Today I’m introducing Aussie author Kim Kelly, who is also a widely respected book editor. Stories fill her everyday – most nights, too – and it’s love that fuels 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! Over to Kim …
Australia is a bold, romantic character herself and she makes her presence felt in all my novels, whether they’re set in coastal Sydney, where I was born and raised, or west of the Great Divide, where love has taken me. We’re never stuck for dramatic backdrops in this country, are we? From glittering harbourside cities to red desert vistas that stretch on forever under bright blue skies, we have it all.
My heart country lies in the centre of New South Wales, beyond the rugged sandstone escarpments of the Blue Mountains. This slice of Australia I call home today is a land of wide rolling hills, tall sprawling eucalypts and golden sunsets, circling the tiny village of Millthorpe, where summer is sun-crisped and winter snow-dusted.
Beneath rich layers of basalt soil, these hills are full of gold, too, and the whisperings of history. Almost the minute I moved here, I knew I was going to have to write a goldrush tale, and so l did: Lady Bird & The Fox, published just last year, a very Australian wild west story of bushrangers, reckless riding, and a quest for a place to call home.
This is a place where, in the dawn mists, I can almost see the Wiradjuri warriors who fought their fierce guerrilla war against the British army for their country – a country as big as England. Land that was never ceded by treaty of any kind.
The privilege I feel at being lucky enough to live here sings through everything I write. How did this scrappy descendant of Irish and German immigrants get here at all? It’s this sense of wonder and curiosity that almost fifteen years ago drove me to write my first novel, Black Diamonds, set in the coalfields of Lithgow at the foot of the mountains, during the First World War. It’s a story that looks up at the sandstone cliff-faces of the mountains, flashing fire under the setting sun, and says: Wow.
Following the footsteps of my real-life falling in love, my next novel, This Red Earth, traces paths further west, out to the broad plains of Nyngan and the drought that gripped the country there during the Second World War. My muse de bloke, Deano, who works in exploration, was out that way at a time when I was wondering where on earth I was. He has a way of drawing me home wherever he is, sending me photographs from all over, especially of birds and flowers, many of them finding their way into my stories too: a willy wagtail on a fence post; a tiny purple daisy sprung from copper dirt; overgrown railway tracks to nowhere.
When Deano was surveying underground at Hill End, in the lonely, ghost-town high country north of Bathurst, he took me out along the original, crumbling bridle track in a four-wheel-drive that seemed almost as ancient as the towering range through which the old road snakes. Breathtaking. Terrifying. And it inspired another novel, Paper Daisies, set in that same country at the turn of the twentieth century, exploring some worse terrors that women in those days too often faced alone. But when the heroine of that story breaks into a sweat along that treacherous track, you’ll know there’s a bit of autobiographical detail going on there.
There really is no place like the home that pulls you back and back, though. My latest tale, Sunshine, is set on the banks of the Darling River, near Bourke, on the desert’s edge in the north west, where Deano was born. I’d wanted to write a story for him, of him, for a long time, but stories often take their own good time. Sunshine takes us to 1921, when the river was high and healthy, and ripe for that country’s first citrus crop. A time of soldiers returning to rebuild shattered lives, finding their own paths through healing, and remaking home by their own hands and hearts.
But it’s the home I wake up to every morning that gives me an endless, everyday joy. When Deano and I were looking for our forever patch, driving around the dusty country lanes of Millthorpe, we found lovely drifts of sky-coloured blooms along the verges. I had no idea what they were, so of course I had to fossick for the facts straightaway. It was chicory, a crop grown here a century ago, now gone wild. On wondering how this hardy, cheerful little plant got here from Europe, I wondered again how I’d got here, too, and Wild Chicory was born. It’s a love song to my grandmother, and to every immigrant who’s ended up here, searching for home. We’re all just beautiful weeds.
A tale of longing, loss and growing love under the bright Australian sun.
It’s 1921 and the Great War has left in its wake untold tragedy, not only in lives lost, but in the guilt of survivors, the deep-set scars of old wounds and the sting of redoubled bigotries.
In the tiny hamlet of Sunshine, on the far-flung desert’s edge, three very different ex-servicemen – Jack Bell, an Aboriginal horseman; Snow McGlynn, a laconic, curmudgeonly farmer; and Art Lovelee, an eccentric engineer – find themselves sharing a finger of farmland along the Darling River, and not much else. That is, until Art’s wife Grace, a battle-hardened nurse, gets to work on them all with her no-nonsense wisdom.
Told with Kelly’s inimitable wit and warmth, Sunshine is a very Australian tale of home, hope and healing, of the power of growing life and love, and discovering that we are each other’s greatest gifts.
Kim Kelly is the author of eight novels exploring Australia and its history, including the acclaimed Wild Chicory and The Blue Mile, and UK Pigeonhole favourite, Paper Daisies. Her stories shine a bright light on some forgotten corners of the past and tell the tales of ordinary people living through extraordinary times.
Originally from Sydney, today Kim lives on a small rural property in central New South Wales just outside the tiny gold-rush village of Millthorpe, where the ghosts are mostly friendly and her grown sons regularly come home to graze.
Praise for Kim Kelly
‘ … colourful, evocative and energetic’ – Sydney Morning Herald
‘Kelly is a masterful creator of character and voice’ – Julian Leatherdale
‘Why can’t more people write like this?’ – The Age
You’ll find Kim at her website, kimkellyauthor.com, and on Facebook (@KimKellyAuthor), Twitter (@KimKellyAuthor) and Instagram (@kimkellyauthor)
Discover more about Australasian rural authors at our Australian & NZ Rural Fiction website!