait to read it. I can still see her eyes glittering with excitement and enthusiasm.

But when I asked a mutual friend if we could get hold the manuscript and do something with it, the very idea was waved away, ‘Oh, but it wasn’t any good.’ And oh, but did that quick dismissal of Jen’s excitement and enthusiasm sit in my craw. For all these years, it’s been waiting for its moment to make up story brimming with Jen’s inventiveness, generosity, nuttiness and sparkling intelligence.

My heroine, Thisbe Chisholm, is not Jen, though, and her friends, Penny Katschinski, John Jacobson and Jane Furlow, aren’t Jen’s friends. None of the story in any way explores the real-life crime committed against her, either – because that was never the point. I wanted to write a story about a murder, a missing manuscript and an undying love that would make an old friend laugh. I hope in my heart of hearts, in whatever corner of the universe the wisps of our souls bump subatomic particles, that I’ve succeeded.

Her Last Words is, really, a novel about yearning – be it for fulfillment, love, peace, or the truth. It’s a story that implores all of us who grapple with the dark, including myself: please, don’t give up. It can be hard, so hard, to see how loved and necessary you are when everything has gone to shit. But you are loved and necessary. Let the brightest sparkles in us all have the last laugh.

And believe that justice is coming to those who have caused such trauma and grief. In one way or another, justice is coming to those who commit crimes of violence against women. Hate criminals. Racist criminals. Their time is running out. We have to believe that.

Love must win, and the contribution each of us makes to this victory, however small or frail or faulty, is mightier than kings.

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The Bolinda audiobook is available now here and wherever audiobooks are sold, as well as through the Borrowbox library app.

 

Walking front cover

WALKING RHYTHMS

It’s not long now before my ninth novel, Walking, steps out into the world – in February – and I’m letting myself get a bit excited.

This story has been fifteen years in the dreaming and scheming, and as always, she’s a bright, bold piece of my heart – maybe even brighter and bolder for the long wait.

I came across the inspiration for Walking way back when I was researching my first black diamondsnovel, Black Diamonds. That story was set during the First World War and, much to my shock and dismay at the time, about halfway through it I blew my hero up – then had to figure out how I was going to put him back together again. In the process, I learned more than I wanted to know about early orthopaedic medicine. But it was there that I came across the real-life story of German-Australian surgeon, Max Herz.

Max’s exploits and the challenges he faced were so incredible he deserved a novel of his own, but I wasn’t sure how to tell his tale. He was a medical genius, and a complex man; he was also interned and unjustly, insanely persecuted in Australia during the war – only to then emerge as a quietly powerful hero who changed the lives of thousands of Australian children. What a guy.

The more I researched Max himself, though, the more elusive he became – there just wasn’t enough information out there to show what really made him tick. But then, out of the soul-soup of all that reading and wondering, his essence appeared to me in fictional form. He stepped into my imagination as a man called Hugo Winter – and with him came his young protégé, Lucy Brynne.

Hugo and Lucy took off with the story from that moment on, and at such a pace I could hardly keep up.

Each day writing, and even throughout editing, the rhythms of Hugo’s and Lucy’s intertwined narratives drove me on as though the words were charged with music. And in a way, they are. Real-life Max was a musician and performer in his spare time, renowned for partying like a champ – that man had energy to burn. And the mystery man lovely Lucy falls for turns out to be a bit of a musician too – among other surprises.

As the story shifts from scene to scene, so too do the tunes, ranging through jumpin’ jive, tango, jazz crooning, string quartet and big band sounds, such a mix, I thought it might be fun to put together a little playlist of the beats that give Walking her bounce.

And here they are for your listening pleasure …

  1. The irrepressible Louis Jordan with Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens
  2. A good old-fashioned tango!
  3. Al Bowlly’s perennially romantic Goodnight Sweetheart
  4. A bit of Beethoven with your schnapps
  5. Glenn Miller’s boppiest rendition of Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree
  6. Billie Holiday’s timelessly silky interpretation of The Man I Love 
  7. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – was a clarinet ever so sexy?
  8. And the happiest, toe-tapping-est beats ever in Benny Goodman’s Sing Sing Sing

I hope you enjoy that little sentimental journey. And I hope you enjoy Walking, too.

If you’d like to order the paperback, you can here at Booktopia or Book Depository, or if you’re treblelocal, put your hand up for a signed copy at Collins Booksellers Orange or Books Plus Bathurst. The ebook can be found at all the usual places, iBooks, Kobo, etc. Lots of other retailers to come – including the audiobook from Bolinda Publishing. News on all that soon!

  booktopiaamazon ibookskoboB&N

butterfly

STOCKTAKING

So many heartbreaking and frightening things have happened lately, and are continuing to happen, most of us here in Australia are finding it hard to celebrate the new year this time around. But I’m taking a moment to take stock of what I can merrily shout about, to mark the end of the decade.

As we leave the Terrible Teens behind and head into 2020, here are my top ten personal achievements of the past ten years, in no particular order:

  1. I took a gigantic leap of faith and married my muse de bloke Deano, and we’ve made the homiest home I’ve ever known at The Bend.
  2. I’ve delighted in watching my boys grow into men, and acknowledged that I might have had something to do with that, warts and all (and plenty of grey hair to show for it).
  3. Seven of my novels were published, all of them going on into audio, too. Wowzies, that seems a lot in a bunch. A lot of work. A lot of love. A lot of persistence.
  4. One short story of mine shocked me out of the park by actually winning a prize.
  5. I donated a kidney and witnessed a miracle of life.
  6. I’ve learned to (mostly) control my social anxiety, and bit by bit I unleashed my true carny soul at author events all over the place – and even on the radio. Can’t shut me up now.
  7. I’ve made wonderful new friends, especially through books and reading, and strengthened some old bonds as well.
  8. I wrote my way through two quite scary depressions, crying buckets and shamelessly laughing at all my own jokes, and found a new respect for my resilience and tenacity (previously known as resistance and obstinacy).
  9. I began reviewing for The Newtown Review of Books, and discovered that even my sensible, grown-up voice needs to colour outside the lines.
  10. I’ve gradually been living smaller, with less waste, less plastic, less corporate crap, less stuff generally (except for frocks), and I’ve let this aphorism of Nietzsche’s speak to my heart every day: ‘We must remain as close to the flowers, the grass, and the butterflies as the child is who is not yet so much taller than they are … Whoever would partake of all good things must understand how to be small at times.’

May the next decade bring more of the same: love, curiosity, wisdom, growth, togetherness – and for everyone, as we face the challenges ahead. I hope we learn to care larger and more fiercely, for each other and for our world. Let’s try to make these coming years the Terrific Twenties.

Good health and good cheer to all, and if you feel like shouting out your own bunch of good things, please feel free to share them here.

Kim xx

BoM - high rez short

Book chat with Nigel Featherstone

Author of Bodies of Men

Kim: Nigel! It’s so lovely to meet you here in my little bloggy space, and especially lovely to be chatting with you about your latest novel, Bodies of Men – a war story, a story about what it is to be a man, and an unforgettable love story as well.

From the opening pages of the novel, you’ve captured such an impressive authenticity of place – the North African desert-scapes of 1941, the streets of Alexandria, and the facts of military life. What research did you undertake to make it all so rich and real?

Nigel: Thank you so much, Kim. I’m so very glad you enjoyed the novel. You make my novelist’s heart sing.

The manuscript began in 2013 when I spent three months as a writer-in-residence at UNSW Canberra, which provides the campus for the Australian Defence Force Academy. The Academy Library is an extraordinary resource – it claims to be one of the best military libraries in the world, and it’s a claim that could well be true. I spent the first few weeks of the residency reading novels, non-fiction works including memoir, and poetry; I also watched films, especially documentaries. Essentially I immersed myself in the topic of war. I found that I wasn’t interested in the technical aspects of war, but I was interested in the small moments: the things servicemen did (and thought about, and desired) while waiting around for something to happen or were on leave.

I also became very interested in what could be considered ‘bad behaviour’. In this regard, two books made my blood pump faster. Deserter: a hidden history of the Second World War by Charles Glass (2013) – this movingly chronicles the lives of three servicemen who for a range of complex reasons could not perform as required. And Peter Stanley’s Bad Characters: sex, crime, mutiny, murder and the Australia Imperial Force (2010) – based on military files, this work summarises the experiences of soldiers who were charged for various crimes, challenging the notion that all servicemen were angels.

Once I had my main characters and the key scenario, I started writing, finished a draft, did more research, rewrote, asked for advice from eminent Australian war historians, rewrote, did more research – repeat as required. For six years.

In terms of how to bring to life the Alexandria and Western Desert of the time, I made a decision quite early on in the writing process to rely as much as possible on what I could find on the historical record: diary entries, memoir, paintings, photos, hand-held movie footage, much of which can be found in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Of course, what appear in the novel are my creative interpretations, but I do hope they give readers the sense of Egypt in 1941 as two young Australian soldiers may have experienced it.

Kim: You’ve certainly achieved that – in spades. Now, it’s always a big question, but can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind Bodies of Men? What drew you to this story above all others?

Nigel: What I wanted to do when at UNSW Canberra was research different expressions of masculinity under pressure. What does it mean to be a brave man? What does it mean to be a brave human being? How might bravery express itself when we’re a little more open-minded about military history? What are the stories that have been buried by the dominant historical military narrative? So, I didn’t set out to write a love story per se, though I did know that I would explore how gender, sexuality and intimacy might be expressed during war, which is essentially human nature at its worst.

More specifically, in Peter Stanley’s Bad Characters there is a paragraph about a man called Thomas Chilton, who was born in Scotland but enlisted in Melbourne; he was a former member of the British regular army, so was valuable to the AIF. Chilton went on to be wounded in Gallipoli and, despite facing a charge of stealing and receiving stolen goods, received a promotion. In Belgium, on Christmas Day 1918, Chilton was caught being rather intimate with a local man; a court-martial on St Valentine’s Day found him guilty of a serious demeanour, but he failed to appear at the dock to return to Australia. The AIF chose not to pursue him. Whatever happened to Thomas Chilton? Did he disappear in Europe with his lover?

Kim: There’s a romantic thought – and I hope it’s true. There are some very difficult truths in your novel, though, A particularly Australian brand of toxic masculinity seeps into every corner of the story – both at home in wartime Sydney and in the army overseas. It seems an enemy more terrible than any other as it shapes the experiences James Kelly and William Marsh. Was it confronting to write out these kinds of terrors?

Nigel: You’ve tapped into the core of the novel.

Toxic masculinity is something I’ve been interested in for years – decades really. I’ve always thought that the Australian version of masculinity is dangerously narrow. And you’re right: it is an enemy, and it’s certainly an enemy that James and William must face. One of things I was interested in exploring when writing the novel is that war, even just the idea of it, is a poison; that war harms even those at the periphery; and it harms people for generations.

In terms of the writing, I needed to go to some challenging places. Even though, in a way, the novel is quite sweet, there needed to be harrowing terrain, and that involved James and William receiving some rough treatment. I grew very fond of them – perhaps even a little in love with them – so, yes, it was hard to experience what they had to experience. But that’s life during wartime, even when not at the frontline.

Kim: Incorrigible romantic that I am, I certainly fell in love with William and James – pretty much immediately. Theirs is a true love that will stay with me forever. Did you set out to write a great romance, or did it just play out that way as their story revealed itself to you?

Nigel: I’m so glad that you fell in love with William and James too. And to know that their story will stay with you forever – well, I could faint right here, right now! As already mentioned, I didn’t set out to write a love story; I was looking to write about different expressions of bravery. Of course, love – and falling in love – can be a brave act, and different expressions of love (i.e. not heterosexual) can be especially brave, as can merely being yourself. So I guess I knew love would be a key part of the story. During the edits it became the key to illuminating the lives of James and William.

Kim: At every turn, William struggles with what it means to be a man and carries a weight of failure to live up to expectations – so dreadful at one point he thinks of himself as ‘poison’. What are the pressures that trap William in this false sense of himself?

Nigel: William comes from a traditional, upper-middle-class Australian family: he is born and bred on Sydney’s very affluent North Shore; his father was a solicitor before becoming a politician (though, as a young man, he served in the World War One); he attends a private school and spends much of his spare time in Boys’ Brigade. He has two older brothers: one is a professional soldier, the other an Anglican minister. His mother is buckled under the weight of the expectations of her narrowly defined role in the family. So William has all these external pressures, though he is also intelligent – even as an adolescent he asks questions about what it means to be male. And then he finds himself in the army environment and serving overseas, where he ends up having a position of responsibility, albeit a rather strange one. The odds are stacked against him being able to follow his own path. But he does follow his own path, despite his innate caution. Of course, James, who is more certain of himself, partly, perhaps, because he has been raised in a pacifist household, is there to gently – though persistently! – guide William.

Kim: James has the benefit of unconditional love in his life, in the form of his wonderful mum – and he’s the risk-taker of the pair. How important is having that soft place to land for him, or any young person, grappling with the reality of being different?

Nigel: Isn’t James’s mother, Frances, terrific? I adore her. You’re right that out of the two boys, James is the natural risk-taker, because of that unconditional love his mother has given him (though there is also a tragedy in the family, which will be a part of James’s psychology for life and it certainly drives much of his narrative in the novel). I love your idea that James provides a soft place for William to land – that’s exactly what James does, and it’s exactly what William needs. We all experience fear, but those of us who are born different experience a heightened level of fear, because of shame and rejection, of the isolation that comes from not being able to live the life we should be leading.

Kim: We all send our books out into the world as salvos of love in some shape or form, with our best hopes and dreams. What do you hope the love in Bodies of Men will do in the world?

Nigel: Novels as ‘salvos of love’ – that’s terrific.

In the first instance I just hope readers will be moved. However, I also hope it helps to shine a light on different experiences of life during wartime, and not just male experiences. And then there’s a political hope, because the novel does have a political purpose: at its core, even at its heart, is a fiercely anti-nationalistic position. Ever since former prime minister Bob Hawke took a group of Australian ‘pilgrims’ to Gallipoli in 1990 we have experienced an amplification of the ‘Anzac spirit’, which is often a very simplified – and potentially even untrue – version of the story. In essence, Gallipoli has become a myth, one that’s been placed at the centre of Australian history and used to overpower other stories. Shouldn’t we be telling a much broader range of stories? And shouldn’t we be basing those stories on fact? I know that’s a strange question for a novelist to ask, but perhaps novelists have a role in questioning the status quo, in respectfully challenging the dominant mythologies, especially when they are used to limit what a country can be. Australia is – and has always been – much more than a slouch hat.

Kim: I could not agree with you more – and no, I don’t think your question is strange. Facts and political purposes are what underpin my own work. We are living in strange times when novelists are reticent about these things, although in Australia perhaps we’ve always had to be. We do love a good fantasy about ourselves, don’t we?

Finally, and fantastically here, though, we have one copy of Bodies of Men to give away to a lucky Australian reader. If you, dear reader, would like to be in it to win it, please post a thought on how important unconditional love is in your life, below or on my Facebook page. Nigel and I will choose the most beautiful answer on Friday afternoon, 24 May – chat closes at 5pm**. Thanks in advance for all your loveliness.

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BoM - high rezAbout Bodies of Men

Egypt, 1941. Only hours after disembarking in Alexandria, William Marsh, an Australian corporal at twenty-one, is face down in the sand, caught in a stoush with the Italian enemy. He is saved by James Kelly, a childhood friend from Sydney and the last person he expected to see. But where William escapes unharmed, not all are so fortunate. William is sent to supervise an army depot in the Western Desert, with a private directive to find an AWOL soldier: James Kelly. When the two are reunited, James is recovering from an accident, hidden away in the home of an unusual family – a family with secrets. Together they will risk it all to find answers. Soon William and James are thrust headlong into territory more dangerous than either could have imagined.

International bestselling author of The Lightkeeper’s Wife Karen Viggers said of Bodies of Men: ‘A beautifully written, tender and sensitive love story told within the tense and uncertain context of war.’

Find the book at all major Australian and New Zealand retailers – buy links are all here.

NF_5785-HRAbout Nigel Featherstone

Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer who has been published widely. His new novel, Bodies of Men, is published by Hachette Australia. His other works include the story collection Joy (2000), his debut novel Remnants (2005), and The Beach Volcano (2014), which is the third in an award-winning series of novellas. His short stories have appeared in numerous Australian literary journals, including Meanjin, Overland, and the Review of Australian Fiction. Nigel was commissioned to write the libretto for The Weight of Light, a contemporary song cycle that had its world premiere in 2018. He has held residencies at Varuna (Blue Mountains), Bundanon (Shoalhaven River), and UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.

Find Nigel on twitter and instagram @ngfeathers, at his website here.

Find my full review of Bodies of Men at The Newtown Review of Books here.

**The giveaway is for Australian addressees only, please, as postage costs from downunder are scarily prohibitive.

 

Two Kellys

Move over Corbett and Barker, Kelly Rimmer & Kim Kelly are coming to town… 

We two Central West writers will be getting together to talk about taking our stories to the world and the triumphs and challenges of writing stories close to our hearts.

Here’s the blurby bit:

Kelly Rimmer is an internationally bestselling author of gripping women’s fiction, with novels translated into more than 20 languages. Kelly hails from Orange and her new novel, The Things We Cannot Say, is a story of war, sacrifice, uncovering truths of the past, and the present – and it’s inspired by some very personal stories, too.

Kim Kelly is an acclaimed author of Australian historical fiction, stories of ordinary people enduring extraordinary times, told with lyrical charm. Kim hails from Millthorpe and her new novella, Sunshine, is a tale of returned soldiers finding new lives out the back of Bourke – literally. Kim’s story holds some deep personal significances for her too.

When Australians think literary talent, they don’t immediately think beyond the sandstone curtain of the Great Divide, but these two writers have been quietly carving out successful careers, and delighting readers from all over the world. Kelly and Kim each write different stories and in different styles but share a dedicated passion for telling them. Come and be inspired by their tales tall and true.

At Bathurst, Booksplus, April 10, 6pm, and dates to be announced soon at Newcastle and Central Coast.

WWWW banner

WILD WEST WOMEN WRITERS BOOK TOUR

I’m so excited to be gallivanting around with fabulous Australian authors Alissa Callen and Kelly Rimmer on book tour this year. Here’s the blurb and buzz on who we are and what we’ll be chatting about as we make our way around the state…

Three popular writers from the Central West of New South Wales take to the road to chat about their new novels – and share the secrets of their writing success.

Kelly Rimmer is an internationally bestselling author of gripping women’s fiction, with novels translated into more than 20 languages. Kelly hails from Orange and her new novel, The Things We Cannot Say, is a story of war, sacrifice, uncovering truths of the past, and the present.

Alissa Callen is an internationally bestselling author of rural fiction, woven along secrets and romance, from the red dirt roads of home to far-off cowboy ranches. Alissa hails from Dubbo and her new novel, The Round Yard, is a heartfelt tale of discovering where you really belong.

Kim Kelly is an acclaimed author of Australian historical fiction, stories of ordinary people enduring extraordinary times, told with lyrical charm. Kim hails from Millthorpe and her new novella, Sunshine, is a tale of returned soldiers finding new lives out the back of Bourke – literally.

When Australians think literary talent, they don’t immediately think beyond the sandstone curtain of the Great Divide, but these three wild west women writers have been quietly carving out successful careers, and delighting readers from all over the world. Kelly, Alissa and Kim each write very different stories but share a dedicated passion for telling them. Come and be inspired by their tales tall and true!

TOUR DATES

Sydney

Cronulla Library, Monday 11 March, 6.30 pm

Hills Shire Library, Tuesday 12 March, 6.30 pm

Regional

Narromine Library, Tuesday 26 March, 11 am

Dubbo Library, Tuesday 26 March, 3 pm

Orange Library, Wednesday 27 March, 5.30 pm

Forbes Library, Thursday 28 March, 2pm

Mudgee, fireside night at The Cellar by Gilbert, Wednesday 19 June

Parkes Library, Thursday 19 September, 5.30 pm

And more dates to come – yeeha!

 

me xmas

WORST CHRISTMAS EVER

This morning, Facebook reminded me with a photograph of my own cheesy smile that it’s been four years since my muse de bloke Deano and I spent Christmas recovering from kidney surgery. Not everyone’s preferred choice for celebrating the yuletide but I don’t think I’ll ever beat that Christmas for the best. Marvelling that my little kidney was powering my rather much larger husband, returning the light into his eyes – those blue eyes so bright! – every moment was a rush of joy and wonder.

Seven years prior, though, I was in the midst of my very worst. My ex had called to ask me not to attend the usual family Christmas in Sydney – to drop the kids and leave. He’d begun seeing someone else and didn’t want me to make a scene. I could have laughed: I’m not exactly renowned for making scenes other than those written in books. But laughter, along with any other kind of light, drained from me in that instant. I was out of my mind that anyone would dis-invite me to Christmas for any reason.

Not being a scene-maker, I did as I was bid: dropped the kids and slunk away. I had other things to do that day anyway. My darling old dithery father Charlie was dying, tucked up in the final stages of dementia and the bewildering heartbreak of having lost Mum almost three years before.

I met my brother Mark at the hospice where Dad lay. Mark had been Dad’s stalwart advocate and chief entertainer as I dealt with the fallout of my own small but epic family disintegration – and because I lived a couple of hours away, in the Blue Mountains. This hospice, though, necessary to Dad’s care at that time as it was, could only be described as a place of grey desolation. Cheap deodoriser mixed with stale smells of last days, baked-on despair and loneliness. The loneliness, sharpest of all, wrapped me in a fog so dense, so bleak I could hardly even see my father.

My brother and I had a quick lunch in Chinatown but I wasn’t really there. I tried to focus on the conversation but I couldn’t understand what was being said. The words wouldn’t settle in my head. So I got on the train back to the mountains, a Christmas Day train that was empty and greyer and lonelier still. I picked up my car from the station and went home to a family home that didn’t hold a family anymore.

My many failures overwhelmed. Whole armies of failure: I was a terrible mother, daughter, sister, person. Everything.

Practical, get-on-with-the-job sort that I am, I tried to write that night. The deadline for my second novel loomed, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see my way clear to do anything. I couldn’t even cry. The pain was too intense, too large. Monstrous. I was staring at the abyss and it was staring back at me.

I wanted to die. More precisely, I wanted to do what too many had done before me: throw myself off the clifftop at Govett’s Leap and let the forest take care of the details. If it hadn’t been for my children, I might have done just that. My heart quickens even now at the fact.

If it hadn’t been for the kindness of friends in the weeks that followed, I might not have got the help I needed – to understand that I was not any kind of failure at all. I was in grief.

Grief has a way of obscuring the light like nothing else. Like smoke, it gets into every corner, into your eyes, into your clothes, and whispers through your every move.

If someone had said to me then, Kim, in seven years, you’ll have let so much light in you’ll want to invent a new word for happiness, I would have thought it the cruellest platitude. But it happened.

So, if you’re having a shit Christmas this year, know that my heart goes out to you. Know that it’s just Christmas. It’s only a day. Your thoughts of despair and failure are liars. You are wonderful and worthy of love. And despite your loneliness, you are not alone. You will let the light in again, one day, when you’re ready. And you will shine more deeply for the darkness you’ve known.

XX

 

 

raspberry

RASPBERRY VINEGAR

She couldn’t tell a story straight if she tried – there’s my epitaph. That is, all charges of tall tale-telling blarney aside, I can’t write historical fiction in neatly episodic chunks of third-person, past tense, plain-English prose.

I love language too much, for a start: I love falling down magical rabbit holes of etymology, to wonder at the way language changes across time, and from person to person. I love every quirk of the vernacular – every skerrick of slang, every blessed curse word, and that way Australians have with inventing new ones – like ‘wowser’ and ‘flummox’ and ‘maggoty’, whole dictionaries full of them. I love to wonder at every influence upon our Strine: the Irish, the Americans, the Germans, the many First Nations languages spoken across the continent. Our language is constantly changing, and those fine-detail changes can tell us a lot about our history, who we are and where we’ve come from.

But what I love best is the utterly unique idiom we each carry around inside our heads. Each of us has a distinct way of speaking; and we each have at least two different speaking versions of ourselves: the one we use when we’re actually talking, and the one we use when we’re talking to ourselves. Our actual talking voice is also split into at least two versions: a more formal one for use with strangers; and a more relaxed one we use with our friends – a language often laced with code, the beautiful, secret language shared by those who hold each other dear.

Obviously, this is why writing in the first person – writing in character – is a very natural way for me to explore story, and to explore Australian history. But of course, novel-writing is more than talking, and more than the nuts and bolts of story, too. Novels, generally, are about people, and those people must step from the page and into readers’ imaginations immediately and truthfully for readers to want to follow them anywhere at all. Constructing character then – dreaming up a living, breathing, believable person – is the happy challenge that entwines itself around the voices in my head, and it’s right here, in the meeting of voice and character, that I find the beginnings of every new novel.

And a great deal of research goes into all that dreaming up, too. The first glimmers of my new novel, Lady Bird & The Fox, came to me in the form of Annie Bird’s voice. She virtually shouted at me, she arrived so wholly, and her first words were: ‘This is a disaster!’ Who was she, and where did she come from? A combination of reading about gold rush Australia and puzzling over the scant traces left of the life of Australia’s probably one and only female Aboriginal bushranger, Mary Ann Bugg; as well, I carried voices with me of the strong and forthright Aboriginal women of La Perouse who peopled my childhood; I also carried with me the voice of one of my oldest and most cherished friends – the strong and forthright daughter of one of those women.

I saw Annie raise her hand to shield her eyes from the rising sun, and I saw not only the warm, deep brown of her skin: I saw the shape of her wrist, her long slim fingers and the fineness of her bones.

And then followed the delight of getting to know her, this woman of great conviction, who is stubborn and funny, both soulfully compassionate and rip-you-to-shreds critical. What did she wear? What did she love to do in quiet moments alone? What were her prized possessions? What was her favourite food? What was her favourite drink?

In answering these kinds of questions for any character, I hit the newspapers of the year – in this case, 1868. And when it came to Annie’s preferred cold beverage on a hot day, it took a while for me find the one that really was hers. Lemonade? No – too common. Soda water? No – too plain. Beer? No – she was always too busy for alcohol. Iced tea? Wasn’t invented yet in the far flung outer reaches of mid-Victorian Sydney.

Then I came across an ad for a public house outlining its basic provisions, and one of them was raspberry vinegar. I had no idea what that might be – and that was intriguing enough in itself for me. Best of all, the combination of sweet and tart it suggested made it perfect for Annie. She is lovely and sharp at once.

But while I soon discovered raspberry vinegar was a popular cordial of the day, for the life of me I couldn’t find a recipe. It was so annoying that I couldn’t quite taste this drink that Annie loved.

That was, until dinner with friends a few years later, when Lady Bird & The Fox was at the typesetter, pretty much done and dusted. My lovely real-life friend, for reasons I can’t now remember, produced one of her mother’s beautifully handwritten recipe books, dating back to the 1930s – and there within its pages lay Annie’s raspberry vinegar.

When serendipity strikes like this – especially in such a way that makes the world feel wonderfully small and bright – it strikes with a thrill that makes me tearful, and grateful, and intensely aware that we are all somehow connected through soul-threads of love.

As soon as I could, I made up the recipe, tweaking it for a little less sugar, and we enjoyed it with a splash of vodka, soda and mint.

Chin chin then, Annie Bird. Not just a voice, not just a character, but a friend. I might never be able to tell a story straight, but I – or rather we – will always tell them true.

Oh, and by the way, Annie’s favourite word is ‘collop’, but you’ll have to read the story to find out why, and what it really means – to her.

Lady Bird cocktail

Greghamstown 1

LOST & FOUND IN GREGHAMSTOWN

This is Greghamstown, one of the tiniest dots on the map of New South Wales. These days, its main street consists of half a handful of tin roofs and a few dozen outlying rural properties, one of which is The Bend, where I live, and depending on which map you consult, it appears as a hamlet of Millthorpe or of Blayney – or doesn’t exist at all.

It was only a strange trick of time that brought me here in the first place. My muse de bloke, Deano, and I were facing the grinding crisis of his surprise bout of catastrophic kidney failure, and the promise and fear of impending surgery that would see me give him one of mine. What else do you do at such a juncture but buy a small and gorgeous slice of nowhere?  That’s what we did, anyway. An act of faith in defiance of heartbreak.

A home. And one I’ve never felt so much at home within – which was a surprise in itself. I’ve always been unanchored to place, being a person of blended identity and aware since childhood of my status as interloper. Outsider. Cultural drifter. This is where my fascination with history began: who am I and how did I get here? Questions that have revealed an infinity of time tricks and shown me always how very blessed I am to have any home in this country at all.

Even before we moved into The Bend, I began fossicking for stories about this place, and one of the first I found was a snippet from The Leader, an old newspaper printed out of Orange, in 1912:

A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and evening was provided by the Greghamstown folk on Wednesday when the usual picnic and concert in aid of the Anglican Church was carried out in the church grounds. The day was an ideal one for a picnic, and in consequence the attendance was unusually large, about 300 adults and children being present, including many visitors from Blayney, Millthorpe, and the whole of the district. Afternoon tea was served in a marquee specially erected for the purpose, and it speaks well for the ladies in control that notwithstanding the extra number of visitors there was ample for all. The concert was held in the marquee, which was packed. A bright varied programme met with generous applause and appreciation.

Three hundred people at a picnic, here? Of course that then sent me off fossicking further into the past, finding all kinds of stories, clues to the changing shapes of this country – whispers of war and land-grabbing, gold rushes and grazing.

In our shiny, grimy, ever-swelling cities that cling to the coast, it’s easy to imagine that our knock-em-down-build-a-bigger-one approach to urban development is just the way things are, and that the bush is somehow a static mystery we’re all a bit too busy to be bothered with. But places like Greghamstown hold the archaeological keys to the dynamic, ever-epic identity we all share: fierce battles between the Wiradjuri and the military force sent out to crush them; the corruptions of wealthy pastoralists who thrived on stolen land; the savagery of bushranging outlaws who sought to tear it all down; the genteel carving up of the vast squatters’ runs into smaller selections in hopes of taming this country and her people. All these things happened in and around Greghamstown – a place that’s all but been reclaimed now by the bush its imagineers fancied they might conquer.

Just as our lives are ephemeral, so is everything we make and do, but in another act of faith in defiance of heartbreak, I started a novel here that first spring we arrived at The Bend. When we wrestled with doubt about the move, I’d asked my Deano, ‘Where do we want to be if things go bad?’ Whispering with all my soul: Where do you want to die? No contest. We had to make our move. But in my own quieter terror, I asked myself: ‘What do I want to die writing?’

Fast and loud the story roared onto the page, driven by all my own wonderings of who I am and how I got here, and urged on, too, by all those who gazed out at this country before me. I wrote to laugh with every lucky hand that had brought me to this precise place, so full of questions itself, and to cry with every loss that had delivered its mortgage documents to me.

As the unlikely hero of my story, Jeremy Fox, falls in love with Annie Bird, a young woman searching for her own place on the map, searching for her Wiradjuri grandfather, he is struck by the truth of Aboriginal dispossession and dispersal as it contrasts with his own Hebrew heritage:

Things change, times change, names change, people come, people go, like tides, Jews flee Tangier once every century, and return to begin again, but there’s something about Annie Bird’s loss, some lonely-moon marcasite enormity in it, that’s overwhelming.    

And it remains overwhelming. But while we can’t turn back the clock to right the wrongs of the past, we can tell our truths about it for a fairer future – before it all slips through our fingers like sand. I’ve chosen to tell my truths in a spirit of love and justice and gratitude, mostly because that seems to be the only way I can tell a tale.

And I can’t wait to share this one with you. That story I began back then with a pocket full of wishes is at the typesetter now. She’s called Lady Bird & The Fox and come April this year she’ll be set free in the world, taking this little speck of wonder hidden in the hills out around the globe.

greghamstown 3

Find Lady Bird & The Fox at Goodreads here.