Writing rituals

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
An interview with Kelly Gardiner

Photo of Kelly Gardiner
Kelly Gardiner

We asked WV tutor Kelly Gardiner about her writing rituals and the books that make her cry.

Do you have any rituals when you write?

Not really, although I buy new stationery for each new project and I do have tools I use to focus. Because, as is the case for many people, I have other things to do like earn an actual living (and a shrinking concentration span), I slot in two-hour blocks in my diary for my allocated writing days and during those two hours I don’t answer the phone or email or do anything else. I can fit three or four two-hour blocks into a day. Once I’m off, I often keep going and don’t look at the clock, but it’s a good way to get started. If I need extra discipline, I write in 25 minute sprints with a short break in between. No Facebook, no wandering off to make coffee and coming back an hour later, nothing else. Just writing. But I can write anywhere, any time. I wrote most of my first book over lunch breaks in a noisy noodle cafe in downtown Auckland.

When was the last time you cried after reading a book? Which book and why did it make you cry

I’ve been reading a few World War One diaries lately. They are all heart-breaking but sometimes they just stop. Yesterday I saw one in the State Library and got to an entry that reads, “I seem to have come through all right so far”. Then that’s it. There’s no more.

What do you pretend to feel strongly about, just to impress people?


What do you do when you’re bored?

Gardening. But I don’t get bored very often.

Who was your idol when you were growing up (and why)? Who is your idol now (and why)?

Judy Garland. I adored her. I felt, as did millions of others, that she was singing specifically for me. Of course, she died when I was little and never knew I existed, but that never affected the feeling. Now, I just don’t know. The whole idol thing is much more complex. I have a raft of idols and also none – not in that sense of innocent adoration.

What song is ‘your song?’ Why?

Now I’m really going to sound like an old show queen, but ‘Younger Than Springtime’ from South Pacific is the song that I secretly sing at the top of my voice in the car. And I – really – cannot sing.

What time of day is your favourite?

Early morning.

Is there any historical period that you think hasn’t been written about enough?

There are so many intriguing true stories from little pockets of the past, in Victoria and elsewhere, that the possibilities are endless. It doesn’t have to be about a famous person or a tragic royal. Pick up any history book, delve into your own family history, or spend an hour on Pinterest and you’ll come up with ideas – if you create the space in your imagination for them to take hold.

Why do you think historical fiction appeals to young readers?

Historical fiction that works has the sense of escape into another realm but still feels relevant to the reader. This often happens through a timeless connection with characters but it can also be the themes that resonate. And younger readers in particular are relentlessly curious.

When it comes to historical fiction, do you think there’s such a thing as too much research?

Absolutely, for both writer and reader. It’s quite possible to drive yourself mad trying to find the exact answer to some trivial question of historical detail that doesn’t matter at all to the narrative, and it’s also possible to weigh down the story with so much fascinating detail that reading it feels like a burden. It’s a tricky balance to get right, and one of the hardest things to master in any history writing. We all struggle with that.

About Kelly Gardiner

Kelly Gardiner is a writer, journalist and editor. Her books include the young adult novels 'Act of Faith' and 'The Sultan’s Eyes'; a picture book, 'Billabong Bill’s Bushfire Christma's; and the Swashbuckler historical adventure trilogy for young readers. Her first adult novel, 'Goddess', based on the life of the French swordswoman and opera singer Julie d’Aubigny, will be published in 2014.

Kelly will be running a one-day Summer School workshop on DIY Podcast at Writers Victoria in January 2017.