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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Jewel Sea by Kim Kelly - Interview, Book Review & Giveaway

About Kim Kelly

Kim Kelly is the author of five 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.
The whole of the harbour was touched with gold – the tops of the quiet waves, warehouse roofs, the bulging folds of sails at rest, the tips of seagull wings – giving him one sweeping glimpse of beauty just as he was leaving, a vision of things as they ought always to be just as they were not…

March, 1912. A sultry Indian summer hangs over the west coast of Australia and aboard the luxury steamship SS Koombana, three tales entwine.

Irene Everley longs to leave her first-class fishbowl existence, secretly penning a gossip column as her life spirals out of control into soulless liaisons and alcohol, the long shadow of a tragedy clouding her view.

James Sinclair, an investor on his way to Broome is not the man he says he is but can he be trusted?

Abraham Davis, a wealthy dealer whose scandalous divorce is being dragged through the press, prepares to take the gamble of his life: to purchase an infamous, stolen pearl along the journey north.

Perfectly round, perfectly pink, this pearl comes with a curse and with a warning – destroying all who keep it from returning to the sea.

1) Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Hi Suze. I’m a writer of historical fiction – I’ve written six novels now, all inspired by Australia, its past and its people. When I’m not writing, I’m a book editor and literary consultant helping other authors develop and finesse their work.

2) What inspired you to write about a pearl and why is it so special? 

Well, there’s a bit of a story to this one. While searching for something interesting to read one rainy afternoon a couple of years ago, I stumbled across a book written about the real-life history of a luxurious steamship, the SS Koombana, which mysteriously disappeared in a tropical cyclone off the coast of Western Australia in 1912. The story immediately captured my imagination and I knew I’d have to explore it in fiction – I mean, here was Australia’s own Titanic tragedy and I’d never heard about it before. I thought: I have to bring this story back to life!

I dived straight into researching the mystery of the Koombana’s disappearance, and on that first day of fossicking for clues I came across the legend of a cursed, stolen pearl associated with this ship – a pearl which was said to have taken the ship down to the bottom of the sea, never to be found.

Of course this pearl was also extremely beautiful – perfectly round, perfectly pink, and perfectly worth a fortune. I began to wonder: now, why would a pearl want to sink a ship full of innocent travellers? It was a wonder that drove my reimagining of the tragedy in Jewel Sea.

3) You write historical fiction, what do you like most about this genre?

I’ve always been fascinated by history – ever since I was a little girl and I’d curl up with my grandfather’s old history books on everything from the Australian outback to Ancient Greece. I’m always wondering at the layers of history that surround us. I can’t walk outside my front door, here in rural New South Wales, or travel anywhere across the world without wondering who has stepped on this earth or along this footpath before me.

What I find most intriguing about the past, though, is what it can tell us about today. Australia, my home, is a place of wild contrasts – floods and drought, bright blues and deep reds, open-armed generosity and close-minded insularity – and in searching through the dusty corners of the past, I hope to cast a little light on what makes Australia and her people tick. I search, too, for what insights and lessons these tales of the past might hold. Australians tend not to be overly interested in their own history, and I think I’ve made it a personal mission of the heart to change that! One story at a time…

4) In Jewel Sea there are three main characters, could you sum them up in six words each?

Irene: courageous, witty, searching, wounded, clever, generous.

Fin: sculpted, debonair, wry, tormented, charming, kind.

Abraham: honourable, devout, genuine, shrewd, bruised, gentlemanly.

Each of them, with all their contradictions, are drawn together in a web of desire, grief and love. And, like the pearl, none of them are quite what they seem.

5) What's special about the era you're writing about?

I didn’t really deliberately decide to write an Edwardian novel set aboard a glamorous ocean liner – as I said, that story found me. The period revealed itself as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of my characters, and it’s one I didn’t know all that much about beyond Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s loveliness on the silver screen. But what I discovered intrigued me.

In those years before the First World War, the disparity between rich and poor was horrendous, the strictures of class were tighter and colonial contempt towards Indigenous people was disgraceful – even deadly. The wealth in Western Australia – from the pearl trade, and from beef and gold – was startling. In fact, the Koombana had been specially built to carry these rich, gin-soaked businessmen and their families up and down the coast from their beautiful homes in Perth, where they spent their summers, to their other stately mansions in the tropical north.

And then, in contrast to all this, was the pure and gentle elegance of Edwardian fashion: those gorgeous, sweeping lines of Art Nouveau, so reminiscent of the Classical world, with ladies’ hair cascading curls, and laced with pearls. Lots and lots of pearls! Even the ship itself was a work of art, a testament to the tasteful yet decadent excesses of the Golden Age of steamship travel, with its plush upholstery and fine china – even in second class – and gold leaf details on the ceilings of the saloons…

6) Could you tell us a bit more about the Indian Summer you're writing about?

Cyclone season in tropical Australia generally extends from November to February – across the hottest months of the year. But the summer of 1912 lingered on for weeks, through all of March. From the day the Koombana set sail, travelling northwards up the West Australian coast, the air was unseasonably and increasingly heavy with heat and humidity. And it was this lingering Indian summer that, ten days later, created the violent storm that would take the Koombana down. The ship possibly capsized in the giant waves, but as the wreck is yet to be recovered, no-one really knows what happened to her.

7) You're writing about the sea, what's so magical about the water?

I grew up by the sea – on the east coast, looking out over the Pacific Ocean – so the sea has always held a power over my imagination. It remains one of the last truly wild places on earth, untamed by humans. The sea is so essential to our existence, but we tend to take it for granted – as just that big wet watery thing we fly across to get to other lands. And yet the sea is inextricably part of us: wind all time back to the beginning, and the sea made life itself possible. I wanted to explore that wonder in Jewel Sea, as a reminder that the real magic in the world is all around us – everywhere – and inside us, too.

8) Could you tell us a bit about your writing process?

At any one time, I have about three or four different stories in my head, so I have to be very disciplined with my focus and my time, or I’d never finish anything. I treat my writing like I do any other work: I’m at my desk after breakfast, and I work through until dinner – except when I’m nearing the end of a manuscript, and all my words and ideas are flying so fast I really can’t stop. Those final days of writing a first draft are my crazy days, and can sometimes go on for several weeks. And as I can’t sleep properly when all that’s going on in my head, it’s exhausting! But during the ‘normal’ run of writing, for me, I spend most days simply being present inside the story, letting the characters move through it, letting the images and the feelings and the words come as they wish to come – and then, later, spending ten times as much time editing what I’ve done. I’ve always, always got lots of tidying up to do after I’ve written a first draft – lots of double-checking historical details, too.

9) Is there a certain research process you follow when you're writing a story or planning to write one and how does this work for you?

My stories are all character-driven and it’s the characters themselves who drive the research, too. Although I always have a sketch of the historical events that will play their parts in the plot of the story, I really don’t know what’s going to happen until the characters tell me. If a character says to me, ‘I grew up in an orphanage in the late 1800s’, as Fin did in Jewel Sea, then I have to go and search out the facts of his experience, to make them real. It’s always a journey of discovery for me – one I’m quite addicted to – and I hope that readers enjoy this aspect of my stories as much as I do: never quite knowing what might happen next.

10) What's the best writing advice someone has ever given you and which writing advice would you give someone else?

There is so much wonderful advice I’ve been given over the years, and so much I want to say to encourage other writers too, but the very best piece of advice I’ve ever received is: always be writing something. Only by writing will you develop and continue to learn as a writer, and it’s only writing that will get you through the hard times, when you feel lost, when you’re waiting on feedback, or if your work has been rejected. Just keep writing – no matter what. If you don’t feel like looking at your manuscript, write a poem or a letter, write out your ranty, rambling thoughts. Just write. If writing is your place of love and wonder, go to it every day, and make sure it’s filled with all kinds of treasure that waits there only for you.

11) What are your writing plans for the future?

You might remember, Suze, last time we spoke I told you I was taking a long-overdue holiday with my husband to the Snowy Mountains? Well, that turned out to be a bit of a writing holiday. My publisher is now reading the manuscript I was inspired to write back then, a story set in those rugged mountains in the 1950s. Hopefully that’ll be next year’s novel – fingers crossed my publisher likes it! Apart from that, I have three other manuscripts on the go, all at various stages of completion, ones that have been in my heart for a while. But I had another very strong, very vivid character leap out at me from yet another story earlier this week, just to further muddle my decision of what I’ll plunge into next. It’s funny the way it happens, though – one of these characters from one of these stories will suddenly insist I go with them and that will be it. From that moment, I’ll disappear into their world and stay there until they’ve told me all they’d like to say.

Book Review
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Review by Suze
It's the second decennium of the twentieth century and on board of the steamship SS Koombana there are several people with big secrets. Irene likes to write so much that she does it professionally and she loves the company of men. She's hiding both of these things from most of the people in her life. When she meets James at the ship he immediately catches her attention. However, is James who he says he is and what is he doing on the luxury ship?
A large pearl is being found and those on board who find out about its existence want to have it. Just one boy knows about its curse. The pearl can do a lot of damage, it wants to destroy, especially those who can't hear its call. One of the people who want to benefit from it is the rich dealer Abraham, who immediately recognizes the pearl's monetary value and sees it as a chance to make a huge profit. The pearl has one wish though and that is to be returned to the sea, but is there anyone who will listen to its pleas?
Jewel Sea is an intriguing story about a ship and its passengers and a pearl that can harm people. I loved these two aspects of the story. The pearl is supposed to be invaluable, but it doesn't want to be possessed. It was interesting to see the journey of this precious product of the sea. I was enchanted by the magic, which I absolutely loved. Kim Kelly gives the pearl a personality and therefore it becomes a main character in her story. It's a wonderful creative idea and it works very well.
There are quite a few characters, because a boat is filled with people, and they all have a story, big or small, but always important. This is something I found incredibly beautiful. Kim Kelly has chosen to narrate her story from several different points of view and the voices are all distinct and equally compelling. I especially loved Irene. She's a strong woman who isn't afraid to do what she wants. She doesn't mind chasing after something. I admired her confidence and her certainty of what she wanted to do with her life. I was curious from the start to find out what would happen to her and what influence the journey on the SS Koombana would have on the rest of her life. Kim Kelly kept surprising me and I really enjoyed that.
Jewel Sea is a gem of a book. Kim Kelly knows how to write a good story. She mixes historical facts with fantastic fiction and I like that a lot. Her writing style is both captivating and charming. I've read several of her books and am spellbound and amazed by what she writes. I loved Jewel Sea, it's another fantastic story by Kim Kelly that has a great unexpected ending.

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  1. This book sounds so good I would love to read and review . Thank you for the chance!

  2. How did you come up with the title?

    1. It's inspired by a line in a famous Australian poem, 'My Country' by Dorothea Mackellar, but it also represents the pearl in the story - a jewel of the sea.

  3. Having followed Kim's blog, read two of her books & met her at a book talk, I can attest to her wonderful writing ability. She is also a great person. I really want to read Jewel Sea! :-)

  4. I've heard people say that they hated this cover but I love it. I have books with such crap covers it's not even funny. But anyways the plot seems great and I'm excited to read this book whether it's in a month or five years

  5. I've heard people say that they hated this cover but I love it. I have books with such crap covers it's not even funny. But anyways the plot seems great and I'm excited to read this book whether it's in a month or five years

  6. My Mum loves historical fiction - would love to win - great giveaway

  7. just adore the cover ..its good looking 'coffee table' book i have just got 'into' historical fiction and would love to read this one x

  8. This book sounds like a fun read!

  9. It sounds like wonderful book. I love the setting.

  10. A first class fishbowl is still a fishbowl. Then again, it is first class all the way.

  11. Sounds l8ke an interesting plot. Thanks for the giveaway.

  12. I love anything historical and this looks fab!!

  13. it sounds great, i love the cover

  14. I love your expressiveness and detail, its makes it so much easier to imagine

  15. Love this picture of her, I always make that pose when I visit interesting places. :)

  16. I'm so happy I came today to meet Kim Kelly.The book sounds fascinating and interesting. I love History fact ith fiction. Loved the review.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  17. I'm so happy I came today to meet Kim Kelly.The book sounds fascinating and interesting. I love History fact ith fiction. Loved the review.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  18. I love stories about ships, and the crew; there's always a story about people on ships :) I'd love to read this book!

  19. Nice interview. Love historical fiction! This book sounds so good!

  20. Such a great interview. I took a peak on Amazon to see what's it about and read your review. Interesting! I haven't read anything like that before.

  21. Sounds like an interesting story.

  22. I would love to read the book, thanks for the giveaway.

  23. It would be great to win a paperback
    copy of Jewel Sea by Kim Kelly.
    This sounds like an interesting book and i enjoyed reading your review.
    Thank you for having this giveaway.

  24. I've decided that I ~must~ look into Mrs. Kelly's work, and try to get my hands on a copy of "Jewel Sea."

    ...I came to this decision just as I was reaching the end of the Author Bio. Whether it was penned by the author or not, I'm not sure; but to me it was so compelling and beautifully crafted that to simply move along would be doing my heart a disservice.

    (All that from an author bio!)