The advance copies arrive


The wonderful moment when I first hold the book which represents years of obsessive pleasure.

Thank you to LaTrobe University, my PhD supervisor Professor Sue Martin, Cambridge University Press, family, friends and most of all, my husband, Damian. All that work to get the PhD was so very worth it.

It’s finished – a strange feeling of loss

I have sent back the page proofs. I have done the last correction. After seven years of nurturing my baby every day, there is nothing more I can do. The book is now completely under the control of Cambridge University Press and I have no more say in it.


I have checked it and checked it, yet I know I will have missed something. There are just too many words and ideas and I am so prone to mistakes. I read what I meant to write and not what is actually on the page.

Confession time: I had an indigenous ceremony in Australia being traded across 16,000 km, when that far would get it to England. I had Julius Caesar arriving in England in the first Century AD instead of BC. How can it have gone through so many checks and I not have noticed those serious mistakes? Those sentences were in the thesis and every version of the manuscript. What else have I missed?

The next time I shall see those words is when I have the book in front of me, sometime before the publication date of 30 June 2015. Then it will go out into the world. People may love it. But they also may hate it and critics may attack it mercilessly and there is nothing I can do. Archaeologists may argue with my ideas, but that is fine. It means it has been read and that it is contributing to the debate. All ideas are refined by others over time.

Now I just wait.

(Oh, and work on Ancient Memory Spaces for the mainstream market!)

MonsterTalk interview on my beloved spiders

I am a recovered arachnophobe. I now adore spiders. Absolutely adore them and am endlessly fascinated by their incredibly varied lives.  I told that story in my book, Spiders: learning to love them, published by Allen & Unwin in 2009.

spiders-front-covI am still enthralled by spiders, go out and watch them and want to tell the whole world that there is nothing to fear in these incredible critters.

I got to wax lyrical about them on the American podcast, MonsterTalk. They describe it as:

ONE OF THE MOST COMMON FEARS in the world is the fear of spiders. But what does a rationalist do when gripped by an irrational fear? MonsterTalk interviews author Lynne Kelly about her transition from arachnophobia to spider enthusiast. Note: This episode deals with spider sexual reproduction which includes masturbation and cannibalism.
You can listen here. It was great fun!

Spiders is available from Amazon and other book shops.

Feminine Magic – another theme, another genre

I held out the deck of cards, a bicycle deck. I had said nothing. I had done nothing beyond holding out a deck of cards in dealers’ grip. The teenager turned to his friends and said ‘I know this one’. The girls wandered off.

A week later, the teenagers were around a table. I slowly unwrapped the leather pouch and took from it a very old deck of cards. I told how they had belonged to my great‐grandmother and have magic powers that I don’t understand. I held the precious deck out to show them, in dealers’ grip. No‐one already knew it and none of the girls wandered off.

This essay is not just about being a female magician, but about being a feminine one. I’m always dressed in long skirts, lots of jewellery and all the trappings of somebody who loves being female. This essay is about the reasons I feel there are not many feminine magicians.


That is the opening to an article which was reprinted in The Journal of Performance Magic published by the University of Huddersfield Press. The entire article can be found here:

It was originally commissioned for The Magiculum edited by Todd Landman.

My father had been an amateur magician, so I had always loved it as I did anything even vaguely related to him. But it was through research for my book, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal, that I became intrigued about why and how people were convinced by false perceptions. Meeting magicians in Australia and the UK, especially Ian Rowland and Lewis Jones, sent me off on a new obsession.

My leather pouch has the old deck of cards, the handwritten book left by my great-grandmother and packages of other strange cards. It’s all an illusion. I love it!

Obsessions are great when you are a non-fiction writer. Material is simply everywhere.

Arts Victoria grant for Ancient Memory Spaces

Some days are just so significant they become milestones in your life. I have no doubt last  Wednesday will be one.

An email arrived headed Arts Victoria funding outcome, and I could see the opening words “I am pleased to advise that you have been successful …” Obviously this is a fantastic email to get because of the money awarded. But it is much more than that. It is my first literary grant. It is recognition of my status as a writer. Can you imagine how good that was for my self-esteem?

Ancient Memory Spaces is for the general reader and will focus on the memory methods used by indigenous cultures to memorise vast amounts of rational information. It then shows how a simpler version of these methods were used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans and then slowly became more specialised in the Middle Ages and Renaissance until they disappeared in Western cultures other than for world memory champions showing off in memory competitions. Ancient Memory Spaces then shows how these ideas explain the purpose of ancient monuments around the world, including the great houses of Chaco Canyon, Easter Island, the mound builders along the Mississippi, the Nasca lines in Peru and many more. And of course, Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites including Avebury, the Ness of Brodgar, Newgrange and the amazing 3000 standing stones of Carnac.

So much fun and I am now funded to write it!

Meanwhile, back at the Cambridge book, Knowledge and power in prehistoric societies, we are just up to the production phase. There’s much more on my blog specifically about my research, Memory Spaces The designers have chosen one of my photos for the cover. Not surprisingly, it is of Stonehenge – one of the all important Welsh bluestones overshadowed (both physically and metaphorically) by the huge sarsen trilithon. Here’s the image. I can’t wait to see what they do with it.


The Writing Process Blog Hop

The Writing Process Blog Hop is a movement which asks that writers answer the four Writing Process questions and then nominate a few others to do the same.  You then thank the writer who nominated you, pointing to their blog. So, thank you Peter Macinnis for the nomination.

What are you working on?


I am finalising the manuscript for an academic book based on my research into the extraordinary memory methods indigenous cultures use to retain huge amounts of practical and scientific knowledge without writing anything down. I propose that  enigmatic archaeological sites such as Stonehenge are primarily as knowledge spaces – somewhere to aid memory and convey information, most of which is practical, the stuff survival depends on. The book will be published next year by Cambridge University Press as Knowledge and power in prehistoric societies: orality, memory and the transmission of culture. Academic titles are like that!

I have just completed a proposal for a book for the mainstream reader on similar topics, with more emphasis on memory and a larger range of archaeological sites. The working title is Ancient memory spaces. It is now with my agent, Lyn Tranter.

Lots more about that research on my other blog, Memory Spaces.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is a hard question, because I am not really sure what my genre is. I know it is non-fiction, but it is really across disciplines. The Cambridge book is clearly archaeology. In that genre, no-one else has applied all the research on ‘primary orality’  – the way communications work in cultures which have no contact with writing. No-one else is linking formal memory training  and non-literate knowledge systems and the archaeology on non-literate sites. Yet the people who built Stonehenge, Avebury, Chaco Canyon, Poverty Point, Easter Island and so many other amazing sites around the world were non-literate. They must have had complex knowledge systems and they must have used memory systems to manage to keep so much stuff in memory.

The ancient Greeks call this artificial memory – not just being reminded of things but formally working to commit it to memory by studying. Oral tradition isn’t all about religion and history, as so often implied. It is also about a vast amount of information like animal and plant classification and characteristics (thousands of them!), navigation, genealogies, astronomy, geology, rules, surviving resource stress, resource rights … How do they remember so much stuff? And isn’t it logical that people in prehistory used the same methods?

But there is so many other aspects – the role of art, portable memory devices, how amazingly effective these methods are … it just goes on and on. I want to tell the world about it all!

Why do you write what you do?

Because this is what I am so interested in at the moment and my brain doesn’t like working on anything other than what it is interested in. What bliss that I can do just that!

I still love my spiders and topics of previous books. But I must write about what I am reading now and convey all the wonderful things I found out when I was doing a PhD on this topic.

I believe that what I am writing about is important. I can’t write just for fun. And I’m no good at humour. So I write seriously. It’s just the way my words come out.

How does your writing process work?

Oh dear – this could be a very long answer. Ask me if you want to know more! I have all sorts of systems in place developed over the years of writing. I have a studio (I call it my Garret) where there is no noise and no food. I am surrounded by a whole lot of things which are very different to the real world and so it just feels totally different which seems to make my thinking change track. Everything is written or pasted into exercise books, 5 mm grid only, each covered in coloured paper and contact which acts as a code. There are 100 of them neatly on the shelves.

I start each writing session with a journal update which divides the outside world from my writing world and focuses me on the task at hand. I write every day – even if it is only notes and even if it isn’t any good. I just want to write and hope that someone out there wants to read my words.

And when I am gardening or walking or cooking or waiting in queues, I have imaginary conversations with people about whatever I am thinking about. Endlessly. Then these conversations become the next page of words. It’s a lovely lifestyle.

Tagging Todd Landman: academic, writer on really important topics like human rights, and [wait for it] magician!

Tagging Narelle Harris: a writer in many genres including speculative fiction, apps, Melbourne Guides … but she won’t be back in Australia until September, something to look forward to!

Non-fiction – long, short and very very short

Writers aiming to pitch a book to a publisher are advised to prepare a 25 word description to attract attention.*

If asked for more, they should be ready with a 125 word expansion. Then, having raised the interest during a query phone call, be ready to expand further with ideas on the intended audience, marketing and planned format.

I also find this task invaluable to be ready for when people ask what I am writing at the moment. The questions they ask often give me ideas and directions, or highlight an issue I hadn’t even considered. They want a 25 word description, and then maybe 125. They don’t want me to wax lyrical for half an hour, even though that is my natural inclination.

Today I discovered a new reason for developing this skill.  I volunteer at the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Museum as part of the curatorial research team. We have been asked by the new Director, Jennifer Kalionis, to work on a variety of approaches to improve the information available to gallery and museum visitors. The image below will lead you to the Gallery’s website.


I have started with a bark painting from Oenpelli in Western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. It would be easy to write a book on this incredible art which demonstrates a continuous tradition for at least 20,000 years. But visitors to the Gallery do not want a book on each art work. Jennifer has asked for:

1. An expanded label which includes a paragraph, at most two, of background to the bark. Just one paragraph, when I want to write a book.

2. A children’s label presenting the information in a way which will encourage children to take an interest and feel engaged. Maybe two paragraphs. (I know adults read the children’s labels – I always do.)

3. One page of background for visitors who want to know more. Only one page? Oh dear.

4. A more detailed background, provenance, sources and so on for the Gallery’s records. Maybe, she suggested, aware how much I was writing, a few pages?

Our team is also talking about the possibility of electronic information displayed on a visitor’s mobile phone when a QR code is scanned. That is a different format again – it has to look good and be easy to read on a small device. No long sentences!

This is one of the great aspects of writing non-fiction. One set of research can lead to all sorts of outcomes. I can guarantee the Oenpelli art on bark and in rock shelters will feature in a future book. And I think an article for a magazine is forming in my mind.

I love research. I love the way I can then turn that research into so many writing projects.

* An excellent book on writing proposals is “A Decent Proposal” by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth (Keesing Press).