Kelly’s top tip for writers: Dig deep and leverage willpower. It’s the ultimate superpower to ensure you never give up.
Kelly Van Nelson is a fiction author who lived in the UK and South Africa before immigrating to Australia. She has had multiple poetry and short stories featured in publications in the UK, USA, and Australia (Serenity Press, Short Story Society, United Press, Between These Shores Books, Fiction War Magazine, Wolvesburrow Productions, KSP Writefree Women’s Writing Group). She is represented by Clive Newman at The Newman Agency.
Graffiti Lane is her powerful debut poetry collection. As well as success as a poet, Kelly has also received multiple accolades for her manuscript, The Pinstripe Prisoner, which placed third in the Yeovil Literary Prize, shortlisted in the Wales PENfro first chapter competition, and longlisted in the Exeter Novel Prize. In December 2018 she was awarded a First Edition Fellowship through Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre. The fellowship is part of an emerging writer pilot program, funded by the Western Australian Department of Local Government, Sports and Cultural Industries and Lotterywest.
Kelly is also the mum of two children, wife of her soulmate of more than two decades and the Managing Director on the executive board of a global staffing organisation. In short, she is a juggler.
For more information about Kelly visit her website: www.kellyvannelson.com
Why do you write? I was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North East of England (I’m a Geordie) and lived in a council estate in an inner-city concrete jungle. I didn’t have a great relationship with my mother and my father passed away in his forties. It was pretty bleak. My outlet was reading. I read endlessly under the duvet with a torch until the early hours. Enid Blyton and everything else I could get my hands on. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a writer – I loved books and the escape that they brought from reality.
Now, in my adult years, I find writing the ultimate stress buster. I mostly write late at night, just before I go to bed. It helps me unwind from whatever crazy day I’ve had.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Hmm, I have a full-time day job already; one that I love. I’m the Managing Director for a global organisation, helping people find employment every day and shaping the future of work. If I didn’t write, I would still be working full-time, but I’d probably be going to bed a bit earlier!
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? There were so many stumbles along the way. Not having a good writers’ support network early in the journey would be one of the biggest setbacks. I used to overwrite a lot, had no formal writing training, and didn’t have a great grasp of the intense editing process that is required to rewrite, prune, polish … then do it all again. It was only when I moved to Australia that I found an amazing writing community who helped me develop into a writer strong enough in my craft to make it into print.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Ahhhh, the cover. I had an enormous amount of input on that particular aspect of the book. I had a vision in my mind of what the cover would look like, then embarked on a photo shoot in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane to get the perfect shot. Almost a thousand photographs of street art were taken to get the frame that is now the cover of Graffiti Lane. The shot was chosen by my incredibly talented cover designer @thomaspaulartistry. Tom layered the photo with incredible graphics and captured the essence of my gritty author brand and the context of the book beautifully. It looks nothing like what I originally envisaged. It’s way better!
The rest of the book development, manuscript content aside, was managed by my amazing publisher, Karen Mc Dermott, although she gave me wonderful creative liberty with many decisions along the way.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Touching readers emotionally with something I created is an amazing feeling. If just one reader gets something positive out of words I have written, magic has been realised.
—the worst? My hands regularly ache. I use the laptop all day long for work and continue into the wee hours typing at fast speed. It’s bliss rubbing hand cream into them to try and ease the joints.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Join a writers’ group immediately. I found mine at Katharine Susannah Pritchard Writers’ Centre (KSP) in Perth only a year ago and it changed my world. Hanging out with like-minded writers is the best for learning all kinds of new tricks of the trade.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Your time will come, but only when you are ready. Every rejection in between is a stepping stone to learn and refine your skills.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t ever submit your work without editing it end-to-end at least six times. I never break this rule now, even for a tiny Haiku poem, and my submission success rate has shot through the roof as a result.
How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is a huge part of my writing world. I use four platforms; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, for varied content and to reach different audiences. I met many fellow authors, publishers, and other industry contacts through social networking and the time I spend online pays off ten-fold. Graffiti Lane shot to #1 on Amazon Hot New Releases and #2 Poetry Bestsellers on pre-sales alone, simply from reaching out to contacts online about my book launch. I’m also fairly disciplined about how long I spend reviewing content of friends and posting rather than just idly browsing random content.
There is a downside though. My social media platform has evolved into almost 100,000 connections and I dread just one person slamming me – I need to develop a much thicker skin so anything like this doesn’t bother me.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really. If I sit down to write, I write. It’s often not what I intended to write during the session, but something always pops out. It’s common for me to sit down to work on a novel and churn out a couple of poems or a short story instead. I cut myself a break. As long as I’m getting words out of my head and down on a page, I figure it’s okay. The pressure is not so intense on myself as a result.
How do you deal with rejection? I used to get hung up on it, reading the piece again, unpicking the rejection note, then wallowing in self-doubt. Now I keep a spreadsheet of all submissions, track long lists, short lists, successes and failures. The percentage of accepted pieces has been rising month on month so this trend line fights off any negative thinking. When it’s a particularly disappointing rejection (I recently had my novel at final stages with the director of a major publishing house and it fell over), I give myself 24 hours’ reprieve before getting back on the horse and galloping to work again.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Gritty, urban, confronting.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Wow. This is the toughest question. There are so many authors I idolise, but one in particular made an impact on my life way back. Years ago, I sat next to Dame Stella Rimington, author and former director of MI5, at dinner. At the time I was struggling with working full time and raising two young children, and was planning a move from Scotland to South Africa. She spoke of how she managed to juggle her career and family life, even talking about an incident where she was trying to get an informer out of Britain while her daughter was sick in hospital. It put my whole world into perspective. I have a signed copy of her book, Open Secrets, with the coolest Bond quote inside. In that one dinner, I learned that a strong woman can succeed through hard work and determination, and mums can have amazing careers too. I would love another hour with her.
Graffiti Lane looks at life through an unfiltered lens.
With unflinching honesty, Kelly Van Nelson offers an intensely personal perspective on the grittiness of urban living in an eclectic mix of traditional, shadow and free-form poetry. She fearlessly tackles issues of intimidation and discrimination, including playground and corporate bullying, domestic violence, marginalisation, gender inequity, mental health and suicide.
Yet while the writing is raw and the darker side of human nature is being exposed, there is an underlying sense of hope. The underdog is beaten down but not defeated and has the resilience to bounce back and rise again.
Graffiti Lane is a powerful debut collection of poetry that will stir the spirit and speak to the heart.
The book is available from the publisher here.
Amazon Australia Book Sales: https://www.amazon.com.au/Graffitti-Lane-Kelly-Van-Nelson-ebook/dp/B07N33ZB21/