A Treasure Trove in Lockdown

By Nicole Kelly

Living in rural Victoria can be blissful, with summer sunsets and birds chattering in the bush, but as a writer it can sometimes feel a little lonely. This is why groups like Ballarat Writers are so important. The newsletter that arrives regularly in my inbox reminds me that I’m not the only one out here, scribbling away on my next work in progress.

Usually, each year I make the quick trip to ‘the big smoke’ to refill my creative engine – perhaps with a course from Writers Victoria or to visit the State Library of Victoria to research or just breathe in the books! If you haven’t stood under the dome at the State Library, it has to be put onto your to-do list—it’s spectacular. Sadly, though, 2020 has not been the year for travelling, which has made the isolation feel even greater.

In a stroke of luck though, many hours of my lockdown this year have been spent putting the finishing touches on my debut novel, Lament, due to be released with Hawkeye Publishing in October 2020. It is a historical fiction novel, set in 1880s Australia, and reimagines what would have become of Ned Kelly and his gang if the doomed plot to take down a police train had been a success. The story of Lament is woven around real events that occurred in our local area – Ballarat and Burrumbeet at the end of 1880.

Lament by Nicole Kelly

Late last year I entered my manuscript in the Hawkeye Books Manuscript Development Prize and was thrilled to be shortlisted. While disappointed not to win, I was later offered a publishing contract and have worked closely with Carolyn Martinez to polish my words into a book. An incredible thrill for someone who has had a life-long passion for words! 2020 sees Hawkeye Books running its Manuscript Development Prize again (closing 18 December), so it might be worthwhile checking it out if you have a manuscript gem sitting in the bottom drawer!

Lament has taken a little over six years to research and write. Being a historical fiction novel, woven around real events, the research took up a large part of this time. Finding resources on the internet can be problematic. Are they useful? Are they reliable?

Without doubt, the research I have enjoyed most has been the many, many hours exploring the Trove website. If you are unfamiliar with Trove, it’s an online database of books, pictures, gazettes, photographs, interviews and newspapers run by the National Library of Australia. If you want to read a primary source about the hanging of Ned Kelly, Trove is the place to go. Aptly named, it really is a treasure trove for writers, historians and the plain curious. Much like the State Library of Victoria, heading to the Trove website is a must-do for writers.

It is the perfect place to hunt around when you are stuck for inspiration. Choose a date and a paper and settle in for a read. Ideas are sure to abound, because truth really is stranger than fiction! During my own research, I was able to read the words that came from the mouth of Ned Kelly and Judge Barry at his trial, and the words of Aaron Sherritt’s wife after the murder of her husband, from 140 years ago. Having a resource like this at my fingertips made me feel connected even in this year of distance and helps we writers living in rural and regional Victoria from being further disadvantaged.

I’ve always felt putting words out into the world can be intimidating as a writer, revealing yourself to friends, family and people you’ve never even met. It turns out that releasing a novel is no different! However, what I do realise is what an incredible privilege it is to send my book into the ‘wild’, knowing it is a story that I have loved writing and crafting.

Lament is released in October 2020. Visit www.hawkeyebooks.com.au/lament/ to pre-order your copy or you can visit www.hawkeyebooks.com.au/nicole-kelly to contact me. Otherwise follow me on Twitter @ruralvicwriter


  1. Heather Whitford Roche

    Congratulations on your novel, Nicole. It’s a big journey from manuscript to publishing, looking forward to reading your work. I love your enthusiasm for research and your idea of using research for inspiration. Trove website is indeed a fertile hunting ground. I guess most works of fiction are derived from real life happenings and people’s responses to them, even if it’s just a little seed that feeds the imagination. Enjoyed your article, Nicole.

    • Nicole Kelly

      Thank you, Heather. It has been an amazing journey so far!

      I do love that so much of Historical Fiction has at least a thread of reality running through it. That’s why it’s my favourite genre!

  2. Carolyn

    Agree with Heather. Really enjoyed your article Nicole. Thanks!


    As a student of Kelly’s criminality, I found that the ‘factual’ side of Nicole’s writing is filled with historical errors, myths and falsehoods.
    It is appreciated that the book is presented as fiction. What a pity the truth has not been presented and the myths and falsehoods promoted.
    The true story in itself is remarkable, but the true nature of Kelly has been well hidden, as you can see from the way his Greta Mob treated people in his area. Taken directly from the Royal Commission into Victoria Police of 1881. http://nedkelly.info/GRETA-MOB-THUGS.pdf
    A good read, but it does not do the true story any justice.

    • Nicole Kelly

      Hi Brad,
      Thanks for commenting and I’m glad that you thought the book was a good read. The Kelly story is an incredibly divisive one, as I’m sure you know. Thanks for including your information, as it’s great for people to be able to read widely on a topic.

      As you point out, Lament is a work of fiction and presented from the view of Ned, which can definitely skew a point of view in the novel. I worked primarily from the books of Ian Jones and newspaper articles of the time for my information of the Kelly’s. It’s also been wonderful to speak with a number of Kelly and Hart relatives since the book’s publication.

      Kind regards, Nicole.


        It’s a pity you used Ian Jones books, as he was a Kelly fan and his books promote many myths, falsehoods and in some cases downright lies.
        He widely promoted the myth of Kelly intending to proclaim a republic in NE Victoria, when Kelly never mentioned it and professional historians consider his work flawed.
        I ask you to read books by Dr Doug Morrissey. A Lawless Life, and Selectors Squatters and Stock Thieves, the latter certainly opened my eyes. A great read is Ian MacFarlane’s The Kelly Gang, Unmasked. All well researched and factual. Dr Stuart Dawson’s writings are also very valuable resources. Many can be read here. http://www.nedkelly.info

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