Kim Kelly

Australian Author

Category: Writing

aviatrix

PIGEONHOLING

An amazing thing is just about to occur in my world. My new novel, Jewel Sea, is going live as a serial with the brilliantly innovative UK publisher, The Pigeonhole – today!

This means that across the UK and wherever else in the world the Pigeon flies, Jewel Sea will be delivered in snack-sized reading morsels direct to The Pigeonhole subscribers’ phones. These subscribers form one great big digital book club, and at the same time, across this next week of communal Jewel Sea serial reading, I’ll be chatting to those readers – in real time – as we journey through the story together.

This is blowing my mind, and we haven’t even kicked off yet – still two hours to go until showtime!

The way we’re reading and receiving stories is changing at lightning pace, and as much as it can all be a bit bamboozling, it’s pretty wonderful, too. The world feels fabulously small at this moment, for me.

In a lovely way, we’re also returning to an old-fashioned idea here, with the serialisation of novels. Designed for busy people who are reading on the go, it’s not unlike the way Charles Dickens’ works were published more than a hundred and fifty years ago: as chunks to be devoured in a weekly sitting, shared with the family, argued over with friends at the pub. In fact his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, set off the whole trend for this style of reading – and I think he’d be fascinated and delighted at the way the old is becoming new again with the internet. I’m certain he’d be wide-eyed and grinning at the global, instantaneous reach of story today, too.

But there’s another loveliness here for me, in this digital flight of Jewel Sea, and a very unexpected one. This is the first time one of my novels has been taken up by a publisher overseas. Once upon a time, I was told that my stories were too parochial and my language too peculiar to Australia to garner any interest outside these wide brown bounds of home. I was told – quite bluntly and without asking – by a stuffy old-school publisher that the English in particular would never be convinced I had anything much to say.

Well, ahem. Never say never, I say! Especially in this day and age.

What an adventure this Pigeonholing will be. What a thrill. And one that wouldn’t be happening without my equally brilliant and innovative Australian publisher, The Author People.

I’m putting on my virtual flying cap and goggles, synchronising watches and already laughing that the London-Sydney time difference will mean I’m probably not going to get much sleep this week.

Bring it on!

Image above is, of course, the fearless Katherine Hepburn.

pearly

DEADLY TREASURE

Legend has it that if you don’t want to suffer misfortune at the hands of your jewellery, then it’s probably wise not to acquire it by wrongful means. Gems of exceptional beauty have gathered wild tales of theft and retribution about them over the centuries, curses no doubt fabricated to increase their allure, and their value.

Probably the most famous rogue jewel is the Hope Diamond. A brilliant stone of deep ocean blue, it was said to have been stolen from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, sometime in the seventeenth century.

Passing through many illustrious hands, including those of the ill-fated King Louis XIV of France, she vanished during the French Revolution, only to surface a little over a century later in the coat pocket of London banker, Henry Hope.

Hope sold the gem – with its rich provenance – to the daring American heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, and that’s when the curse really came into its own. Tragedy clouded Evalyn’s life from then on: her son was killed in a car accident; her husband Ned ran off with another woman, lost their fortune, and then died from alcoholism; her daughter died from an overdose of valium, and the next year, Evalyn died too, after which the diamond was sold off to pay all the family creditors.

hope diamond

It now lives in the Smithsonian, and as far as anyone knows, none of its seven million visitors a year have perished after looking at it. Well, no-one’s complained, anyway. Perhaps it’s a civic-minded sort of diamond.

A little digging turns up an enormous array of similarly bedevilled minerals: there’s the Black Prince’s Ruby, thieved from the corpse of a sultan by Pedro the Cruel of Castile (seriously) in the fourteenth century, and which Henry V was said to have worn at the bloody battle of Agincourt; there’s the Purple Sapphire of Delhi that’s really only an amethyst but despite which has managed to leave a trail of suicides, disasters and financial ruin in its wake ever since it was looted from a temple to the god Indra; and of course there’s the Star of the Sea, the glittering necklace that was said to be aboard the Titanic when she plunged to the icy depths – at least in the movie.

But then there’s the Roseate Pearl, a perfectly round, perfectly pink, perfectly massive pearl, which legend says really did take down a ship – the SS Koombana, a luxurious liner that was mysteriously lost off the coast of Western Australia in a cyclone in 1912, just one month before the sinking of the Titanic. This pearl sits at the centre of my latest novel, Jewel Sea, as a symbol of greed and desire, but apart from destroying a ship and all aboard her, this pearl, too, had a string of gruesome murders and untimely deaths to her name.

This rosy, deadly pearl was said to have been stolen from a humble pearl diver, finding its way onto the ship some years later via a well-respected and popular pearl dealer, Abraham de Vahl Davis.

But why on earth would Mr Davis – in real-life an extremely wealthy and highly principled gentleman – have purchased a stolen pearl? Rare beauty or not, why would he risk his reputation on such a grubby, backdoor deal? And why was this pearl so accursed, so angered, that it took out its revenge on a ship full of innocents?

These were the questions that drove my curiosity in writing and researching Jewel Sea, but the one thing Rosy couldn’t tell me was where she is today. Unlike all the other jewels of infamy, this pearl appears to have been successful in her quest to escape human clutches. Perhaps she remains with the ship, somewhere on the ocean floor. Perhaps she never existed at all. Or perhaps she floated free, returning to the warm, turquoise waters that made her. Perhaps she simply went home.

broome

 Jewel Sea can be found at your favourite retailers here.

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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.

New Microsoft Publisher Document

EASY TO READ

I’ve spent far too much time online lately – out of necessity, though. The way books are sold and marketed is rapidly changing, and most authors are having to educate themselves quicksticks as to how these changes are affecting the way their stories are reaching readers.

This means I’ve been looking at a lot of blogs – on writing, reading writers and writing readers. My word indeedy there’s a lot going on in that world, and much of it hugely exciting. It’s wonderful to find so many people – thousands and thousands – engaged in talking about writing and reading at any one time across the globe. Nonstop festival for narrative junkies.

But with all this fabulousness, there’s also the attendant truckload of how-to spruikers: how to write a bestseller, how to get published, how to write the perfect pitch, how to create your author brand. This sort of thing has always been with us, of course, but it’s been as magnified as everything else has with the internet.

That’s not to say some of these how-tos aren’t helpful, especially for authors just starting out. It’s useful to know how to present your manuscript professionally and what the current trends in publishing are, as well as publisher and reader expectations within various genres. It’s always useful, too, to discuss what makes stories tick, to examine their parts and interrogate what works.

It’s struck me this week, though, how limiting so much of this clangouring advice can be, especially to women writers. The soup reduced, it says: write in the third person, write heroines that are both indomitable and likeable, and don’t buggerise around with fancy language. Whatever you do: make sure your story is easy to read.

Where are the perky posts on how to be original in this sea of sameness, how to break the rules without breaking your career, or how to find your narrative purpose beyond your desire to call yourself a writer? Or, perhaps most importantly, how to respect readers’ intelligence by daring to offer them something a little different.

Being the odd one out. The quester. The dreamer. These can’t be taught by how-to cheat sheets. You either are these things, or you’re not.

The past few days I’ve found a startling contrast to all this easy-reading blather in editing the new work of an old pillar of Australian literature, someone esteemed for their colourful eccentricities, their mellifluous prose and the playful smile beneath every word. I can’t tell you who it is – that would be breaking the Secret Editors’ Business code of conduct – but I can say what a delight it’s been to be reminded of what writing can do inside the pages of this manuscript.

It opens with a passage written in first person reflective present tense, inside the head of a woman so infuriatingly passive you immediately want to shake her (except she’s so frail she’d disintegrate if you did), even as each sentence races one over the other like an untamed river now and again dashed across jagged rocks.

It’s not easy to read. It’s a joyful challenge. It’s full of heart and wonder and danger. It’s elastic, plastic – constantly surprising.

Oh, but the how-toers will tell you that only the very clever can do these tricky sorts of things. Ordinary writers shouldn’t step outside the lines if they want to succeed. Ordinary writers must aspire to seeing their work displayed between men’s underwear and stationery in discount department stores.

I know what kind of writer I want to be. Clever or not, I want to make some attempt at the extraordinary. I want to do things others say I can’t. I want to take readers to places only we can visit together.

And that’s not easy, nor should it ever be.

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EVER AFTER

Orson Welles purportedly said, ‘If you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop the story.’

Indeed. Someone else said the best stories end with a new story about to begin. I don’t know who said that, but I say it a lot myself, and certainly end all my own tales that way – not with an ending but with the opening of another door. I love to let the reader, whose story this has now become, decide what will happen next, beyond the resolution, and the happiness it brings.

Why, though, does there so often seem to be an aversion to the happy ending in what we consider to be worthwhile literature?

Are the dark shadows and excruciating confusions of life the only stuff that’s good for our brains?

In real life, that way madness lies. In the everyday grind of existence our ability to draw upon optimism, to look forward to the new day despite the shitfight of today, and to understand the ephemeral nature of absolutely everything is the foundation of mental health and resilience.

Personally, for me, the idea of happiness as some kind of permanent state is a crock. But I damn well grab it with both hands when it comes and hold onto it for as long as it lasts, be that a second or a day. I’ve had to work hardest at dragging myself up from the swamps of despair than at any other aspect of being, and still do, all the time – which probably explains why hope and new beginnings are such important take-away themes in my own writing.

All stories that remind us love and light are ours to have and to share, all stories that show us compassion and empathy are intellectual skills, are valuable stories. Well, I think so, anyway.

Those who know my own will know that I think of love and hope as political acts, too. Bright banners against those who tell us that happy endings should come with price tags, sales spreadsheets and share-holder dividends. In this context, I sometimes wonder if the shunning of love in literature is an acceptance of despair and fear – and that that’s precisely where capitalism’s greedmeisters want us to be, so that we’ll buy their crap unthinkingly, or in the belief that it might make us, um, happy.

But my pink-tinged politics aside, I really do think it’s about time we brought a bit of happy back into style. A bit of a sense that although life is often miserable and baffling, our capacities to give and learn and grow with each resolution not only make life bearable – they’re important to our survival. Perhaps really, truly. Unless we turn this ship around, away from the grim black of endless war and mindless destruction we seem to have on loop right now, things probably won’t end well for any of us.

sexy edwardian

MORE HAPPY LOVE!
MORE HAPPY, HAPPY LOVE!

You know how groany and eyeball-rolly I get at unthinking, automated disparagements of romance from those who really should know better. I’ve heard it all – had my work called chicklit by a feminist (!), been told my work suffers from too much sentiment, been asked, a bit too often, when I’m going to write something serious.

Because love – and the need to laugh, to sing, to heal, to be joyful, to be insane with it and smashed by it – is not serious business? Not worthy of examination? Not stuff to be shared in any intellectual sense? Not fairly vital to being alive, like air and food? And never a vehicle for significant thought? As if love and curiosity are mutually exclusive things – as if, say, I couldn’t donate a kidney to my husband because I love him desperately and because I expected the experience would lead me to deeper existential truths.

I tend not to engage with critics and other writers who hold these sorts of wearingly narrow views. As they say in the classics, don’t get mad, get down and get lovin’ – and that’s what I prefer to do.

I’ve done it liberally in my next novel, Jewel Sea. It’s a fictional telling of the tale of the Koombana, a luxurious steamship lost off the West Australian coast in 1912 – a small but no less tragic Titanic. From the moment I first read about the wreck and its haunting mystery in Annie Boyd’s history of the ship, I knew I’d have to write about it myself. And as soon as I learned that the detail on the fingerplates of the first-class saloon doors was a little Grecian urn, I knew I’d be cranking my love engine to full throttle.

What more perfect symbol of both enduring passion and enduring mystery than Keats’ ‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’? And damn sexy, too.  The poem swirls through my story like smoke, and mingles with images from his most decadent, indulgent ‘Endymion’.

Keats, the king of romance. But hey, we all know it’s so much better when a man does it, hm? Whatever, his explorations of high and wild emotion are curled permanently around my heart – along with Beethoven’s vaulting symphonies and Turner’s violent seas, with Eliot’s burnt-out ends and Elgar’s melancholy cello mourning the death of love as the guns on the Western Front rolled in.

Romance – I doubt I could write a word without it.

And Keats’ timeless, yearning ‘Urn’ will outlive and out love all this, too:

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Find out more about Jewel Sea here :

Jewel Sea Preliminary for Kim_Page_2

 

 

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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.

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EMBRACING THE CRAZY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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