Welcome to this week’s edition of Let’s Talk Books. Today’s special guest is Aussie author Kim Kelly! Kim writes sweeping historical saga’s that will sweep you away into another time and place all without leaving the comfort of your very own arm chair! Her writing is stunning and I’m really fortunate to be able to host her on the blog today.
Kim Kelly is the author of four novels and one novella about Australia, its heritage and its people that are loved by readers all over the world. Her stories shine a bright light on forgotten corners of our past and the tales of ordinary people living through extraordinary times. A striking characteristic of Kim’s writing is her ability to lead readers gently and lyrically into difficult terrain, exploring themes of bigotry, class conflict, disadvantage and violence in our shared history, which still plague the world today.
Kim is an editor and literary consultant by trade so stories fill her everyday – and most nights too.
Love is the fuel that fires her intellectual engine. In fact she takes love so seriously she once donated a kidney to her husband to prove it, and also to save his life.
Originally from Sydney, Kim now lives in Millthorpe, a tiny gold-rush village in the wide, rolling hills of central western New South Wales, where the ghosts are mostly friendly and her grown sons come home regularly to graze.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading a gorgeous manuscript by a well-known Australian author. When I’m not writing, I’m a book editor and literary consultant, so I read a lot of books before they step out into the world, and I’ve had a great run lately of three magnificent manuscripts in a row – stories by Australian women that really sing. I can’t divulge who the authors are – that would be breaking the rules of Secret Editors’ Business – but sometimes this job is the best job ever.
What was the last book you bought?
Anita Heiss’s wonderful historical fiction, Cherry Blossoms and Barbed Wire. I love Anita’s crisp, straight-up storytelling and this is a story that needs to be told – of the Indigenous experience of World War II, and of the ‘enemy’ Japanese prisoner-of-war experience, as well as exploring the way love breaks the barriers between us. The novel plays out on Wiradjuri Country, and that happens to be where I live, too. Bringing stories like this – of the forgotten characters in our history – into the mainstream is something I’m very passionate about.
Do you prefer to read books in print or electronically?
The older and blinder I get the more I’m moving towards electronic editions – so I can increase the type size! I still buy the paperback for all emotionally significant purchases, though – those books I know I just have to keep.
What do your bookshelves look like? Do you have an organisation system (genre, colour, author…) or are you just happy to go with the flow?
On the surface they look organised, but like my brain they are very much ‘lost and found’. Half the fun of looking for a book is the hunt, isn’t it?
How often do you read?
All day every day. Whether I’m writing or editing, it’s my job. It’s my relaxation, too. No wonder I’m going blind…
Describe what you would expect to find in your dream book?
Characters who speak to my soul; a story that illuminates something for me; the writer’s delight in words and their burning need to tell their tale; and hope. That last one has probably become the most important to me in recent years. There is enough cynicism and despair in the world. I love stories that take me into dark places but light the way out as well.
How do you choose what to read next?
For my pleasure reads, I am a random ranger – a friend’s recommendation, an industry whisper, a lovely cover flashing across my Facebook feed, there is no rhyme or reason behind my choices, usually.
So you’ve started a book and discover it’s not for you. Are you more likely to discard it or finish it?
Because I have so much to read at any one time, I have to be pretty disciplined and I try to avoid putting my playtime energies into things I don’t enjoy. I’m more often likely to shelve a book for another day, though, rather than discard it. I have a profound respect for all authors, and an understanding that my reading mood might be clouding my enjoyment of a story. Having said that, poor editing or sloppy research will make me want to throw a book across the room. No, I’m not going to tell you the last book that made me feel this way – suffice to say it was a very popular and much lauded one that I was really looking forward to, and the disappointment cut deep.
If you could read any book again, for the first time, what book would you choose?
Several years ago, at a time when I was very down and wondering what the hell I was doing writing novels and even editing them, I picked up a book called War Crimes for the Home by Liz Jensen. I’d never heard of this novel; I was just looking for distraction, really. Well, I got more than distraction: this novel reignited my excitement for storytelling exactly when I needed it. A strong, unique narrative voice, one that breaks the rules, that sparkles with wit and depth of character – it had all the elements of writing and reading I love. I wish I could bottle that feeling, of opening those pages for the first time and seeing my own passions reflected back at me. It was almost as if that book was telling me: keep going, things will work out, keep believing. I feel a bit teary just thinking about it now.
What is it about books that appeals to you so much? What is your favourite part about reading?
I grew up in a house full of all sorts of books – from potboilers to poetry – and one where all stories were valued, however they might be told. Words are at the heart of my fascination with books: their power to connect minds across time and space, but also the mechanics behind the strange jumble of dots and dashes we read that make this magic happen. That perfect sentence, that breathtaking image, that spark of wonder between writer and reader only they can share – that’s might favourite joy in reading.
Can you tell us a bit about your writing style. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Are you an early riser writer or a late night owl writer?
I always begin with an idea, a bunch of questions I want to investigate and characters I want to get to know. Because I write historical fiction and I am a total Australian history junky, I usually know roughly what major events my plot will hinge on at an external level, but at a character level, I have no idea what will happen when I set out. My characters become very real to me very quickly and they steer the narrative – often surprising me with where they go and what they get up to.
As for voice, first person, present tense is a favourite home of mine. This voice lends itself to my attempts to bring the past into present – to ask that fundamental question of whether history truly is past or if it resonates indelibly through now – and it also feels natural because my characters are so real to me. Yes, I know, I know, accepted wisdom says we should avoid the sustained tight-focus of first person, present tense, but I’m a rule-breaker. My latest novel, Jewel Sea, plays with a mix of first person, present tense; first person, present tense reflective; and third person, past tense. My first four novels were written in dual first person, present tense; while my last story, Wild Chicory, is a blend of first person, present tense and third person, past. The manuscript I’ve just finished is a further experiment in voice, involving a mix of present tense transcript, that morphs into dual third person, present tense, that then morphs into dual first person, present tense. These shifting perspectives lend themselves to another fundamental wonder inside all my stories, and that’s following the shifting truths within story itself.
As for how I work, I treat my writing days like all other work days and show up at the desk at about eight am every day. I try to finish by five or six in the evening, so that I can share a meal and some conversation with my husband and other real-life humans that might be around, but when I’m nearing the end of a manuscript, I tend to get a bit out of control, with my head full of voices 24/7 – little sleep and a lot of madness.
Was there any particular book that inspired you to start writing?
I’m constantly inspired by other writers, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t entranced by story and words, wanting to make some of that magic myself, but I can trace back my love of exploring Australian history and politics through fiction to Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory, which I read when I was thirteen.
Do you have any advice to other writers out there?
Respect your work enough to invest in it – time, money and tears. Build your skills all the time through reading and thinking about your work. Study the work of others you admire, steal their magic and make it your own. Know that there is no end to this learning and thieving and reinventing, and that success is not seeing your name on the cover of a book. Success lives brightest in the completion of each piece of work and in your perseverance against the knowledge that nothing you do will ever be truly finished. Success is your white-knuckled and tender-hearted courage to do this thing despite all your reasons not to. Don’t count your worth by the measures of others – ever. Let love and curiosity drive your ambition, let them take you to places you haven’t dreamed of yet. Value those who tell you that your work means something to them – value their criticisms and their every compliment too – because they are your gold.
And lastly, what are you currently working on?
I have three stories swirling around in my head right now. One is a manuscript that’s almost completely written – a gold-rush story exploring bushranging and racial bigotry during our own Wild West days. Another is a whip-cracking yarn about a legendary lady equestrienne acrobat who became a worldwide sensation, and the other is the beautiful true-tale of an equally legendary doctor who changed the lives of thousands of Australian children. Each of these stories is competing for my heart, and I will finish them all eventually, but if you or your readers have a preference, Jess, please do tell. Help this addled author on her way!
Do you have a preference to any of the above manuscript ideas? Make sure you leave a comment bellow letting Kim Kelly know!!
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