Kim Kelly is the author of the novels, Black Diamonds, This Red Earth and The Blue Mile. Her fourth novel Paper Daisies is due for release in April this year.
Born and raised around the Southern beaches of Sydney, Kim Kelly now lives in Orange, in central-west NSW where she works as a book editor by day, and moonlights as an Australian author of historical fiction and romance by night.
Kelly’s latest offering Paper Daisies will be published by Pan Macmillan Australia and is set in the midst of the Australian Federation in 1901. Her work is quickly gaining literary merit with a fifth book already in the works. Writer’s Edit contributor April Davis was lucky enough to chat with Kim…
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Paper Daisies. Can you tell us a little about the book and your writing process for it?
Thank you, April. Paper Daisies is a story of love, murder and misogyny, set in 1901, during Australian Federation and the coming of the women’s vote. It tells the story of young medical student, Berylda Jones, and her sister Greta, as they seek to escape from their sadistic, controlling uncle, and of two strangers, botanist Ben Wilberry and his friend, the artist Cosmo Thompson, who help them.
My writing process always begins with the characters – they start talking away to me about who they are and what they’re doing – and also with the spark of an idea. In the case of Paper Daisies, that spark was Julia Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’ in late 2012. It got me thinking about what misogyny is, as a whole of society issue, which then got me thinking about violence against women, and how far sexual equality has come – but how far we still need to go, too.
The first draft splashed down quite quickly, in a matter of about six months – these characters were bursting to tell me their tale. Then I spent another year finessing the details, delving deeper into elements of the history and generally embellishing and pruning the shape of the narrative.
You write mostly historical fiction, with a splash of romance. What made you decide you wanted to explore these genres?
First of all, the traditional arcs and tropes of romance are fun to write and play around with – and even more fun to read. Secondly, love is a subject I’ll never tire of exploring: the bonds between lovers, mates, parents and children, love of country – and I don’t mean patriotism there, but love of place, a connection to the land. I’m particularly fascinated by where I live, how damn lucky I am to live here, and I’m curious about our extremes and our contradictions. Just as we’re a land of droughts and floods, we’re a land of great generosity and great meanness, of extraordinary innovation and dreadful backwardness. Through exploring our history I get to scrabble about in the nuts and bolts of who we are, unearth a few things that we don’t often consider about Australia in the mainstream – and hopefully give readers a good time while we’re there.
You’ve created so many deep, realistic characters. How do you go about delving into each characters perspective?
That’s a beautiful thing to say. I guess my characters seem real mostly because, just as the case would be for most other writers, these fictional folk are actually facets of me. They’re often expressions of striving for my better self, for wisdom, or playing out grace and courage the way I wish I could in reality. Through them I also examine grief, fear and doubt – much of it surprisingly personally relevant, so that I wonder sometimes if this writing caper isn’t just fancy psychotherapy.
At the same time, my characters create themselves. Daniel and Francine, Bernie and Rock, Ollie and Yo, and Berylda and Ben, as well as those who touch their lives, are all imaginary friends to me. As I said, they talk to me, they drive the narrative, and often shock me – just when I think I know what they will do, they will have other ideas… So I suppose in this sense, I don’t really have to delve into them. I have to listen to them, and trust that they know the way. I can trim their madder ramblings in edit!
In This Red Earth you include a lot of historical, and scientific fact, how do you go about researching these topics and incorporating them so seamlessly into your writing?
I love research. Just love it. I focus on primary sources, especially the newspapers and other publications of the time, and I spend hours staring at old photographs and visiting higgledy piggledy rural museums where I can touch bits and pieces of the past. Sometimes I wonder if I write historical novels just to satisfy my endless need to do these things.
Once I begin along a line of enquiry, the questions become endless, too. What did people wear in 1931 or 1901 or 1915 or 1942? What shoes and hats? What lollies did they eat? What political shenanigans were going on at the time? Was it the same old left-wing/right-wing, red-team/blue-team argie bargie? (Inevitably, yes – only the names seem to change there.) What would Rock, my geologist in This Red Earth, have understood about the science behind the atomic bomb? How old would he have understood the earth to be, given the science, in 1940? One of my challenges in writing is focussing this relentless swirl of questions, and it’s a challenge that I love as well.
The last thing I would want is for any of the historical detail to seem extraneous or a drag on the narrative in any unnatural way. I want these details to seem lived and immediate. I think writing in the present tense helps me with this: it forces me to be very selective in what I include, to keep things relevant to the action at hand and to the concerns of the characters, to keep my focus tight.
How do you manage your writing time? Do you have a strict routine?
I try to treat writing days just the same as any other working day. I’m a book editor in ‘real’ life and work at home, so it’s bum on chair at about 8.30 am and finish around dinner time. When I’m really immersed, though, I find it very difficult to switch focus and I’ll write myself into nerve-zinging exhaustion. I’m not sure that this is good for me, or for my writing. The more practised I become as a writer the more I am appreciating that downtime away from the words helps my mind to let go and dream, to see shapes and possibilities I otherwise might not have seen. I’m trusting myself more to jot down an idea and come back to it later, rather than pounce on it straightaway. If it’s a good enough idea it will still be there in the morning…
These days writers arguably need to be very tech-savvy and develop an online presence for their readers. How important do you think it is for writers to maintain this presence?
I’ve got no idea of the importance of an online presence, or if it works promotionally or in terms of book sales, but I can tell you how I think it’s benefited me. I’m quite a shy person and at first I was reluctant to embrace social media and blogging as a means of putting myself ‘out there’ more. But once I got going, I found that it actually helps with my confidence – in expressing myself as myself rather than through character.
Blogging, for me, provides short sharp limbering exercises in narrative, too: trying to hone that skill of being succinct and direct without losing lyricism and buoyancy, all in a handful of words – it can only be good for your writing generally. And best of all, despite my doubts, I’ve made some wonderful connections with readers online. This, for me, makes the effort totally worth it.
Do you have any new writing projects on the horizon now that Paper Daisies is about to be released?
I’m halfway through a new novel – a rollicking yarn of mistaken identity set during the gold rushes – and I’m probably having too much fun! I’m also stupidly tired because I’m not being very disciplined about switching off from writing at the moment. There have been some late-nighters with the imaginary pals…
What would be your best tip for new authors trying to break into the publishing arena?
Go in with a cracking good manuscript that you truly believe in. To get there, study the books you love, try to understand how they are made. Study your own writing. Have the courage to ask yourself the brutal questions, or get someone else to ask them for you, and at the same time have the courage to fail. Do it for love; do it because it will hurt too much not to. Be prepared for a long game. Listen to criticism – because you want your work to be the best it can be. How could you want anything else? Then you’ll be somewhere near ready not only to take the terrifying plunge of approaching publishers and agents, and perhaps even impressing one, but you’ll be ready to roll with the punches, too. Well, as ready as we can ever be… But most importantly, write, write, write. Keep writing, keep learning, keep knocking on the door – you’ll break through. You will.
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Writer’s Edit would like to thank Kim Kelly for taking the time to share her thoughts with us.
Should you wish to know more about the Kim Kelly, click here.