Bestselling author Kelly Rimmer recently released a new work of fiction, The Warsaw Orphan, inspired by the real-life heroine who saved thousands of Jewish children during WWII, and almost immediately found a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. The prolific author of ten novels has penned her most emotionally-compelling novel to date to much critical and commercial acclaim. She joins us here all the way from cold and wintery rural Australia to discuss writing in the rain, what success means to her, and how not to give bad writing advice. I was also delighted to learn we both share a favourite Sarah Winman novel. Welcome Kelly!
Where writers write.
Describe your writing space. What do you love about it?
Last year I setup a writing studio in a tiny home in the bushland near my house. It’s currently being renovated so I’m back to writing in a corner of my bedroom! I miss the uninterrupted quiet of the tiny home and can’t wait to get back to writing there.
How important is it to have ‘a room of one’s own’?
It’s vital, but it’s about more than a physical space – for me a ‘room of one’s own’ can also be about the mental space to create. It’s incredibly difficult to be creative when you’re busy juggling a million other things. Having a dedicated workspace helps me because it’s a shortcut to getting into the right mental state. When I walk through the trees to my writing studio, I’m actually pushing everything else out of my mind.
Any rules for when you’re in this ‘space’?
I always make sure my phone is far away from me when I’m writing. This applies regardless of where I am, be it a café or my writing studio or my library. Sometimes it just means putting the phone on do not disturb mode and burying it in my bag, but if I’m in the writing studio, I leave the phone in my house.
What is your writing process like?
It’s a careful mix of chaos and structure. I plot extensively and write to an outline, but getting the actual story onto the page can be very chaotic.
What is your most unusual writing quirk?
I always find I write well on rainy days!! I don’t know why, but if I wake up to rain falling, I know it’s going to be a good writing day.
"I love being enveloped by a story and walking around in a world that’s not my own. It’s such an immersive experience. That’s why no matter what else I’ve done in my life, I’ve always come back to storytelling. Even after all of this time, decades since I first discovered creative writing as a child, it’s still my favourite thing to do."
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Generally each book I write is it’s own story, but sometimes there are links between them – my book The Warsaw Orphan features characters I first wrote in The Things We Cannot Say.
How do you manage writing with other demands on your time?
This is still a constant struggle for me. When I was working full time and I had young children, I had to teach myself to write in tiny gaps in my schedule – using every opportunity to get words down. Being forced to develop that skill back then really helps my productivity now that I’m lucky enough to write full time.
What does success look like to you?
I’ve been lucky to have been plenty of unexpected and amazing career highs over the past few years – strong sales or bestseller lists, etc. But even after all of that, success still means writing the best story I can. I’m successful when I’m sending my editor and agent my best work.
What has influenced you the most as a writer?
I wrote for years before I sought publication – writing and discarding entire manuscripts, just for fun and to learn. During those years I also read voraciously and learned how to read critically—asking myself “what can I learn from this story” with every single book, whether I enjoyed it or not. I’m convinced all of those practice years still strongly influence my writing now.
Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? The worst?
An editor told me that if I wanted to write about difficult or heartbreaking subjects, I had to learn how to include some hope or humanity in each story too – to balance the shade with light. I still think about that advice with every single book I write. And bad writing advice usually starts with “you must” or “you need to”. There’s very few writing rules which are universal, every writer has to find out what works for them.
"Books enable us to step into another person’s shoes and to experience life differently. They are a uniquely immersive way for us to empathize, and that’s what makes them so powerful."
What were your favourite childhood books?
I loved Heidi by Johanna Spyri, anything by Roald Dahl, CS Lewis, and later, Judy Blume and the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew series.
If you were a bookseller what 5 books would you hand-sell to readers and why?
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, for dark humor and a piercing insight into mental illness. Humankind by Rutger Bregman, because it’s wildly entertaining and it offers the reader a healthy dose of hope. The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff - it’s such gripping historical fiction and the way Pam can apply incredible research in such a light-handed way is just incredible. The Forest of Vanishing Stars or The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel, for exactly the same reasons. Tin Man by Sarah Winman because every single word is perfection. Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman because once you read the first page, you won’t be able to put the book down until you finish.
I’d also be enthusiastically hand-selling children’s fiction that has fanned the flames of my kids’ passion for books – books by Aaron Blabey, Matt Stanton, David Baddiel, Jaclyn Moriarty, Marcus Emerson, every single book from the Andy Griffith and Terry Denton backlist, Jessica Townsend, R.A. Spratt…sorry, did you say 5? Oops!