Once upon a time, there was a Big, Bad Wolf … he blew down the houses of swine, stole from little girls visiting their grandmothers … but maybe the wolf wasn’t so big or bad … Twisted fairy tales centred around this majestic creature written by 45 indie authors from all over the globe
Historically, men have power over the lives of both nations and women. Commerce and politics are traditional realms of masculine influence in cultures worldwide. The latest Australian historical fiction by S.C. Karakaltsas (see my review here), The Good Child explores the public and private aspects of how the behaviour of some influential men affects their loved ones as well as the rest of the community.
Author S.C. Karakaltsas answered some of my questions about writing this fascinating novel. And congratulations on Release Day!
What inspired you to write The Good Child?
Sylvia: There are good powerful men and there are bad ones. And I’ve always wondered what the mothers of bad powerful men must think and feel. What sort of relationship do they have with their child? That led to the characters of Lucille and her son Tom. Lucille’s reflections about her life and what part she played in shaping her son drives the narrative — one I really wanted to explore. The excesses of the eighties and the consequent fall out for ordinary hardworking people drew inspiration for Quin. She’s an ambitious and hardworking young woman who falls into the trap Tom sets for her.
I also wondered what would happen when Lucille and Quin met. And indeed they do, on a train, which makes for an interesting trip.
It certainly does! A gripping Australian historical fiction, The Good Child spans a number of decades, charting the everyday existence of ordinary Australian women across the 20th century.
How important is it to you that the stories of ordinary Australian women are told?
I think there’s more appetite to hear women’s stories: their voices, what they endured, how they lived, their aspirations and challenges. And that is largely coming from the number of wonderful women writers and the huge audience of women readers.
In the case of Lucille, born in 1920, she lived her life under the control of males. That was largely how life worked for women of her generation. Women’s aspirations centred on the need for financial security by being married and being a home maker.
For example, the challenges of having children during war time and the medical care at the time had an enormous impact on women whose husbands were away at war. What women wanted was never particularly given any attention.
The plot revolves around Tom, the man at the centre of the action, a man we always see through the eyes of others. Was this a deliberate story-telling decision, or
Did the women demand to tell the story from their perspective?
It wasn’t important to give Tom a voice as I wanted his character to be slowly revealed from the perspective of the two women he had affected the most. I thought they deserved to tell their side, to explain the choices they made and how they lived with the consequences. In Lucille’s case her love for her son is severely tested. In Quin’s case it’s her loyalty.
The financial excesses and frauds of the 1980s – mostly not uncovered until much later – lie at the heart of The Good Child.
How much research went into developing this story? Was it easy to find out how the fraud schemes operated?
As with all historical fiction there is always lots of research. It’s hard not to wander down rabbit holes.
But backing that research was my own experience and having worked in the financial industry at the time. I could draw on my own recollections of what was an extraordinary, tumultuous time.
I saw first hand what happened to everyday people whose fortunes changed suddenly through no fault of their own. That had an enormous impact on me.
It also surprised me that the most unlikely people commit fraud which just goes to show that if they can get away with it, then people will do it.
The ending of The Good Childcarries a strong note of hope for women to (learn to) manage their own finances.
Do you have any examples of whether the financial aspect of life has improved for women? And is there still work to be done?
Legislation as well as banking codes of conduct were put into place in the nineties in order for consumers to be better prepared about what they were getting into. Yet the recent Banking Royal commission in Australia has disappointingly highlighted issues where consumers have been adversely affected by the wrong doings of some financial institutions. I guess like many other people, I’m tired of the lack of accountability and the power imbalance.
I know of women today who are financially controlled. Interestingly, since I started this book three years ago, there’s more focus on improving financial literacy and understanding.
But I think there’s a long way to go. I suspect that we may see history repeat in the next few years.
The emotions in this Australian historical fiction complement and expand on the action, helping us to see the personal impact of business-as-usual.
What strategies did you use to keep the story on a personal level?
I think when a story is told from a personal perspective the reader should feel every part of it. Dealing with the everyday challenges of love, loss and survival are more relatable if told from the character’s point of view.
I hope readers will feel that they know Lucille and Quin, that they can relate to them, feel for them, be hopeful and yearn for them to find their way through.
You write about things and events that are relatively unknown. Your first two novels were quite different – one set on a phosphate island and the other about the Greek Civil War.
What are you working on now?
I’m half way through another split timeline novel set in a small town in Northern Queensland. It’s historical crime mystery with two main characters, a missing man and environmental damage in the sixties causing long term generational health problems.
The working title is The Palace Hotel. I’m very excited about this project.
So am I! I can’t wait to see it. Thanks again for sharing so much interesting background to The Good Child.
I admit that deadlines are good for me. I love writing inside a time frame. But remember, I’m a bit weird – I loved exams. Adrenaline = inspiration for me.
Broad Plain Darkening raised a lot of questions that I couldn’t wait to tackle. So many issues that I wanted to resolve. Imagine me rubbing my hands together in glee.
Once again, I needed a plan.
Strangely, my “plan” looks almost like a maths problem. How does it work?
You’ll notice very few words. The story was in my head. These are just reminders so that nothing got left out. Sticky notes for my brain.
Chapters are important. They need a starting point, an action or change point, and some sort of conclusion – one that leads to the next chapter, or one that closes the action and allows the next chapter to tackle another aspect of the story.
Chapter length is important. That’s what the numbers are about. I’m moving scenes around to ensure that each chapter is a similar length.
The first page of this notebook is dated Oct 19th, 2018. Three years ago today! That means that I was deep in writing Book Three while waiting for the edits to come back for Book Two.
Editing and writing at the same time: heaven!
Editing is such a satisfying task. You wrestle with what comes back; you suddenly see what doesn’t work. Then you scratch your head over how to make this or that point any clearer. You laugh at your hilarious typos (the runted land LOL!) and in your imagination, you high-five the editor at the brilliant saves.
Once again, working with Odyssey Books suited me down to the ground.
Seven-piece Essential Toolkit for Writing a Series
follow up your good starting idea
create characters to care about … ones that YOU care about
expect a great deal of work writing your idea into the first novel … possibly years
refrain from killing your characters too early – but be prepared to kill them at the right time
keep tweaking and submitting until you find a match
be responsive to your publisher’s needs
treasure the publisher who believes in you and your work
I have a dozen ideas for short stories set in the world of the Pale, but it’s no use planning a short story collection (working title The Chronicles of the Pale #4: Before and After) until I actually write those stories.
Jotted words in a notebook – useful as they are – do not turn themselves into publishable writing. And I also have in mind the possibility of a graphic novel or an animation. So a lot of work to be done first, but the world of the Pale now has to wait on edits for my current projects.
In the meantime, watch out for my next novel
How to Survive Your Magical Family
which will be out in time for Christmas. More news soon!
It took a little while to get my head around the possibility of more novels in the world of The Pale. A whole series of post-apocalyptic fiction? But hey! The world was all there, the characters created, and a trajectory beckoned. Plus the world always needs more books with talking animals.
All I needed to do was pick up where I left off, right?
It’s not that easy. Something I found quite testing was to check and re-check my built world, to ensure the consistency of both stories. Remember that I’d invented a highly-detailed setting, with too many characters, too many places, too much that was too clever by half (including an over-clever calendar)? Well, thanks to me being such a smarty-pants, there was too much in my head. I had to match the published version of my world, not the one teeming in my brain.
Hmm, did I mention this particular detail before? I kept asking.
I told myself: probably not.
Can I include it? I thought: Yes, but…
Can I do without it? Answer: YES!
The thing about world-building
It so happens that I know a lot more about the back-stories of the characters than will ever be published.
And that’s the way it should be. I am the iceberg. The published work is the best fraction of it.
Readers really only want to know what’s happening NOW.
They want ACTION. And they want EMOTION. They want RESOLUTION.*
*Beware generalisations. Some readers like the long way round a story
Readers don’t want to know about the hours I devoted to googling baby names as I tried to make my cast diverse and interesting. They don’t want to know about my failed attempts at tracing maps of Tasmania and putting Pale-style names in tricky terrain. And they especially don’t want to hear me arguing with myself about just how evil I can make the villain without turning science fiction into horror.
Stage 7: A Plan for Book 2
Take one ambitious time frame, add a thriving cast, lots of conflict and then make the world explode. Or at least cause the ground to shake.
I’m a pantser by nature, but I needed a plan. More, I needed – for the first time in my fiction writing – to create lists and signposts. I discovered that writing a series is like writing a thesis: there is more material than you can keep in your head at one time. You MUST be organised.
A character listwas easy enough, and here it is. I also asked for it to be included in the printed book, because many readers like to refer back as they’re reading.
A map! Fortunately, I have very talented people in my family – they’re so creative, this lot! – and @bernardjmaher listened carefully, coped with my scribbled diagrams, and voila! a map.
Stage 8: Writing Book 2
The deadline was good for me: six months to the first draft – remember that the first novel took several years to gestate.
I wrote and wrote and wrote. My method is to write a lot, and then edit, edit, edit. Then I add, subtract, rearrange and polish.
Characters from offstage demanded to be heard – for example, Helm, the lost tribesman. He’d always been there as Feather’s missing father, but he insisted that he had a much bigger part to play. More talking animals wanted to be heard, and many of the villains began to flex their muscles. Dystopia is like that!
Back and forth with editing. It was so much better this time around. I was more relaxed about strangers’ eyes on my imagined world, and more confident in my choices. I mus say that working with Odyssey Books has been amazing – truly life-changing.
Amazingly, within a year of launching The Pale, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.
I’m very proud of these books and still very much in love with them.
But how did this love affair with talking animal stories begin?
Today I’m letting you into the ten hidden stages behind the Chronicles.
Stage 1: An Idea
Ideas comes from everywhere. I can’t stop them.
This one began with a dream in 2014. We were shut inside a gated compound while outside, crying babies were dying from exposure. We couldn’t get out, but my dog Dinny (an ancient and beloved German Shepherd) snuck out and carried the two babies into safety.
From small kernels of inspiration, a big story grew.
Dogs had to feature!
Stage 2: A Short Story
The story of the babies left to die Outside was too good to lose, especially during the height of the worldwide refugee crisis. The wise and compassionate canini Mashtuk and Zelie, the heartless humachines, and fully-human Hector appeared in my head. I wrote them into a story and submitted it to progressive journal Overland. My first ever short story acceptance!
If you’ve read The Pale, you might like to see where it started.
Stage 3: A Novel
After the story was published, an indie publisher contacted me because my Overland bio said that I was writing a novel about these characters.
I hadn’t started, but I immediately began. Ideas came too fast and the novel grew too long, but I submitted it within six months.
Stage 4: A Rejection
Sadly, The Pale Version 01 didn’t make the grade. The novel was BLOATED with too many characters and dozens of subplots, and falling over itself with over-complex world building.
While the feedback was positive, the novel needed severe editing.
Stage 5: An Acceptance
More time passed. I took a good hard look at my manuscript and pruned a few thousand words. Some of the off-cuts were old favourites: names for every (and I mean every) minor character, a newly invented calendar based on the many seasons recognised in indigenous cultures, and a subplot involving flashbacks to the time before the Great Cataclysm…
Then I sent the new manuscript to my dear, dear beta readers. Their ultra-valuable feedback (thank you – you know who you are!) resulted in more tidying…and THEN
Oh, my. Having a novel published was a lifelong dream come true.
I fell onto a steep learning curve. Working with fiction editors challenged me, but I could see that every discussion, every point, made my work better. A wonderful cover artist sent me concepts, and I jumped with delight on the one with the city and the canini – of course, it’s Mashtuk!
I’ve talked about launching here, and I can still remember the wonderful feeling. The Pale sold some copies. Readers contacted me and asked about the characters and what happened next? The characters gambolled around in my head.
And the publisher said: is there a sequel?
Next week, I’ll explain how I got from a single dream to a three-novel series … and perhaps a set of short stories in genesis.
This statue, titled “Cobbers” by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett was was installed in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, France in 1998.
In the days after the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.
As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.
Don’t forget me, cobber
The “Cobbers” statue in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles in France features Sergeant Simon Fraser from Western Victoria carrying a fallen comrade from the field.
Cobbers is a memorial to Australian service and sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles. Fraser risked his life and a possible court martial when he returned to save a stricken soldier whose identity is unknown.
We all need a bit of a lift for 2021. Times are tricky. This year, my weekly blog foregrounds INSPIRATION. Every author also gives you a FREE sample of their work!
Inspirational words plus free reading: get it here every Friday.
That’s my plan for you in 2021.
First up is the wonderful Fiona Leitch , novelist and screenwriter. Fiona’s new novel, the cosy mystery Murder on the Menu, has just been released in ebook and will be available in paperback in April. See all Fiona’s books here.
I asked Fiona about her inspiration.
Fiona says: I love a good murder mystery, but I’m a bit of a wuss; I don’t like anything too graphic. On the other hand, I don’t like anything too twee either. I enjoy TV programmes like ‘Midsummer Murders’ and ‘Death in Paradise’, and they inspired me to create something similar with my new cozy mystery series, the Nosey Parker Mysteries.
I’m also inspired by location. My previous books have been set in Venice (my favourite place in the entire world), Paris and Berlin, so I thought I would set this series in my OTHER favourite place, Cornwall. I lived in St Ives for a couple of years, and my mum and sister still live in the West Country, so it’s a place I know and love well. Although my protagonist Jodie lives in a made-up town, Penstowan, it’s based on two real life places: Holsworthy, right on the Devon/Cornwall border, and Bude, a seaside town on the North Cornwall coast. It’s a beautiful part of the world, loved by holidaymakers, but it’s not always an easy place to live. There’s not much work out of the summer season, and it’s very cut off from the rest of the country, with just one road in and out. I have sat on the A303 for more hours of my life than I care to count!
I’m inspired by strong women, too. There are so many women out there, juggling careers and businesses with childcare (and increasingly, caring for elderly parents), while still managing to have a social life and maybe even a bit of romance. Jodie (the protagonist of the Nosey Parker mysteries) is a single mum, an ex-copper turned caterer; so not only is she a dab hand at solving murders, she can whip up a smashing Victoria sponge while helping her daughter with her maths homework AND encouraging/fending off attractive men all at the same time. Jodie is warm, funny, flawed and ultimately loveable, like so many of the amazing women I know.
Now here’s your gift sample of Fiona’s writing. Enjoy!
EXCERPT FROM MURDER ON THE MENU :
Tony stood by the top table, where yesterday he should have been toasting his new wife and being embarrassed by his best man’s speech. Instead, he was holding the middle tier of the beautifully iced wedding cake. I didn’t need to ask where the top tiers were; they were on the floor, dropped and then trampled on, absolutely destroyed. His face was flushed with anger as he raised the cake above his head.
“Tony!” I cried. He stopped for a moment and looked at me, but it was as if he didn’t recognise me. “Tony, calm down. Don’t take it out on the cake! Or the hotel carpet.” It was a right bugger getting fondant icing and marzipan out of a deep pile carpet – I’d learnt that the hard way after one of Daisy’s early birthday parties. Half a mermaid had ended up ground into the Axminster when a game of Pass The Parcel had turned bad.
“What’s the point?” he said. He shifted the cake – which was a big hefty fruit cake, going by what was on the carpet – and looked at the delicate purple sugar paste flowers that decorated it. “Do you know how much this cake cost? Two grand. Two grand on a bloody cake.” He lifted it over his head and threw it as hard as he could across the room, where it hit a sideboard covered in glasses. I heard something smash.
“Tony, mate – ” Callum held his hands out in a placatory gesture, but Tony just glared at him.
“Callum, mate, did you know? I bet everybody knew.” He reached out and pulled a chunk of cake off the next layer, and I couldn’t help but look at it, rich with mixed fruit, and think, damn that looks like a good cake.
“Know what?” Callum genuinely didn’t seem to know what Tony was talking about.
“I bet everyone knew but me,” said Tony, smearing the cake between his fingers and then studying them. He was losing the plot. “I bet even Nosey knew about it.”
“Tony – ” I started, watching as he began to pick lumps of cake up and throw them at the glasses stacked up on the sideboard, like a petulant child at a coconut shy.
“You knew she was a wrong ‘un, didn’t you?” He threw a lump, but his aim was off. “You didn’t like her. No one liked her except me.” He threw another, hard. It hit a glass, knocking it on the floor where it shattered into tiny pieces. He did a mini fist pump and picked up another piece of cake.
Bloom trotted into the room and stopped, aghast at the devastation before him.
“Mr Penhaligon!” he spluttered, as Tony turned to him holding the baked projectile. I stood in front of him, my arms spread out wide to protect the hotel manager.
“Tony, stop it now!” I said.
“Or what? You’ll arrest me?” he said sarcastically.
“She won’t but I will,” said a voice behind me. DCI Withers. Damn.
Tony shrugged and lobbed the fruit cake in his direction, but I darted forward and caught it, staggering slightly under the force behind it. Two uniformed officers appeared from behind Withers and ran at Tony before he had a chance to reload with cake, so he just picked up what remained of the tier, smashing it onto the carpet before they grabbed his arms and pinned him down on the table. I ran over to them, closely followed by Withers who reached out to pull me out of the way.
“Oh come on, there’s no need for that,” I said, as one of them began to cuff him. Tony struggled and swore and somehow managed to wriggle one hand free before the cuff went on, flinging his arm out and accidentally smacking Withers in the perfectly formed nose. Despite the fact that the situation was rapidly going pear-shaped I felt dangerous laughter rising. The whole scene must look so ludicrous, and Withers getting slapped was the icing – I nearly choked – on the cake.
“Anthony Penhaligon, I’m arresting you for breach of the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer,” began Withers, although what with him holding onto his wounded nose it sounded more like ‘Andony Pendalion’. If the situation hadn’t been so serious I really would have laughed.
“Come on – it was an accident!” I said, getting in Withers’ face. “Caused by you sending the boys in when we could’ve talked him down.”
“Get out of my way, Ms Parker, before I arrest you as well for obstruction.” Withers did not look like a happy bunny; I think he felt a bit daft clutching his nose, which had just started bleeding.
Tony had finally calmed down, only now of course it was too late.
“I’m sorry,” he said, looking like he was going to cry again, “I didn’t mean to – I just don’t know what’s going on – ” He looked lost, and I felt my heart break for him. “Jodie – I’m sorry, don’t let them – ”
But I couldn’t stop them. With one last glare at me, Withers and his two officers marched Tony out of the room, out of the hotel, and into a waiting police car.
Wow! I can’t wait to read more. What fun!
Thanks to Fiona Leitch for being first cab of the rank in Last Word of the Week 2021.
This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.
I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.
We all have different amounts of power.
Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.
I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.
But buying books costs money
Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!
Books to Buy
There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as
You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!
You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.
My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.
Free bookish gifts for authors
Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.
Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers. If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.
Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.