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South Coast author steps out of the shadows

The Bugle App

Danielle Woolage

09 July 2024, 12:20 AM

South Coast author steps out of the shadows

Kell Woods knew she wanted to be a writer from a young age. The voracious reader and self-confessed nerd spent all her spare time either reading books, or writing them.

“If you asked me what I wanted to be at eight, I would’ve said an author, I was one of those annoying kids that read too much and probably talked too much,” laughs Kell.

Fast forward a decade or two and the Jervis Bay local has achieved her dream, releasing her debut novel After The Forest in October. Set in Germany’s Black Forest in 1650, the historical fantasy reimagines the story of Hansel and Gretel, blending fairy tales and folklore to create a “gritty, real and dark story that is also really beautiful”.

Kell will join a host of other talented writers at this weekend’s South Coast Readers and Writers Festival to discuss her novel and her journey to becoming a published author. 

“I’m so excited to be a part of this festival,” says Kell. “I’m going to be talking fairy tales with Melbourne writer Michael Earp, who I recently joined at the Supanova Comic Con and Gaming festival last month. We had so much fun together at Supanova so there will be lots of laughs this weekend.”

Kell studied English literature, creative writing and librarianship at Macquarie University and worked as a reference librarian for 13 years. She was always surrounded by stories, whether sourcing them, reading them or writing them. Five years ago Kell began devoting “serious time and focus” to writing, completing After the Forest in 2020. Then the real hard work began: picking up a literary agent and finding a publisher. 

“I finished the book and started pitching to agents during COVID, so a lot of agencies were closed and weren’t taking submissions,” says Kell. “Most Australian agents weren’t interested in fantasy at all, I didn’t get very far in Australia.”

Kell tried her luck overseas and sent through first chapters of her book to agents in the United States and United Kingdom. She was picked up by UK agent Julie Crisp and offered an acquisitions deal with US publishing powerhouse TOR books.


“I had to go out of Australia to get published in Australia, which is funny,” says Kell. “Now there are a lot more fantasy books out there, thanks to ‘romantasy’ books like Fourth Wing and A Court of Thorns and Roses.” 

“I was at the beginning of that wave of popularity, so it was really good timing for me. Luck and timing often play a big part in whether or not a book gets published and I was writing the kind of books publishers wanted at the time.”

Kell is now paying that good fortune forward, sharing industry insights and secrets to success with advanced English students from high schools across the South Coast, including Kiama High.

“It’s been such a privilege to have the opportunity to work with high school students, to show them that what they are learning is relevant to their future professions,” says Kell. “It’s linking the curriculum with real jobs in the industry and I’m more than happy to share insights and learning with the next generation of creatives.”

The question and answer sessions with industry professionals like Kell are the brainchild of Shoalhaven Head Teacher Careers, Shanna Fuz.

“I love helping students to develop their own skills and employability,” says Shanna. “Nothing gives me a greater thrill than students discovering what motivates them to develop their perfect career, and then help them create experiences that link to that.”

Kell held writing sessions at Kiama, Nowra, Ulladulla and Vincentia High Schools (Vincentia also happens to be Kell’s alma mater) and Shanna organised for each student to receive a signed copy of After the Forest.

Kell Wood with Kiama High School student Olivia Cunningham

“Hopefully I provided some inspiration,” says Kell. “I really wanted these kids to know that anything is possible, even if you go to a small high school on the South Coast like I did.” One of the Kiama High School students in the workshops, Olivia Cunningham (pictured), was doing work experience at HarperCollins when my book was being worked on and she was involved in that which is very exciting.”  

Kell is putting the finishing touches on her second novel, Upon A Starlit Tide, which combines elements of The Little Mermaid and Cinderella and will be available early next year. She will take part in the South Coast Readers and Writers Festival Modern Fairytale session on Saturday July 13.