Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wild Chicory by Kim Kelly - Book Review, Interview & Giveaway

About Kim Kelly

Kim Kelly is the author of four novels - Black Diamonds, This Red Earth, The Blue Mile, and Paper Daisies - all lorikeet-coloured tales about Australia, its heritage and its people. Her latest work is a novella, Wild Chicory, to be published in January 2016, and she's presently working on another novel.

A widely respected book editor in 'real' life, Kim lives on a small country property in the rolling green and gold hills of the Central West of New South Wales.

1) Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

I’m an Australian author and I write historical fiction set mostly in Australia. My novels so far are Black Diamonds, This Red Earth, The Blue Mile and Paper Daisies, and they’ve all tended to be big, colourful romantic sagas – with a political twist. My new book is a little different in that she’s a novella – a slim volume by comparison – and she’s called Wild Chicory. I’m also a book editor and literary consultant, and have been helping other authors tell their stories now for twenty years. Stories are my life!

2) Wild Chicory is a story about the connection between a grandmother and her granddaughter. What inspired you to write this story?

Like many authors do from time to time, I found myself questioning why I spend long hours writing, and dreaming about writing, and as I was wondering, a picture of my grandmother came to me, from when I was small. She was standing at the kitchen sink in the house I grew up in and I was asking her all my pesky little-girl questions – and then suddenly she was telling me a story. She told me such wonderful stories when I was a child. Stories of being poor and Irish in Sydney in the early 1900s, funny stories of mischief, and tragic stories of loss. She also taught me the importance of always keeping your chin up – and whenever in doubt, pop on a pretty dress and get out into the sunshine. Wild Chicory, a story of a family travelling from Ireland to Sydney, sprang from all those tales my grandmother told me. It’s a homage to her, to the love we shared, and to the gift of stories she gave me.

3) What are Nell’s best features and what are Brigid’s? Do they resemble actual people?

Nell is utterly devoted to her family. Whether she is baking cakes or sewing dresses for her daughters, she is always working for her family. She is soft spoken and always beautifully dressed, but underneath the demure appearance, she is cheeky and feisty. During the war she lies to the Public Service, telling them she is not married, in order to support her family when her husband, Stevie, is away with the army. She will do anything for them.

Brigid, like her grandmother, is certainly spirited and full of fun, but she is an observer, too, a small girl with a writer’s soul. She is sensitive to the feelings of those around her, especially the feelings of her grandmother, who is in deep grief at the loss of Stevie when the story begins. Brigid is a dreamer and, full of her grandmother’s love, and stories – and cake! – she will tell her own stories one day.

Of course these two characters are inspired by my own grandmother and me. Because time has made my own memories so foggy, I’ve given them very fictional lives of their own, but they are the essence of us, and the bond we shared.

4) What do you love about historical fiction?

Stories from the past fascinate me by what they can tell us about today. Why we do what we do and think what we think. Australian history is important to me because this is where I live. I’m always exploring our immigrant past because most people in Australia have come from somewhere else. In Wild Chicory, it’s the long and complex Irish diaspora that I focus on this time, how the Irish thread is woven through Australian society – and through me.

Australia is a land of extraordinary contrasts. Droughts and floods. Great beauty and great danger within that beauty. We’re among the most generous people in the world, but sometimes we’re among the meanest, too. I will never tire of travelling into the past to look more closely at these things that make us who we are today.

5) How do you come up with ideas for your stories and how does your research process work?

Sometimes I think I write stories as an excuse to fall down fabulous rabbit holes of research. I just love research. I spend a lot of time inside the pages of old newspapers and idly flicking through old photographs held by the National Library of Australia. I do these things just because I enjoy them, and from them stories emerge. Usually the characters start talking to me first, and they tell me where we’re going to go. Which leads me inevitably into more and more research. Heaven!

My stories unfold along the trails of curiosity that excite me – an excitement which hopefully translates to readers and makes for a compelling ride.

6) Your stories are about strong women, what makes you want to write about them?

I come from a long line of strong women. Women who work hard and who are also intelligent and compassionate. I’ve been very fortunate to have had so many wonderful women in my life, who have inspired me and helped me to grow – helped me to understand my own frailties and faults too. I hope that the women I write reflect them in all their beauty and complexity. These women I love and write are strong, yes, but they are very real, too. They fail sometimes; they cry sometimes; they pick themselves up again.

7) What are your three favourite books?

That is a terrible question! How to choose…? I can tell you the two books most responsible for inspiring me when I was a young woman dreaming of writing: Picnic At Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay – a haunting story of schoolgirls who go missing in the Australian bush in 1900; and Power Without Glory, by Frank Hardy – a page-turning, bare-knuckled saga of political corruption in early 20th century Melbourne.

I’ll tell you the two books most responsible for picking me up when I’ve felt down and lost in my own writing, too: Out Of The Silence, by Wendy James – a beautifully constructed novel on the plight of women in early 20th century Australia, this story reminded me of the cultural importance of historical fiction and just how beautiful it can be; and War Crimes For The Home, by Liz Jensen – a very clever novel set in wartime Britain, told by an unforgettable woman called Gloria, it’s thought-provoking, outlandish and real, and reminded me of the power of first person narratives, right when I needed to hear it.

8) What does a regular work day look like for you?

I treat my writing as a job. I’m at the desk around 8am, and clock off at about 5pm. I love to work so I rarely have trouble with motivation or writer’s block, but I do tend to get a bit out of control when I’m rushing towards the end of writing a novel – I’m usually so excited, I can’t stop writing, and I can’t sleep properly, either. I try to be disciplined and pull back a little – for the sake of my family as well as me! – but I’m not often successful in this. The story takes over and must have its way. And when it’s done, I’m straight into research for the next one.

9) Are you currently working on a book and if so could you tell a little bit about it?

I have just yesterday finished the final draft of my next novel, and I’m hugely excited about that. It’s a tale of a young woman writer and the very unsuitable conman she falls for, set during the glory days of luxury steamship travel, in Edwardian times. It’s kind of an Australian Titanic tale, based on a real maritime disaster that occurred off the coast of Western Australia in 1912. It also has a strong element of mystery and magic through it that springs from an old Australian legend of a cursed pearl. It will be published towards the end of this year. I can’t wait to share her with readers.

In the meantime, I’ve begun research on a new story set during the same period, but it’s a tale of Australian cowboys and circus performers, one that’s only just beginning to show itself to me.

10) Wild Chicory is published by The Author People. They have an interesting vision on books. Could you tell a bit more about it?

The Author People is the brainchild of Lou Johnson – an old publishing colleague of mine – and her business partner Tom Galletta. Lou had been thinking for some time that there must be better and smarter ways of bringing Australian stories to the world, and more effectively harnessing the power of online communication to bring writers and readers – authors and people – together.

For Australian writers, because we’re such a small country in terms of population and we’re subject to a complex system of publishing rights, it can be very difficult to be published outside Australia and very easy to have your work swamped by the overseas titles that tend to take precedence in our publishing market. The Author People is leap-frogging over all that and going direct to readers wherever they are on the globe.

When Lou told me she’d like to publish Wild Chicory, I was a little disbelieving at first – because I didn’t think that any Australian publisher would want it on their list. Wild Chicory doesn’t really fit neatly into a genre and it’s a small book in terms of its number of pages – features not attractive to Australian publishers generally. I thought it was just a sweet tale that I’d written to honour my grandmother, one I might self-publish one day just for fun. And boy sometimes is it great to be wrong!

The Author People is finding and reaching readers for my work across the world now. This has never happened for me before, and it’s an enormous thrill. I wonder what my grandmother would think of the idea that Wild Chicory is being read by Irish readers today. I bet she’d have the sweetest giggle at that.

11) What are your plans for the future?

For the immediate future, my husband Dean and I are going on a short holiday. We realised we hadn’t had a proper break away for three and a half years. That’s nuts! So we’re going to the Snowy Mountains, for a hike up Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak. Just us. Bliss.

Longer term, I just want to keep on writing. I have a story file full of ideas that keeps growing fatter. I hope I have enough years ahead to tell all the tales I want to tell.
Book Review
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Review by Suze

Brigid's grandmother Nell is sad. She's lost her husband and misses him terribly. Brigid wants to distract her and tries to cheer her up by asking about the past. Nell loves telling her granddaughter stories about her family. She was born in Ireland as the only daughter in a large family. They all went to Australia and life changed drastically because of it.

Kim Kelly writes about Nell's life and she does that by telling a different story in each chapter. I fell in love with Wild Chicory from the first page. I couldn't put it down and know I will read it again as this novella is too good to read only once. I loved the beautiful, honest and heartwarming stories. Life wasn't always easy, but the closeness of the family and love managed to heal a lot of wounds.

Kim Kelly's writing is magnificent and her stories are always interesting. It was great to read about Ireland and Australia, about many generations of people and about different kinds of relationships. Wild Chicory managed to move me from the first page. It's obvious that these stories mean something to the author. That makes them extra special. They went straight to my heart and are there to stay. I highly recommend this brilliant novella.
One very lucky reader of our blog will receive a digital copy of Wild Chicory. And another winner will receive a paperback copy from Suze via The Bookdepository because she loves the book so much.
The winners will be notified by email and have three days to respond. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. Good luck with the new book.

  2. Question to the author: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in this book?

  3. Keep up the good work Kelly! Great giveaway

  4. Need a good read for May holiday. Fingers crossed!

  5. This book sound very interesting.... thanks for this chance.. best of luck.... everyone have a blessed week!!!

  6. It sounds like a very interesting story. I really like the cover. Thanks for having the giveaway.

  7. I enjoyed the interview. This sounds like a good read.

  8. Thank you for the great giveaway! I like the title.

  9. It's great that Kim refers to her novella as a she as it's shows the depth of personal attachment to the story. x

  10. Thanks for the giveaway!

    Edye //

  11. Thanks for a great giveaway. Can't wait to read the book.

  12. Thanks for the great giveaway, cant wait to read your book, it looks so good

  13. Thank you for the opportunity.

  14. great giveaway - looks like a great read

  15. It sounds like a great read1 Thanks for sharing :)

  16. looking forward to reading this!!

  17. Pam Francis GregoryApril 25, 2016 at 1:20 PM

    Great giveaway!

  18. Good luck with the new book. Looks great.

  19. Crossing my fingers for the win! Thanks!

  20. All the best with your new book.

  21. would love to read this book snuggled up in bed. sounds interesting. :)

  22. Good luck with future ventures.

    Rachel Craig