On being what we are

++ This blog post originally appeared at Kim Wilkins

I grew up in Redcliffe in the 70s and 80s, when it was pretty rough and socially cover Ember Islanddisadvantaged. In fact, I was pretty rough and socially disadvantaged too. We were welfare class. My dad had an accident at work and was on sickness benefits, which he spent almost wholly on beer. My mum worked hard to support us all. I was bullied at school, never really fit in, and went to work in rubbish jobs in fast food.

Then I finally got my act together, went back to high school, then got out of town.

For a long time, during my university studies and with my new inner-city friends, I was faintly (if not entirely sometimes) embarrassed about having been a Redcliffe chick, one who used to hang out with boys in cars or wag school to sit on the jetty and smoke. I didn’t speak of it. I made myself anew; I tried to stop saying “Me and my friends” went somewhere or did something, or “brought” when I meant “bought”. I got a PhD. I published books and spoke elegantly and eloquently in public places.

Then one day I was coming home in a plane from Sydney, and we flew over Moreton Bay, that body of grey-blue water that I grew up looking at. And it struck me how magnificent the bay is, how it gives me the feeling of being home, of being somewhere that everything is all right. I looked down at the islands, and a story idea came to me. The story became Ember Island, the book I worked on over the summer. Imagine my surprise and delight when they sent me the cover and the jetty on the front is actually Redcliffe jetty. “We managed to get an actual picture of Moreton Bay,” the publisher told me excitedly. But she couldn’t know just how familiar that part of Moreton Bay is to me. Redcliffe jetty, on my book cover. Fifteen years ago I would have been appalled. But now, this just fills me with strange pride.

I am a Redcliffe girl. I did work at every fast food chain you can think of. And then I did something different; and I am not a better or worse person for growing up rough around the edges. I am so proud of this book and the fact that it is set somewhere unexotic, maybe even parochial. I am what I am, and I am proud to own it.

On Writing Companions

IMG_3661All writers I know have companion animals.  And if you were to ask writers why this is so important to them, the responses will range from being inspired by the beautiful muse that rocks up when you look your cat or dog in the eyes, or the comfort, and the quiet unconditional love they give as they sleep by your side.

While life as a writer is filled with magic, frustration, and all kinds of wonderful, it can also be a very lonely place.  Often sitting at the keyboard for hours at a time, alone, lost in our worlds of story telling.

Our pets may sit at our feet, or near our side and some even dance across the keyboard just to remind us to have a break, a cuddle or both.  Felines are particularly good at this, and really, they only want to help.  They somehow know when we are getting close to the end of the chapter: truly they aren’t annoying us as much as we think, they are simply showing us, if we stop and pause, even if only to remove said cat from keyboard, the words we might be struggling for in the final sentence suddenly begin to flow.

But besides all our animal companion shenanigans, there is the quiet comfort when we are entrenched in our stories, when we forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to shower or even get dressed, oh how I love the fetid nightie.  The quiet comfort when we hold our head in our hands and grumble and swear and beat ourselves up for being useless for not finding the words, for not finding the sentence that sings, but despite all that our pets love us just the way we are.

Our animal companions wait patiently, lovingly, and unconditionally.  They forgive our outbursts of rage and frustration even when we ignore them for hours and forget to feed them too!  It’s about now though you can guarantee they will watch your every move with a keen eye, and as soon as we move, their quiet pitter-patter besides us reminds us as writers that we are never, ever really alone.

On the romance of work

Image: gumtree.com.au

++this blog post originally appeared at: Kim Wilkins

When I was a little girl, I read a book that would affect me profoundly. It was Gladys Malvern’s The Dancing Star, first published in 1944, an account of the life of Anna Pavlova, written for children. Like many little girls, I dreamed of being a ballet dancer but unfortunately I was very very bad at dancing and didn’t progress beyond the one disastrous Christmas concert (let me just say: if you’re a blue fairy and you’re with the pink fairies when you’re not supposed to be, you stand out). But it wasn’t the stuff about ballet that affected me so deeply, it was the stuff about work.

According to the book, Anna Pavlova was obsessed with dancing. She practised all the time. She did it until her toes bled and she just. kept. going. This notion, that one could work so hard and push through barriers of extreme discomfort, really took hold of my imagination. From that moment on, I understood the incredible romance of work: diligent hours spent on something that mattered to make an outcome appear in the world.

This is why I don’t hold much with the myth of inspiration: the idea that somehow you must have about yourself the perfect set of preconditions for creativity to be bestowed upon you by a muse. Coleridge stopped writing “Kubla Khan” when a “gentleman from Porlock” stopped by on some business or another, and interrupted his flow of inspiration (Coleridge clearly never had responsibility for small children, who are magnificent porlockers). The myth of inspiration is pleasantly mystical, I suppose, but it isn’t nearly so effective as work.

Work in the early morning hours when the family is asleep. Work until late when the words are flowing. Work on a freshly printed manuscript with a brand new pen while it rains outside. Work when it all seems too hard and your metaphorical toes are bleeding and you have to push through the pain. Work on something you care about so passionately that, like a new lover, you can’t leave it alone. Art, when viewed in this light, is not a divine bolt from above, but the sweet, constant labour of real human beings manifesting things with their feet in the soil. And there is no idea about art more pleasing to me than that.

On book launches

The Australian edition of Lighthouse Bay has now been launched into the wild (US readers have to wait until April) and is selling well, even making it on to the Neilsen Bookscan bestseller charts. I’ve been so busy with promoting the book, that I’ve not had time to sit here and blog. So here I am.

I had the launch in early September at Annie’s Bookshop in Peregian Beach, on Queensland’s glorious sunshine coast.

Kimberley, saying her thankyous at the Lighthouse Bay launch.
It was a beautiful evening. The sun was setting over the mountains in the west as the blue moon was rising over the water. Annie’s is just across the road from a huge park that backs onto the beach. A warm sea breeze blew, and there was the smell of barbecue and salty ocean on it. I was surrounded by friends and readers and a few curious locals. More than 50 people turned up, so we spilled out onto the footpath to drink wine and eat nibblies. My children were there, being loud and sweet and proud all at once. Old school friends came and afterwards a big group of us went over the road to the local pizza place, and had a long overdue catch-up. It was a beautiful, affirming, unforgettable night.

But now it’s back to the hard work, as I conceptualise and start planning the new book. Watch this space.

On travelling without children

I recently made a 6-week research trip through the UK without my children. Here’s a post I wrote before I left, which originally appeared at Mamamia.

I have an amazing job. Amaaaazing. In a couple of weeks, they are sending me overseas for six weeks to advance a project I’m working on. I will be travelling through Scotland and England, spending my days researching and writing on things I’m passionate about. Dream come true?

Well, not exactly. You see, I have two primary-school-aged children who can’t come with me. They will be back here in Australia with their dad and his partner, safe and loved and in their routines as much as possible. I will see them on Skype, daily I hope. Back when I planned the trip, six weeks felt like it would be a cinch. I even wondered if I should have gone for two months. But now, looking down the barrel at the airport goodbye, I just feel sick.

The airport reunion. They hit my embrace so hard they nearly knocked me over.

The warring impulses inside me keep me awake at night. First, of course, is the guilt. Blinding guilt. What am I doing, leaving my babies? I can feel their umbilical cords again, pulling on my insides. Should I change to a less fulfilling project that requires no overseas travel, even if it harms my career? Should I take a less exciting job while they are at school? How selfish of me to want to advance my career, expand my mind, actualise my self. But then there’s the other impulse: the airy joy that I will be free and out in the world, growing and blossoming and feeling the value of my work. I love work. I always have. Good work seems to me one of the most important experiences a human can have. Travelling and working on this project makes me want to cry with excitement.

I haven’t asked the children what they want. Deciding on the future of my career is way too much responsibility to place on a child, and I know what they’d say anyway: a big, long “no” like the ones I get when I try to send them to school on rainy days or make them eat cauliflower. Instead, I’ve said that we will be apart, that we will miss each other and be sad, but that we will survive it and be back together soon enough.

The opinions of others also hold their sway, and I’ve heard them all. From “half your luck ” to “it’s work, you have to go” to “can’t you shorten the trip a little?” to the muttered “I suppose, if you must” (usually delivered with faint disapproving frown). I have also felt these opinions myself, sometimes all of them in the space of a few minutes.

The problem is, there are too few role models to call on. We understand that men go away for business; I saw my own father go away for work numerous times. But I’m desperate to meet women who have to go away for business. Desperate for a mother to tell me what to expect, what a reasonable time away might be, how my children might react, how to deal with the haters.

Sometimes, when I’m churning through all this at three in the morning (great preparation for the jet lag that awaits me at the other end), I have a fantasy. In it, my daughter is a grown woman with children of her own. She is offered a six-week opportunity overseas for work; it is exciting, career building, but she knows her children will miss her terribly.

And then I imagine she doesn’t even ask for my advice. Because she already knows it’s okay.