It is a pleasure to warmly welcome Kelly Van Nelson to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a short form author interview series. To help celebrate the release of Punch and Judy, we sat down for a chat. Thanks Kelly!
What is your drink of choice as we sit down for a chat about your new book?
Coffee and more coffee until cocktail hour falls upon us, and then a Mohito in a long glass with loads of crushed ice.
Can you give us an overview of your writing career to date?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but in the last four years or so, my literary journey has really taken on a new life of its own. My poems, short stories, and articles have featured in numerous international publications (Parthian Books, Serenity Press, Short Story Society, United Press, Between These Shores Books, Fiction War, Female, Leader, Reflex Press, Creatrix, Now, Kidspot, MindFood, YMag). My work has also begun to receive extensive media attention in newspapers such as The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Peninsula Living, The West, and Manly Daily and I’ve been appearing on Weekend Today, Channel 7 and Channel 9 News, ABC News and Radio, and BBC Radio. I’ve also been interviewed for the Today Tonight Show on cyberbullying and am about to appear on Ticker TV discussing domestic violence.
Graffiti Lane, my debut poetry collection, was released last year and became an Amazon #1 Poetry Bestseller. It focuses on social issues such as bullying, domestic violence, mental health, and suicide, as well as the power of resilience in overcoming obstacles. A collector’s edition of Graffiti Lane will be released in late 2020, fusing poetry and street photography. Graffiti Lane showcased at the London Book Fair and was gifted to Gold Logie Award Nominees at last year’s TV Week Logies. This year it has been given to Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Aniston, The Kardashians, Megan Fox, and Jennifer Lopez in their birthday swag bags. Graffiti Lane was also presented to all of the Hollywood 2020 Oscar Winners and Nominees and featured on the celebrity news segment on CBS KCAL TV, LA. It’s surreal and I’m still pinching myself.
My second poetry book, Punch and Judy, has just been released, and focuses on a turbulent relationship and domestic violence. On launch day it went straight in at #1 bestseller position in Australia. Ultimately, I am trying to drive awareness and positive change around topics that I am passionate about.
I’m the recipient of a First Edition Fellowship through Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre, an AusMumpreneur ‘Big Idea – Changing the World’ Gold Award winner for creative use of the written, spoken, and visual word as an antibullying advocate, a double Roar Success Award winner for Best Book (Graffiti Lane) and Most Powerful Influencer, and a 2020 finalist for the Telstra NSW Businesswoman of the Year Award. Of late, I’ve been pushing myself out of comfort zone, hanging out on the open mic and performing live at numerous poetry slams around the world. I’m also exploring kinetic typography poetry and making short poetry movies to take my messages to broader audiences, a couple which streamed at this year’s Melbourne Spoken Word Festival. I love fusing different creative methods to challenge the status quo.
Can you tell us what inspired the creation of your new release, Punch and Judy?
Punch and Judy explores the tangled intensity of a toxic relationship, tackling modern love and a turbulent relationship that spirals into an abusive situation with a controlling puppetmaster. When I began writing this poetry collection, it began as a series of contemporary love poems, designed to capture the ups and downs of a turbulent relationship. A partnership beginning with intense attraction, then digressing into a trapped world of arguments and pain. The characters of Punch and Judy morphed, along with a burning desire to have Judy find the inner strength to break free from the toxic situation, eventually finding herself and the love she deserved elsewhere. I wanted to speak out for brave women who are dealing with complex relationship challenges for many different reasons. The book also talks to inner resilience and forging new paths to a better destiny.
As a child, there were always arguments in our household that filled me with fear and angst. I used to cower under my duvet, reading Enid Blyton to try to tune out harsh real-world realities. The current domestic violence statistics against women and children are terrifying and demonstrate the prevalence and severity of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, sadly sometimes even murder. In Australia, White Ribbon reports that one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, one in four women have experienced emotional abuse since the age of fifteen, and 85% of women have been sexually harassed. The negative impact of abuse is enormous on mental health, with intimate partner violence being the leading contributor to illness, disability and premature death for women aged between eighteen and forty-four.
I’ve always been passionate about working with youths to raise awareness on issues that matter, coaching them on ways to leverage resilience to overcome the many obstacles life can bring. For children exposed to domestic violence, the impact on their social well-being and mental health can be profound, so we have an important part to play in helping the youth community in breaking cycles of violence. Only by raising awareness, generating conversation, challenging sexist attitudes, and calling out negative behaviour, can we promote respectful relationships and change society for the better. Punch and Judy are entirely fictional characters, but Judy represents every woman out there fighting to find the safe-haven they deserve and an environment where they can thrive. Punch and Judy is my way of offering support and strength where I can.
How different was the experience of writing Punch and Judy, compared to previous release, Graffiti Lane?
Graffiti Lane was a series of poems that morphed into a collection over a number of years. Some of the pieces in that book are over a decade old, others much newer, and the urban theme is quite broad, covering society, contemporary street art, bullying, and resilience. Punch and Judy was more condensed in its theme of turbulent love and domestic violence. It was written in a one-year period, with a very specific vision in mind on the concept of the puppets, Punch and Judy, that is the thread that pulls the collection together. I’ve evolved somewhat as a poet too over time, experimenting more with different freeflow styles and being more expressive in the way I present my work, both visually on the page and vocally. I’m having more fun these days with poetry, even though the topics I cover are often serious ones.
Did you have an affinity with a particular piece in Punch and Judy and why?
I really love ‘Cube’. It takes an object of a Rubik’s Cube and uses an extended metaphor technique throughout the piece to depict the different sides of personality and the downfalls of love. It’s one of my favourite pieces to perform on the open mic, because it tells an epic love story start to finish and I can incorporate a great beat to it when performing it live. I’ve turned this piece into a visual kinetic typography poem which is available to watch on my You Tube Channel, blending the visual movement of words to the poetry audio.
What is one thing that you really hope readers will take away from the experience of reading Punch and Judy?
I’d love this collection to attract new readers who might otherwise not have been a fan of the genre before, encouraging them to embrace and enjoy different poetic styles. Poetry is making a huge comeback and is way more hip and cool than ever before. For women who are in challenging relationships, I hope this collection helps them feel less alone, to know they are courageous, and to encourage them to reach out to someone they trust for support. I hope to leave people thinking about the underlying messages of the poems way after they have finished reading and to enjoy the journey of Punch and Judy which I think is a good representation of my modern approach to poetry.
Have you developed any quirks or habits while writing?
Yes!! I no longer carry a notebook in my handbag. Instead I type impromptu lines for potential poems on my phone while I am on the move. I also use the voice recording app for the same purpose. To record ideas or one liner concepts I think up while out and about and want to capture, so I can expand on them later.
How has your writing process been affected by COVID-19?
Covid has had a huge impact on my life, at work in my corporate day job, at home with the family, and in my writing world. I have not done a live author event for months now and I did my Punch and Judy book launch online. I have embraced technology with open arms, doing virtual open mics in several countries to remain connected to the poetry and writing community. I miss the live interaction, but also this online era has allowed me to do five gigs in one day across countries from Australia to the USA, UK, Singapore, and NZ. I have been part of line-ups with world class poets who I never would have otherwise met without the pandemic changing the way events are hosted and I am finding performing at the top-notch poetry slams addictive! The world is suddenly smaller due to technology but bigger due to inability to travel. I hunt out the silver linings and am taking this window of time to really expand my writing network worldwide.
What book or books do you recommend that I add to my reading pile?
I’ve just finished reading I am her Tribe by Danielle Doby. It’s a modern poetry collection published by Andrews McMeel about spiritual enlightenment, the power of breath, self-belief and inner strength. Beautifully soft and intimate in style, I devoured it in one sitting while lying in the bath one night with candles burning. By the time I climbed out, my water was freezing and I hadn’t even noticed.
What are you working on writing wise at present?
Rolling in the Mud, is a short story collection I have been working on and it is now scheduled for release in late 2020 via Ginninderra Press which is exciting. It will be my first full length fiction book to hit the shelves. My novel, 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, is scheduled for release in 2021 with Serenity Press, but it needs another rewrite as I wrote it some time ago and want to change quite a few aspects of the narrative. And I’m still recording those poetry soundbites on my phone while I am in the supermarket queue, so I hope to get another poetry collection out when I can make something beautiful from my random ramblings!
Thank you for the lovely tea break and chat Kelly. Congratulations on the release of Punch and Judy.
Punch and Judy explores the tangled intensity of a toxic relationship. Kelly Van Nelson, brings her trademark gritty style to this modern poetry collection. She takes readers on the rollercoaster journey from attraction and desire of a couple initially meeting, through the turbulence of abuse at the hands of a puppet master, to eventually finding the courage to cut strings and break free. Punch and Judy challenges the taboo and delves into what goes on behind closed doors, bringing much needed conversation on domestic violence to the forefront of society.
Punch and Judy by Kelly Van Nelson was published on 1st August 2020 by Making Magic Happen Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Kelly here: