Kelly Rimmer’s sweeping World War Two historical suspense has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide and made international best seller lists, including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Hi there. I’m your host, Jenny Wheeler. And on Binge Reading today, Kelly talks about her latest historical saga, The Paris Agent and two otherwise ordinary women who become spies in World War II France.
It’s a powerful story which threads their lives – they are real life woman – into history, leaving an indelible story of courage and family ties.
Giveaway This Week – Beach Books
In our Giveaway this week, we have Page Turners For The Beach, a wonderfully entertaining, light hearted holiday mix to download for free including Hope Redeemed, a Spanish novella, #6 in my own Of Gold & Blood California mystery series.
You’ll find the links for where to download these free books in the show notes for this episode on the website, The Joys Of Binge Reading.com.
And remember if you enjoy the show, leave us a review so others will find us too. Word of mouth is the best way for other people to discover the show and great books they will love to read.
Links to people and places in the episode
Violette Szabo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violette_Szabo
F Section of SOE: F-Section,
Diana Rowden: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_Rowden
SOE Special Operations Executive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Operations_Executive
M. R. D. Foot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._R._D._Foot
Henri Dericourt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_D%C3%A9ricourt
Nicolas Bodington: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolas_Bodington
Kelly Rimmer, The Things We Cannot Say: https://www.amazon.com.au/Things-We-Cannot-Say/dp/1525823566
Scrivener Writing Software: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview
Aeon Timeline: https://timeline.app/blog/introducing-aeon-timeline-3/
CSIRO Parkes Observatory: https://www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au/
Wernher von Braun: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wernher_von_Braun.
Polin: Polish Museum of Jewish History: https://polin.pl/en/about-museum
Irena Sendler: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irena_Sendler.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub: https://www.amazon.com.au/All-Adults-Here-Emma-Straub/dp/1594634696
Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce: https://www.amazon.com/Dear-Mrs-Bird-AJ-Pearce/dp/1501170066
Where to find Kelly online
Introducing historical suspense author Kelly Rimmer
But now here’s Kelly. Hello, via Kelly and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Kelly Rimmer: Hi, Jenny. It’s so good to be here.
Jenny Wheeler: Now I think you are somewhere in Central New South Wales, Australia. And for, we’ve got a lot of international listeners. So for them, new South Wales is the state that has Sydney as its main
Kelly Rimmer: right. That’s right.
As you know, it’s quite a big state, and there’s this big mountain range at the edge of Sydney, and then there’s this whole beautiful countryside on the other side.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s wonderful. you’ve written about something a long distance from Australia. The Paris Agent is your latest book. It’s a fascinating dual timeline mystery with multiple romance lines moving from England and World War Two to the 1970s with the daughter of one of those people that was involved in the war.
You’ve written more than a dozen novels and the most recent ones have all been historical. I’m interested in how you made that transition and how you feel about historicals themselves.
Kelly Rimmer: I didn’t mean to become a historical fiction writer. My second book, which was published digitally, was set around the forced adoption scandal in Australia, in the fifties, sixties and seventies.
And, that was my first taste of historical fiction. But as I said, I wasn’t a huge historical fiction fan, and I was following stories that piqued my interest.
The Things We Cannot Say
And this all culminated in a story that I’d been daydreaming about for a long time, since I was pregnant with my son, who’s 14 this year.
It’s inspired by my own family history. My grandparents were Polish Catholics who were displaced by the war. And I wrote a book called The Things We Cannot Say.
I loved that experience so much that I’ve accidentally continued with historical fiction since then.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s wonderful. I didn’t actually realize there was a family connection with that book. The Things We Cannot Say.
Kelly Rimmer: Yes. my grandparents, it’s not exactly their story, but it was inspired by the fact that we didn’t know what their story was and we knew we never will.
My grandfather in particular is a complete mystery because they came to Australia by Ahan, a refu, a displaced persons camp in Hah, where they lived for several years, and they ended up in Fremantle and then from Fremantle to Blacktown in Sydney.
They really reinvented themselves after that. I was in my early thirties, reflecting on the fact that I’m part of an Australian family. And I asked myself how did we end up here? My grandparents were Polish. So it came out of that.
A story inspired by spy Violette Szabo
Jenny Wheeler: Wonderful. tell us something about The Paris Agent, the stories premise. Tell us how you got into this.
Kelly Rimmer: My daughter’s name is Violette. It’s a family name from my husband’s side.
And when I was pregnant with her, and we were talking about names, you do the Googling thing, trying to think about famous people with this name.
Or what the meaning of the name is. And I stumbled upon Violette Szabo, who was an SOE agent, in the F section of the SOE.
Her story was so inspiring and had stuck with me. I loved the idea that we were naming my daughter after someone so incredible.
And I had always intended, always hoped that I would come up with the right premise to write a book that was inspired by her.
And, maybe two or three years ago, I heard a podcast about Diana Rowden, who is another SOE agent, who I had never heard of, even though I’d done a little bit of reading about the SOE.
And I’ve also found her to be just such an incredible woman. The idea for this book came out of their stories, their real-life stories.
Balancing fact and fiction in historical narrative
It’s fiction. I’ve taken a few liberties here and there with their stories. And they weren’t actually close friends, but in my book, my characters inspired by them are friends.
But for the most part, where I could, I followed the real history.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Now in your story, Charlotte, the daughter, they are recently bereaved. Her mother has died. She’s an only child, and her father’s terribly distressed by the death of his wife.
She starts to feel that perhaps it would help him get over his grief if he reconnected with someone that he’d always said he wanted to find in the war. A friend.
She decides that she’s going to help him to find this man, who he credits with saving his life at one stage. And she opens, as they say, the proverbial can of worms, doesn’t she? Tell us a bit about that.
Kelly Rimmer: Yes, so, best of intentions, they decide to look into his past. He knows he was injured in his service in the SOE, but he can’t remember much about the day he was injured because he has got a brain injury and obviously there’s a fair degree of trauma there as well.
They scratched the surface of the past, trying to find the agent who he believes saved his life.
Through that investigation they realize that the whole scenario was much more complicated than he remembered, and they discovered the stories of Josie and Eloise, who are my two, agents in my story, my protagonist in my historical threads of this story.
Betrayed in head office before they ever got to the enemy
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Part of its foundation is the understanding that’s emerged since the war that the Special Operations Executive, the branch of the British Secret Service that handled all of the dispensing of agents over France.
The ones that were so tremendously brave as to jump out of planes into enemy territory and work to support the Resistance…
Some of those people were betrayed from within the SOE even before they set foot on French soil.
And that’s all emerged rather more recently. Can you talk a about that whole situation? When did you become aware of it?
Kelly Rimmer: I started reading a book by M.R.D. Foot, who was the official historian for the SOE, and quickly realized it’s such a different world (they were operating in.)
It’s only 80 odd years ago, but it’s such a different world that the SO E was operating in and information was so much harder to move around.
Michael Foot, M.R.D. Foot talks about ‘the fog of war,’ which is a phrase I’ve used in the book to explain how the SOE lost agents and lost information.
If we had a major event like a war now, obviously you would have data retention policies and you’d be squirreling away every little piece of information that you can, but that wasn’t the case, particularly at the end of the war.
There’s plenty of scenarios where agents landed and were met by Nazi troops on the ground as they were landing.
Henri Dericourt – a likely traitor, protected by bosses
In hindsight, it’s very clear that there were people in the SOE who were betraying information through to the Nazis, but at the time they were operating blind in so many ways.
As soon as I came across that idea and this, gentleman named Henri Dericourt, who was thought to have potentially been quite senior in the SOE, and was very good friends with his second in command, best friends/
He was eventually tried for being a double agent, but was acquitted most likely because his friend Nicolas Bodington, perjured himself to get his friend off.
As soon as I came across that story, I thought it would be really interesting to write about these agents who have the best of intentions. Who have taken to their training with every, ounce of energy and, and dedication that they have and who go off hoping that they can do something to turn the tide of the war.
But they’re really fighting an uphill battle because there are people within the SOE who are working against them.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. And the other terrible thing is that they did not enjoy the normal protection of the rules of engagement of war. Did they tell us what their likely fate was, if that when they did get captured?
Unprotected by the Geneva Convention
Kelly Rimmer: That’s right. They were not uniformed and they didn’t have the protections of the Geneva Convention, so they were treated terribly.
There are most horrific stories about their treatment if they were captured, because the Nazis saw them as illegitimate operatives in their territory.
They would kill them, or capture them and basically torture them. It was horrendous.
Jenny Wheeler: The professor that you refer to, he obviously was a real life person.
In your book Charlotte and her dad made contact with him to see what he can tell them about this agent that her father’s tracking down.
Tell us about the process of balancing fact and fiction.
You’ve got a lot of real-life characters whose stories you’re dealing with. How do you manage that fact and fiction aspect of it?
Kelly Rimmer: Yes, in this book in particular, I found that really challenging.
I’ve written quite an extensive author’s note at the end of this book explaining what’s fact and what’s fiction because there are so many real people who inspired different aspects of this story,
I’ve connected them in ways that they didn’t necessarily, the real characters didn’t necessarily connect, because as a novelist, particularly as a historical fiction novelist, you’re trying to balance honoring history and people’s real stories.
You want to be telling a cohesive and, engaging story. There’s this creative tension versus the ethics of using people’s real stories.
Michael Foot – the official historian
This time, I followed the history quite closely in many aspects of the book, but in other aspects, I have taken liberties and moved things around and moved people around.
So it’s all there in the author’s note.
Michael Foot operated professionally as M. R. D. Foot was the official historian to the SOE, and he did write a book about the SOE which is how we know so much about it. It took him years to get it published.
In 1964, he was finally given permission to publish it.
And that’s why we can, from the comfort of our homes, read and get a real insight into the things that were going on.
But the secrecy around the SOE was so intense that it was drilled into these agents from the very beginning of their kind of connect.
They would be approached and recruited. from the very beginning, it was really drilled into them that every aspect of this is absolutely top secret.
And so even after the war, the government did obscure and there were, documents destroyed accidentally. Documents destroyed intentionally.
There was a fire, there was genuinely a fire in the Baker Street Records which mostly took out records related to the Belgium section of the SOE, but it did destroy a whole bunch of information that would’ve been great for historians to access.
Did the triple spy fake his own death?
And so I used all of those scenarios and then wrote a fictional version of Michael Foot because this character was going to be integral in my story.
I think where Michael Foot alive, he would be very disinterested in being the star of a novel, so, him personally, I haven’t based the actual character on him, but rather on his job.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. And I did look up Henri Dericourt because I was rather fascinated by the whole story.
I see that he died in rather mysterious circumstances after the war.
Although, as you say, he wasn’t convicted, it seems like his reputation was in indelibly tarnished.
Tell me what you think happened to him because he died mysteriously and his body was never found.
Kelly Rimmer: That’s right. He found it very difficult to reestablish himself, even after he was acquitted and he eventually ended up working in Laos for a – the nickname of the route he was flying – he was a pilot — was Air Opium.
That should give you some insight into what he was doing.
He died. I think it was 1962. He was on a plane that was loaded with gold. It crashed and his body was never recovered.
There is speculation that he may be faked his own death and started a new life, which is so unfair – if it did happen it’s so unfair to think that this man will get off scot-free.
I hate the thought of it, but is a possibility, most likely.
Kelly Rimmer’s remarkable writing process
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Were the bodies of the other people on the plane found?
Kelly Rimmer: You know, I don’t know that, but I assume that the gold was recovered if there was gold there. I can’t imagine a plane full of gold crushing and nobody bothering to get the gold back.
Jenny Wheeler: Exactly. Yeah. The story is intricately plotted and I’d be really interested, and I’m sure the listeners would too, to hear how you approach writing a book like this. What’s your process?
Kelly Rimmer: I’m not a super organized person in any other facet of my life, but when I write, I am an obsessive plotter.
Before I start writing, I usually know the first and last sentences or have an idea of the first and last sentences.
I do know exactly what will happen in every scene and I usually plan out where the story’s going, particularly with a multiple narrative story like this, I generally have an idea when I’m going to switch narratives.
I write quite a long outline and then I use Scrivener to manage my writing. I move that across into Scrivener, and then I write it in chapters.
Not necessarily in order, because when if I feel like I’m getting blocked, it usually means I haven’t spent enough time daydreaming about that scene, and so I will skip the scene and go on something else that does feel like it’s going to flow.
Multiple time lines – real and fictional
But I know basically where the story’s going. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t surprises. I get surprised.
I’ll be writing and I’ll think, ‘oh, that’s a good idea.’ I go with that creative energy when it comes. But I also track my timelines really extensively with software called Aeon Timeline.
The timeline for this book was crazy. I had things everywhere. I usually had one timeline for real history. And then I have timelines for each character and where they intersect.
If I’m moving things or taking liberties with things, I make notes about that so I know when I’ve done it.
It is a weird combination of obsessive planning and then the chaos of the creative mind.
Jenny Wheeler: The other thing that made this one slightly more complicated again, is that of course all her agents have two names.
They have their real name and they have their name in the field. So even as a reader, you have to try and keep track of when it’s Josie. Now, hang on. Which one’s Josie, because that’s her agent name.
That must have added to it all.
Surviving Ross River fever by dictation
Kelly Rimmer: They often had more than one name, so they would have an operative name and they’d have all different names that they would use in a field because they’d have multiple different fake IDs.
It was a case of, I need to simplify this because I can’t have one character that has six or eight names through the book.
I’ve kept it to a few, but it is a case of part of the intrigue of it. That high secrecy that I was talking about is that these people really abandoned their own identity. to become other people.
I’ve tried to give readers a hint of that in the way that I’ve done the using their code names.
Jenny Wheeler: Before we began recording, you also were mentioning that you quite often use dictation as part of your production process. Where does that come in?
Kelly Rimmer: Well, when I working on maybe third book, I had Ross River Fever and I had very sore hands. I was really struggling to type.
I go a little bit crazy when I’m not writing. It’s my favorite thing to do.
I was desperately trying to find a way to keep writing when without breaking my joints.
I started tinkering around with dictating into an old school manual transcriber and then down the track I started using software called Dragon Dictate.
And at first, it was really difficult because you have to train the software, and you have to train yourself.
The transporting to Scrivener software
It’s a really different process, but over time it’s become second nature.
So now almost all of my first draft is usually dictated. I then edit with the keyboard.
I try to write conversationally. I don’t want the book to feel inaccessible. I always want my stories to feel like you’re having a conversation with a friend and they’re telling you something that happened.
For me, speaking the story, the first draft of the story is really integral. Part of that process of getting the tone and the voice right.
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. And so then do you put it into Scrivener after you’ve done that dictate?
Kelly Rimmer: Yes. Unfortunately, I can’t dictate straight into Scrivener.
I usually dictate into Notepad or something and then move it into Scrivener where I pretty it up. I don’t edit as I go, as a lot of writers do. I write the first draft in a race to the end. I write as quickly as I can to finish the first draft because I am a much better editor than I am writer.
I think that first draft is a mess.
Jenny Wheeler: If it comes out good in the end, you don’t have to be worried about that, do you?
Kelly Rimmer: I try. I don’t want to break the process because it is working quite well so far. But yes, it is pretty messy.
World War II stories in Warsaw and the US
Jenny Wheeler: You’ve done five or six historical novels now, haven’t you? But two of the more recent ones that preceded this, one was set in Germany and the other in Poland.
You’ve mentioned your Polish origins, but this is another Polish book. The German one was The German Wife and the Polish one was The Warsaw Orphan.
And both of those dealt with fascinating true life situations. The German Wife deals with Operation Paperclip.
I’ve never heard the name of that operation, but it was a controversial secret US intelligence program that employed former Nazis after World War II.
Now, these were the famous scientists, the ones who’d known about the atomic bomb and such.
But tell us about the premise for The German wife and how you turned it into an interesting novel?
Kelly Rimmer: Yeah, I was at Parkes, because there’s a radio telescope there that helped relay the moon footage when the moon landing happened.
There was a big commemorative festival for the moon landing. And I was wondering through the festival and there a marquee where they had historical information about that event.
And I’ve read this one line that said ‘from 1950 the Americans took German scientists to the US and they worked on the early rocket program, which eventually led to the US landing on the moon.’
And I read that line and I was writing other World War II books, I think I was probably finishing The Warsaw Orphan at the time.
Operation Paperclip and Wernher von Barun
And the idea that the US would take Nazi scientists and basically, lift them, dump them in America and leave them as free citizens to work because they saw the science as valuable enough to unsavory aspects of their past.
That blew my mind. I just could not believe that that was a thing. I quickly fell down a rabbit hole of Operation Paperclip, researching it.
By the time I got home that night – it’s about an hour and a half drive – by the time I got home, I had the idea for the book pretty much co concreted in.
I found it to be so incredible, how does everybody not know that, about this?
Even Americans don’t know very much about this.
Because it was initially kept so secret and the Americans very much wanted to convince their public that they would, yes, they were bringing some Germans over, but if any of them were Nazis, then they can’t come.
These are good Germans, but it was much more complex than that.
And so this story follows this character. He’s very loosely based on Wernher von Braun.
Who was the chief US rocket scientist, but who was also an SS officer back in Germany and was potentially right at the cusp of some absolutely hideous aspects to the German rocket program.
It follows the story of a family involved in the Nazi Rocket program and their journey to the US and what it was like landing in Huntsville and mingling it freely in this little town full of Americans.
Some of them hated the Germans and didn’t want them there.
Some of them -because the town was kind of dying – some of them were so grateful to have the rocket program base there that they were happy to overlook any suspicions that they had.
It’s very interesting stuff.
Irena Sendler and the unnamed team
Jenny Wheeler: They were effectively rehabilitating Nazis, weren’t they?
Kelly Rimmer: They were, yes. Or, at least, whitewashing their past and hoping nobody ever found out about it.
Jenny Wheeler: And then The Warsaw Orphan was inspired by a real life Jewish heroine who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children.
We’ve heard about a number of these heroic figures, but I don’t think we’ve heard very much about this one.
Kelly Rimmer: I was in Poland in 2017 researching for The Things We Cannot Say, and I was at the Polin, which is a museum of Jewish history in Warsaw.
It’s actually my favorite museum that I’ve ever been to. It’s this incredible building and this incredible, display of thousand years of Jewish history in Poland.
And I was in the gift shop afterwards and I saw this book. Called Irena’s Children, and I had never heard of Irena Sendler.
I bought the book and then started reading it and really quickly became, again, down the rabbit hole.
Irena was a Polish Catholic woman, a social worker who coordinated this team of about 12 people to go into the Warsaw Ghetto and then sneak children out, and then hide them in, Catholic families on the other side of the walls around the ghetto.
A women’s rescue op like Schindler’s
And all through Poland, they managed to get them out into convents and orphanages, and they’d do things like, they would have the Jewish boys live as girls, so that nobody would check that they were circumcised or not.
They would dye children’s hair, they would teach them Polish, they would teach them Catholic prayers so that if the Nazis tried to interrogate them, they would be able to pass convincingly as Catholic.
But the thing that really struck me as I read about Sandler was that in lots of the literature about her, there is this little phrase like ‘Irena Sendler and her team of 12, mostly women workers.’
These women, these unnamed women, for the most part, women, every day were risking their lives to sneak into the ghetto, which is like hell on earth, sneak in and risk their lives to sneak children out, and the historical record doesn’t even name them.
I was really interested to write a book that was based around a member of that team. It’s not a sequel to The Things We Cannot Say, but my main character from The Warsaw Orphan is a minor character in The Things We Cannot Say.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that’s gorgeous. What got you started writing fiction? Was there a kind of light bulb moment? You say now you love writing so much, it’s essential for your being. Has it always been like that?
Captured by Heidi’s magic at age 8
Kelly Rimmer: Yes. My dad tells me, that in kindergarten, I told him I was going to be a writer. I don’t remember that. I do remember crying in kindergarten because we had these, storyboards with, you know, little, Velcro words that we could make sentences with on felt.
And my teacher made me put it down to go out to the playground to play.
It’s one of my first memories, but it really switched on for me when I read Heidi. I think I was eight, and I read Heidi.
I remember it was – we were living in Sydney at the time – and I remember just being so absorbed by that book.
I’m in the Swiss Alps with the grandfather and I’m smelling the hay and eating the goat cheese, and then I put the book down and I’m in my bedroom in Western Sydney
I was just like, what magic is this? I always wrote for fun. I was probably 13 or 14 when I wrote my first novel length handwritten stack of papers like this.
But it was always my hobby. Over the years I just wrote and wrote and wrote, and I would edit and then discard.
I was writing just for myself. It has always been my thing. I love to read too, and I think that’s how I learned to write.
It was from reading voraciously. But now it’s essential to my life as breathing. I can’t imagine not doing it.
Jenny Wheeler: And those things that you wrote say in your teens, what sort of books were they?
Kelly Rimmer: They were awful. They were terrible.
I’m so happy that we lost them all when we moved. I would be so embarrassed to read them now,
There were all kinds of things. I’ve always had a real interest in speculative fiction.
I don’t write in this genre now, but I’ve always had a real interest in speculative fiction. And so lots of reimaginings of the future.
Favorite theme – unlikely people in teams
Some quite dark and dire because I was a moody teenager.
And then, other times I’ve always been fascinated about connections between people.
So even then I was tinkering with family dramas and stories about people without teams. I really like the idea of writing about people that, unlikely people that make teams.
That’s always been kind of my, doesn’t matter what the setting is, that’s really at the heart of all of my stories.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. What was the first one that, that, where did you get the intersection to seriously getting published? How did that happen?
Kelly Rimmer: I had it in my head. So, keep in mind I was seriously writing from 14 and I always thought that by the time I was 35 I’d be a career writer.
I don’t know where that number came from. It came from somewhere, but always I thought 35, by then I’ll be a proper grownup, and I’ll be able to write, that’s how it’s going to be.
A shock birthday led to Kelly getting published
And I woke up on my 33rd birthday and I had never told anyone, and I hadn’t finished any of my writing, and I had this real crisis that day of like, I’m nearly thirty-five. I
t takes a long time to get published and I’m not even trying. I made a spreadsheet of all different publishers. there were big publishers there and little publishers there, and I really thought it all seemed too hard to be honest with you.
I would look at publishing form submission guidelines and it’d be like, format the document this way.
And I was very intimidated by all of that. especially because even some of my closest friends didn’t know I was writing
My husband knew that I was a writer, I don’t think he understood how much, how determined I was, and how important it was to me, because I was quite embarrassed about it.
I always used to think, who am I to think I can tell a story that people would want to read?
That seems really silly, but that was the prevailing voice in my head for a really long time.
Then I let some friends read an
early draft of what became Me Without You, which was my first published book.
And they were so encouraging and they were all so shocked, but they were so kind about it.
Choosing the right publisher a key
And I was out at dinner with some of them and they were saying to me, you’ve gotta do this. you’re so good at this, give it a go.
And on my spreadsheet there was this little tiny digital publisher in the UK that was very new but I thought they had really good potential to grow and their name was Bookouture and I submitted to them and they took that book.
Hachette has bought them out, and they’re massive. Probably one of the best digital publishers in the world
So I went out for dinner with some friends who were, very encouraging about the early draft that they’d read. And when I went home, I really impulsively, it was actually middle of the night, exactly what you’re not supposed to do.
I submitted the manuscript and they ultimately published it. And, my whole career started from there. I did four books with them and they grew and grew and I rode their coattails and here we are.
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. So now Booker is owned by a big publishing. Company, aren’t they?
Kelly Rimmer: They are now. They weren’t at the time, When I first signed with them, Oliver Rhodes who was the founder who had worked with some big publishers before. It was actually his pedigree that attracted me to the company
Being IT savvy also a big bonus
I’d read some interviews he’d done and he seemed to have such a great vision for digital publishing, and so it was him and a part-time publicist, and now they’ve got dozens of staff and they’ve grown exponentially over the years since then.
Jenny Wheeler: Before you got to that key moment at 33, when you looked at yourself and thought, how am I going get published by the time I’m 35?
What had you done from the time you left school until then and, has that in any way helped or hindered your writing career now?
Kelly Rimmer: I’ve worked in all sorts of really interesting jobs, but most recently I’d been working in IT in software development.
Sometimes when I’ve done writing workshops and I show people my process and how regimented it is and how much I plan before I write, and how much I rely on different software to bring it all together.
I think that is probably all informed by that background, working with technology. And other than that, publishing and it are, polar ends of a spectrum in the sense of it is, so male dominated and it’s such a. It’s, quite a regimented professional industry.
There’s a lot of handshaking and deep voices and, and publishing. I work mostly with women and there’s a lot of hugging, it can be a tough industry too, but it is much warmer in some ways.
Writing WWII suspense from semi- rural Australian home
I think I came in and had a bit of culture shock at first, but, but every experience as a writer, every experience you have in some way becomes gold for you to mine.
It probably is all in there somewhere.
Jenny Wheeler: And you are based in semi-rural New South Wales, Australia, and you are writing European historicals. Is that difficult sometimes? Do you have to do a lot of traveling to resource libraries, or how do you manage that gap?
Kelly Rimmer: Well, I love traveling and then the pandemic happened and it made it so much more difficult to go and be in the places where I wanted to be as I was researching.
But we do live in such a digital age, and for someone like me, I’m somewhat computer savvy and I found it quite easy to access what I needed to.
For example, with The Warsaw Orphan, there was this one particular resource I needed to use, an archive of documents that had been stowed away under the Warsaw ghetto and then discovered again.
There were resources there that would help me to paint an accurate picture of life in the ghetto.
‘Secret’ of Kelly Rimmer’s success
And that was the first year of the pandemic. I had planned a trip, which I had postponed because I went on tour in the US.
And then I came home and I was getting ready to go again, and then the, you know, ‘no travel’ for years. But I was able to access all of that, if not online, I could order what I needed online.
So, I think if you’re digitally savvy, this is a really good time to be writing because it’s, it’s almost unlimited what you can access via contacts on the internet or resources on the internet.
Jenny Wheeler: Fantastic. Look, there’s one, you know, nut nutshell question that I like to ask everybody, but if there was one thing that you said, As the secret of your success as an author in your creative career, what would it be?
Kelly Rimmer: Yeah, sometimes I’ve had writers say to me, it all happened quite easy for you. Like the first publisher I submitted to took my book and published it, and then that publisher made that book a success and why did it happen so quickly? But there was 20 years of me practicing and I think, I really think as a writer you have to be willing to.
Throw away words, and it sounds probably counterintuitive, but sometimes I’ve spoken to writers who say, I’ve finished my book and I’m going to find a publisher. Now, sometimes your first book is a practice book or your first few books are practice books and it, you’ve gotta be willing to let it go and sometimes, sometimes you’ve gotta just write things for yourself.
Dreams realised with an Orange bookstore
You know, and for me, even now, I, I tend to overwrite and I’ll have many more words than I need, and I have to be willing to let many, many words go before, you know, at that final stage. And I think understanding that the, even like in terms of the daydreaming, so I do so much daydreaming, you know, even when I’m walking my dogs or putting around the house, I’m in this story all the time.
And you have to be able to accept that not everything you experience as you’re planning and daydreaming about the story will end up in the final version.
Jenny Wheeler: I think that’s very wise advice. When you started out with writing, what was your main goal? And have you achieved it?
Kelly Rimmer: I dreamed about getting published. That seemed like this unlikely, lofty goal. And then I thought, oh, if I could write full-time, that would be incredible. And then that happened. And as a kid, the, the ultimate, like the ridiculous high dream was that I would be a writer who owned a. Bookstore. Well now I own a bookstore and I write full-time.
So really, it’s all kind of, I have been incredibly fortunate that it’s all kind of fallen into place just as I didn’t dare imagine that it would, but, you know, secretly hoped so, yeah.
Commercial fiction a special love
Jenny Wheeler: Well, that’s fascinating. What, where is your bookstore?
Kelly Rimmer: So it’s about, it’s in a town called Orange, which is, near the biggest kind of city, the regional city near where I live. And it’s, so, it’s about 20 minutes away from where I live. And it’s, yeah, it’s we purchased it last year from, this amazing couple that had, established it and owned it for 25 years.
Jenny Wheeler: And is it digital as well? I mean, can, can listeners find it?
Kelly Rimmer: They can find us online. So this store is called Collins Booksellers Orange. And so we’re on all the usual platforms, you know, all of their social medias on the web. Yeah, and it, it is primarily a print, kind of face-to-face book store, but we do have online things as well.
Jenny Wheeler: And what do the people in Orange want to read? Have you influenced the stock control A any since you’ve taken over?
Kelly Rimmer: I love commercial fiction, so I love, I love accessible stories that people, to lose themselves in. So we have, we have a really wide range of, of books, but real, I, I don’t know that I’ve influenced it, but, but I think. Sometimes book sellers, not, not, not the ones that I bought the bookstore off, but there are other booksellers who sometimes really prioritize, you know, rabbit ears, quality literature and literary fiction.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for it
But I think people, particularly young people, are reading a lot of. A lot, a lot of commercial fiction. We have so many young people who come in to the store and they’ll say things, they’ll be a little bit embarrassed, like, oh, I heard about this book on Booktalk. Or, oh, my friend was reading this book, but it’s only, you know, it’s only this romance or it’s only this fantasy.
And I, I think that every book that anyone picks up generally has something to teach them, and there’s no shame in reading any kind of literature. So we’re trying to stock a nice wide range of books that people just love to read. That’s really, at the end of the day, what we’re aiming to do.
Jenny Wheeler: Oh, that sounds wonderful because one of my favorite little things really is that quite often I think with literary fiction, people get guilted into reading some of those books.
Kelly Rimmer: Yes. I mean, I’m not, I love, there’s like some of my, actually two of my favorite books are literary fiction books. I love it too, but I think that the more that we try and force people into literature, that’s a little harder to lose yourself in sometimes. You know, you have to focus just that little bit more and it makes it, it puts a barrier there between the reader and reading as a hobby.
And so whatever the entry point is, I don’t care if you’re reading children’s books and you’re 30, that’s completely fine. If you’re reading, it’s good.
What Kelly Rimmer is reading now
Jenny Wheeler: Absolutely. And it’s a sad thing if any book that’s that’s good enough that people go into a bookstore and ask for, it deserves to be published.
Kelly Rimmer: A hundred percent. Yep, exactly.
Jenny Wheeler: Look, it’s good that you’ve mentioned about your reading taste, because that’s the next thing I’d like to ask you about. We always do like to ask our authors about the things they’re reading at the moment. Tell us what, what your passions are at the moment.
Kelly Rimmer: I, I read just about everything except horror and crime. I’m a real, I’m a real fra cat. I have such a vivid imagination. I can’t read crime and I can’t read horror, but I’ll read. Pretty much anything else? I love to listen to memoirs on audio, and I, at the moment I’ve got, I think I’ve got, oh goodness, I think I’ve got four books on the bow.
I’ve got a galley that I’m reading, like an advanced copy, and I’ve got, I’m reading Dear Mrs. Bird, by A. J. Pearce,, which I think everybody in the world read a few years ago, and I somehow missed, and I’m reading All Adults Here by Emma Straub, which is fantastic. What is the other one? I’ve I’ve got like my computer bag book, and then I’ve got my laptop my handbag book.
One thing she’d change about her career?
And then I’ve got my Beside the bed book. And then I’ve got a Kindle and then I have my audio books on my phone. So there’s always, it’s a bit ridiculous, but I always have lots on the go.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s gorgeous. Looking back down the tunnel of time, if there was one thing about your creative career you’d change, what would it be?
Kelly Rimmer: I think I’ve been so fortunate. I can’t complain about much of anything really. In some ways I wish I’d been a little braver to try and be published earlier. Sometimes people say to me at events, oh, I wanna be a writer, but it’s too late because I’m X years old.
And I always say, this is not ballet. It is never too late. And in fact, sometimes, a few more years give you wisdom to write in a way that, , if you can’t get published at. 20, you might be able to get published at 30.
Because seasons change and the book that you’re writing might be something publishers want.
But, for me, I think I was a coward for such a long time. It was so precious to me that I didn’t think I’d handle criticism well. And then it turned out that I handle criticism just fine. Once the book is out there, people can love it and people can hate it.
What’s next for Kelly Rimmer?
It’s not my business anymore, but for so many years, that really held me back and that’s probably, if I had a time machine, I probably would go back and shake myself a little earlier and say, come on, you love this so much. Just try.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. Yeah. What’s next for Kelly, the author in terms of what have you got on your desk for the next 12 months, or even in terms of, publicity tours? What have you got on?
Kelly Rimmer: I’m writing, I’m about to start a new book. I’m still working on the premise, so I can’t say too much about it, but I will be writing. I’ve got a little bit of, Australian touring in the next couple of weeks, but not too much. And for the most part, I’ll just be writing, I think.
And I think this year I’ve got this, side fun project, which is a speculative fiction project that I’ll probably work on a little bit this year too, although I don’t know if I’ll ever publish it. That one is just my fun, you know, personal, fun side thing.
Jenny Wheeler: Great. And do you enjoy interacting with readers and where can they find you online?
Kelly Rimmer: Oh yes, I am. My website is kellyrimmer.com and all of my social links are there. I’m mostly on Instagram and Facebook, but I’ve got email and the other bits and pieces there too that readers can find.
Jenny Wheeler: And that book that you’re working on, is it another European historical or something quite different?
Kelly Rimmer: All I’ll say is it is another historical.
Jenny Wheeler: Okay. Historical. That’s good.
Kelly Rimmer: Yes.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely. Kelly, look, thank you so much for your time. I think we have gone over our 30 minutes, but it’s been a delight to talk
Kelly Rimmer: Oh, it’s so nice to meet you, Jenny, and thanks for having me.
If you enjoyed Kelly you might also enjoy…
World War II Women Spies with Christine Wells,,
Christine Wells’ World War II historical fiction celebrates strong, courageous women with story lines that faithfully reflect the true lives of real spies and resistance workers.
Next week on Binge Reading
Jenny Wheeler: Next week on Binge Reading award-winning Australian author, Mark Brandi with his latest poignant, small town mystery, a coming of age story called Southern Aurora.
Jimmy as a kid growing up fast on the poorest street in town. He tries to do everything right. And look out for his mum and his younger brother.
But small town life is unforgiving. If you’re from the other side of the tracks.
Remember, if you enjoy the show, leave us a review. So others will find us too and find great books that I want to read. That’s it for today. See you next week and happy reading.