There is no denying that Cathy Kelly is a juggernaut in the world of women's fiction. Her engaging characters, enveloping backdrops and sweeping storylines have won her a legion of Australian fans. For the last decade her name has been synonymous with blockbuster fiction and she has been hailed as one of Australia's most beloved writers. Now, in her new novel, Homecoming, Cathy asks this question of all of us: what are the ingredients of a life well lived?
Revisiting the landscape of her hugely popular previous novels, Homecoming deals with the subjects of death, grief and motherhood with the great tenderness, honesty and warmth her readers already love. Delivering on all the promise of her formidable reputation Homecoming delves into the details of our lives, loves and losses. This is vintage Kelly territory - and nobody does it better.
Cathy Kelly is the author of nine other novels, all of which were number 1 bestsellers. In 2005 Cathy became an Ambassador for UNICEF in Ireland, helping to raise awareness of the plight of 12 million children orphaned across Africa through AIDS. Cathy Kelly now lives in Wicklow with her partner and young sons
Author: Cathy Kelly
What do you think your fans will like most about Homecoming?
Cathy Kelly: Oh Goodness! When I'm writing there are always bits that touch me so much and one of the things I loved most about Homecoming was Bridget's recipe book. Homecoming is a modern day book, but at the beginning of each chapter there is a part that looks at the past and one of the main characters is a psychoanalyst who is in her 80's and her mother gave it to her when she was little. There is information about life in west Ireland in the 1920's and 1930's where they were pretty poor and I love how they survived and the things that they did. The flour, for making bread, would be delivered in big linen bags and when they had enough linen bags together they would unpick them really carefully, wash them and sow them together, really beautifully and use them for sheets, so they had linen sheets. Things like that are very special and my Nana shared that with me. I like that you can use a little bit of your own heritage when writing a book, I love that, I think that's very nice and I hope they like that.
Is it hard to write about emotional subjects like death and grief?
Cathy Kelly: I love writing about emotional subjects, actually. When I started writing books when I was 27, my first book was Women to Women and I didn't deal with such big emotional subjects then because I was afraid that people would say "you're 27, you don't know what you're talking about". Writers have a little bit of insecurity about what we do, I really feel that. I was working as a journalist when I wrote my first three books and I was a bit scared and then finally I thought 'you know what? Just take the step' I wrote about alzheimers in my fourth book because my father had alzheimers, it was like unlocking a door and I realised I could write about darker things. The character in my forth book, wasn't my father, I never put real people in books but I explored the whole experience of alzheimers. I then realised I could explore sadder things and I gave myself permission to do it and it's wonderful.
When I do signings and people contact me via my website I find that the emotional subjects are the things that touch them.
How do you feel about being one of Australia's most beloved writers?
Cathy Kelly: It is overwhelming. I think this is my fifth trip to Australia and I love it. I have a great affinity with Australia; it is a privilege to come here and have people love your work. I think when you're a writer and you sit in your little room and you're working away, I spend my life saying "that line is bad, you're an idiot, no one is ever going to read this" and then suddenly you travel and you meet these beautiful people and they love it. It is overwhelming, it is a wonderful experience.
I spoke to a friend of mine on the phone, the other night and I said "there is so much love in the room, it is wonderful". I am privileged.
Who or what originally inspired you to begin writing?
Cathy Kelly: I was always into writing, I was reading from a very early age and I lived in the world of my imagination, basically. When I was older, at school, I was the one whose essay was read out. This is going to sound stupid, but it never occurred to me that you could make a career out of writing. When I was leaving school and sitting in all the different Universities filling out forms, on one of the forms I wrote 'Journalism'. I could write so I thought journalism was a good thing, for me to do.
From there I did a two year certificate course and got a job at a national newspaper. I was hired as a news reporter and at the time there were no jobs, so getting any job was fabulous. I had to pretend I was a good news reporter, which I wasn't really, I was too soft, and you have to be tough to be a news reporter. I loved journalist and I moved into writing features were I had an agony column and a film column and it was quite fun, but I always wanted to write a book, it was always there at the back of my head, but I didn't have the confidence.
I had a couple of attempts at writing novels. When I was 19 my Mum and I tried to write a romance novel, which was hilariously funny because I don't think two people could write a book. Mum would write in long hand on a notebook and I'd come home and I was suppose to type on this very old typewriter. She'd add in 'describe room' and I would have to describe the room and it didn't go anywhere!
When I was in my 20's my news editor, knew someone who was theoretically (this isn't how the publishing system works) looking for someone to write clogs and troll novels and I thought 'I'll do that' and I was so exciting. But, I couldn't do it because it wasn't what I wanted to write. I assumed, in the way you do, I'm a failure and I'll never write a book.
When I was 27 I thought 'I might give it just one last go' and I wrote what was in me and that's the difference. People often ask 'how do you choose what to write?' and I think what you write chooses you and it is what is inside you that comes out and it's about being authentically you; if there was any magic to writing, that is it.