Kimberley Freeman: Australian contemporary women’s fiction author

Kimberley FfreemanKimberley Freeman is an Australian contemporary women’s fiction author who has also published speculative fiction and horror under her real name, Kim Wilkins. She is an award-winning author in her original genre, In 2007 she decided to explore a new genre and published her first women’s fiction novel, Duet. Her fourth book in the genre is Lighthouse Bay.

Lighthouse Bay is the story of two women from two very different eras. In 1901 Isabella Winterbourne is a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and struggling to deal with the grief of losing her son. In 2011 Libby Slater returns home to Lighthouse Bay after almost 20 years in Paris. She too is struggling with personal loss and trying to right past wrongs. The book was recently selected as one of the 2012 Get Reading’s 50 Books You Can’t Put Down.

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Lighthouse bay

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Danielle
Welcome, Kimberley. Thank you so much for talking to us today.

Kimberley
Hi.

Danielle
First of all, just tell us a bit more about the latest novel, Lighthouse Bay.

Kimberley
Lighthouse Bay is set on the Sunshine Coast, largely in 1901, and it follows a character who’s been shipwrecked, she’s the only survivor of the shipwreck. And, it was a very fortunate shipwreck, in way, because she had been married against her will to a man and now she has a chance to escape, but she certainly finds her past catching up with her.

And, this historial story is framed in a story set in the present about a woman who returns to the same location, Lighthouse Bay, to make a mends for something she did twenty years ago.

Danielle
It does actually have another parallel story in the future. This is the second book you’ve written with that kind of parallel historical theme as well.

Kimberley
Yes, that’s right. There was Wildflower Hill that came out last year.

Danielle
Yeah. Actually, most of your women’s fiction seems to include a little bit of time-travel I suppose.

Kimberley
That’s right. I’ve always been very interested in how the history continues to signify in the present. Also I like writing historical fiction, but I find that I need to sort of get out and write something that’s set in the present as well, to sort of frame it, that makes it more interesting for me.

Danielle
And presumably involves quite a bit of research as well?

Kimberley
Yeah, it does. I’m getting more efficient at the research. I used to sort of read a lot of books, take a lot of notes, think about it, and then put it in. Now, I just kind of write until I hit a white space and then go, “I’ll need to go look that up,” look it up and put it straight in.

Danielle
The story of Isabella, so this book, as far as I know, is the first one that’s set fairly locally to you.

Kimberley
Yeah.

Danielle
Where did Isabella’s story come from? The story of the shipwreck? Is there something in history that you’ve borrowed from?

Kimberley
There are actually so many shipwrecks in Australia’s history. Once you start researching it you find there are just so many, and I think there are quite a few that, you know, that are household names. But, I found so many.

I wanted to write about a shipwreck, because I wanted to write about the ocean, and I wanted to write about the beach, especially the beach at the Sunshine Coast, which is very close to where I live. A shipwreck is a fairly dramatic sort of thing to happen. I wanted this woman to get away from her husband somehow.

And, I started reading a lot about Australian shipwrecks. I happened on this fabulous old diary, I got it out of a university library. It was a really old publication, obviously, not a hand-written diary, of a man and his wife who had been shipwrecked off the coast of far North Queensland in the late 1800s. So, you know, not quite the same time and place, but close enough. It was just absolutely fascinating. These people and their dog were the only souls who survived this terrible shipwreck. The description of the shipwreck itself was still so haunting, it still stays with me. Because, you know, you think of shipwrecks because they don’t sort of happen so much anymore, as not being particularly scary, but they would have been absolutely terrifying, because they only happened in bad weather. You know, you’re really at the mercy of the elements – yeah, so I found it incredibly moving and so I wanted to write about that.

Danielle
Well, yeah. I found your description of the shipwreck actually quite terrifying.

Kimberley
Yeah, more like a plane crash.

Danielle
And claustrophobic as well.

Kimberley
Yeah – yeah, like a plane crash. That would be the modern analogy.

Being completely out of control, being stuck somewhere at the mercy of whatever happens next. Yeah, that’s what I tried to capture.

Danielle
Lighthouse Bay, I guess, is contemporary women’s fiction, and this is your fourth book in that genre, but you’ve also written historical fiction and fantasy.

What prompted this new direction after 15 years of writing? What prompted this new style?

Kimberley
With the fantasy stuff – I sat down to try and conceptualize my next book, and I found – this is around 2006, I think – and I found that every idea that I came up with sounded really familiar. I developed this idea that I had somehow strip-mined the genre and could no longer write in it. I spoke with my agent about it, and she said, “Well, why don’t you try your hand at something different? What else do you like to read? I’m a very strong believer that you should only write what you like to read.” And, so I came up with an idea that was contemporary women’s fiction.

I chose a pseudonym so that the markets wouldn’t get confused, the readerships aren’t necessarily the same. Then what happened was these books did incredibly well, and I was asked to write more. When that started happening I realized, of course, that field of fantasy had lain fallow for long enough that I started to have new ideas. So, I sort of so busy with Kimberley Freeman that I haven’t got back to my fantasy stuff, which I write under my real name, Kim Wilkins.

Danielle
I was going to ask you how you coped with that big genre shift, but it sounds like you coped quite well.

Kimberley
It sounds like I did, but no, I actually didn’t. It was terribly difficult. I remember being – the first one was calledDuet, and I remember being in about Chapter 3 or 4 – no, no, Chapter 3, quite early in the book, and thinking, “This is getting boring.” And normally at this point what I do is put in a ghost, you know? Or a monster, or something. I was like, “I can’t do ghosts and monsters anymore, how am I going to create narrative interest?”

And so I went and looked back through all of these books that I had read and thought, “How do they do it?” You know? Well, they do it with secrets, and mysteries, and a little bit of drama here and there, a little sense of menace from something. It was really like learning to write all over again, but I think it’s made me a better writer. I don’t rely quite so heavily on monsters anymore.

Danielle
Yeah. How long then did that shift take? Like, you describe it as learning to write again.

Kimberley
Well, with Duet I think I wrote the first five or six chapters four times. I’d write them and send them into my agent and she’d just go, “No, that’s terrible,” and send it back. I’d go, “No, what do I do now,” and finally I got it. Once I got it, once I’d figured out the first six chapters, then it was fine. So, I guess that process of rewriting those first six chapters took about six months, and then after that I was OK.

Danielle
Typically with your fantasy how many drafts would you have done? Would it have been a process.

Kimberley
Well, it would have just come out right, first go.

And now these come out right, first go. So, yeah, I guess it was – it wasn’t really long, but it was a very frustrating time. I felt completely inadequate. You know, especially after how many books I’d published. You know, I teach writing as well. I just felt like, “I don’t even know how to do it. I’ve forgotten how to do it.” It was like forgetting the words to a song you’ve known your whole life.

But, I managed, and now I can do it.

Danielle
That’s interesting. I mean people assume that published writers would – they know it all. It’s easy.

Kimberley
It’s astonishing how, published writers who teach. I mean I teach a lot. I tell people all the time, if they ask me, I just give them heaps of advice, and to realize that – I mean I have a similar thing that has happened recently. I wrote a book a couple of years ago – I’d been working on it for ages, a fantasy book, and I just keep getting to the end of it and thinking, “This isn’t right somehow.” So, I put it away for a while and recently looked at it again and went, “Oh, I know what’s missing,” and how could I have not seen that? How could I have not seen that it was missing. So, yeah, there’s always something to learn with this craft.

Danielle
Even with all of that learning, Lighthouse Bay is actually your 22nd book.

Kimberley
Yeah, my two millionth word in print.

Danielle
Oh, wow.

When you put it like that, that’s really quite amazing. Since 1997 too.

Kimberley
Yeah, it’s been 15 years, yeah.

Danielle
You work in academia as well, and you say that you also teach creative writing?

How do you manage your writing load with all of these other things on the side?

Kimberley
I do find it difficult to balance sometimes. I also have two young children, but I, as much as possible – I’ve actually stopped a lot of the teaching. Obviously, I teach at uni, my role as a academic, I try to multi-task, obviously. But, what I really find is that if I put the time aside to write, I don’t actually need much time to actually get words on a page. What I try to do is have a notebook with me where I’m always writing down my ideas and planning scenes and things like that, so that when I do have to time to write, even if it’s only an hour or so, I can get a good 1,000 words done, or something like that. And, if I can do a 1,000 words in an hour, or an hour and a half, or whatever, and I do that five times a week, which isn’t unrealistic at all, then 5,000 words a week, you know, in six months you’ve got a novel.

Danielle
Right. So, it’s really just a matter, for you, of getting that time to sit down and do it.

Kimberley
Yeah, it’s making it a priority. I mean obviously I find it easy to make it a priority, because I don’t get paid unless I deliver the manuscript. But, what I’m always saying to writers is instead of making writing that burden, that extra thing you have to fit into your day – I mean it’s never been that for me, writing is a pleasure, like reading, and I don’t sort of go, “Oh god, I have to fit in a Marian Keyes book this afternoon.” I go, “Sweet, I can sit down, I’m going to open my Marian Keyes book and I’m going to get swept away.” And so I’ve always tried to make sure that view my writing that way and continue to view my writing that way.

Danielle
Given that you’re fitting your writing around a whole lot of other stuff, does that affect how you plan a book? Do you plan, or are you kind of doing it as you go?

Kimberley
No, I’m a planner and I always have been, and it has really stood me in good stead in the busy times. I’m a planner – absolutely, 100 percent. I don’t – I have an overall shape of the book before I write the first word, and before I sit down – on any given day before I sit down to write, I’ll write some notes in my notebook telling me how I’m going to get into the scene, how I’m going to get out of the scene, and a few details about the scene. So, there’s never a time when I sit at my desk and go, “Oh, right. What am I going to write today?” Because you can waste hours like that, and it’s soul-destroying.

I need to get the words down.

Danielle
Are you working on something new now?

Kimberley
Yes, I’m very excited about it. I’m writing another Kimberley Freeman novel, inspired by the enjoyment that I had writing a book set on the Sunshine Coast. I’m setting a book on an island on Moreton Bay, in the 19th century. And, it’s going to be a governess story, I’m so excited. I’ve been rereading Jane Eyre. Yeah, so I’m really looking forward to it. In this story a young woman comes from England, she’s hiding something, of course, to be the governess, to the prison’s superintendent’s daughter on an island very much like St. Helena Island in Moreton Bay, which there was a prison there in the 19th century.

Yeah, so I’m just dying to – I’m going to start on the first of November. I’ve just got a bit of other bits and pieces I have go get out of the way first.

I’m very excited. I’m really actually trying hard not to sound like a crazy person, I’m that excited.

Danielle
No, it sounds like it will be a fascinating book, and some more research close to home too.

Kimberley
Oh, yeah. I’m so looking forward to – I’m so looking forward to it. Well, it’s set also partly in the Channel Islands, so we do find out in sort of a flashback what she did. So, it’s sort of set on these two islands. But, yeah, very excited about it.

Danielle
Excellent, and I love that you’ve given yourself a date to start, a deadline for starting.

Kimberley
Yeah, because I’ve got a date to finish. I’ve got to do it in four months. I’ve got to turn it around by 28th of February.

Danielle
Wow.

Kimberley
I’ve got all of these tricks up my sleeve, you know, and all of these things to help me. There’s this wonderful program you can get for your computer, it’s called Freedom, and it locks you out of the internet.

Danielle
Yeah. I think everybody could do with one of those.

Kimberley
Yep, it’s wonderful. You can put in how long you need, so I’ll look at my work and go, “OK, I need to do 2,000 words, that’s going to take me three hours,” I’ll lock myself out the internet for three hours, because I have no willpower.

Danielle
No, I don’t think any of us do, really.

Kimberley
Well, the next step is asking my partner to unplug the modem and hide it from me, and I don’t know that I want to go there.

Danielle
Yeah, big step.

Just one final question, you’ve actually given us heaps of useful advice just in this interview, but what’s your key piece of advice to writers?

Kimberley
Key piece of advice to writers? Key piece of advice to writers has to be – OK, there are three. I can do them really quickly. The first on is you have to have good work habits. The second one is you have to be prepared to diversify. The third one is you have to be good at building relationships in the industry. So, that’s it. The good work habits one is the most important, because unless you’ve got something written, you’re not a writer, and you’ve got nothing to show to anybody.

Danielle
Excellent advice. Thank you very much, Kimberley.

Kimberley
No worries.

Danielle
Good luck with the latest book, and good luck with the writing come the first of November.

Kimberley
Thanks very much.


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