Today I’m pleased to host S.C. Karakaltsas on Something to Say, an occasional blog series in which I chat with creatives who have a timely event or launch to talk about.
S.C. Karakaltsas is the author of two historical fiction novels, Climbing theCoconut Tree, and A Perfect Stone. Sylvia has also written a contemporary short story collection, Out of Nowhere. She has received awards for two of her short stories and has work published in the Lane Cove Literary Awards Anthology and Monash Writers Anthology. In her spare time, Sylvia also blogs and reviews many amazing books at https://sckarakaltsas.com/
Welcome to STS Sylvia. What project are you talking about today?
Thanks for having me. My current project is my new novel called A Perfect Stone.
A Perfect Stone is set for release today, I see. Congratulations! Is there one aspect of the novel that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, or effect? Can you tell us more about that?
A Perfect Stone is a dual timeline historical fiction novel set in 1948 during the Greek Civil War and Melbourne in 2016. Released 10 October and launching 18 October, I am very excited about this project.
It’s a story told from the point of view of eighty-year-old Jim, who finds something which triggers the memories of the childhood he’s hidden, not just from himself but from his overprotective daughter. When Jim has a stroke and begins speaking in another language, his daughter is shocked and confused. Jim must confront what happened when, as a ten-year-old, he was forced at gunpoint to leave his family and trek barefoot through the mountains of Northern Greece to escape the Greek Civil War in 1948.
I fell in love with my character Jim. He’s endearing and vulnerable but also quite eccentric in some ways. He makes me laugh and he makes me cry and he reminds me of a few older men I know, including my own father.
That sounds really interesting. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity? Is it family history or the past in general, for example?
With my novels, I’m inspired to tell little known stories. In my first novel Climbing the Coconut Tree, I was inspired by the double murder of two Australians living on a phosphate mining island. In A Perfect Stone I was inspired by the fact that 38,000 children from the ages of 2–14 were forced to leave their homes without their parents during the Greek Civil War. Of the ones who survived, many ended up behind the Iron Curtain and some never saw their families again.
I write short stories as well which are mostly contemporary looks at life in suburbia, poking fun or digging at the unexpected things that happen. I wrote a short story collection which was published last year called Out of Nowhere which was well received.
Many writers describe their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
My process is purely and simply sitting down and writing to see what comes out and it often shocks me. I only started writing four years ago after having spent years in the corporate world and I’m staggered that I can string at least a sentence together let alone a whole novel.
That’s amazing. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Persistent, single minded, wide-eyed and dogged.
That sounds like a recipe for even more success. Thank you so much for joining me in Something to Say, and all the best for the release and launch of A Perfect Stone.
You can find the books by SC Karakaltsas at these links:
Today on our occasional Something to Say series of interviews with a variety of creative folk, I’m very pleased to speak with Perth playwright Liz Newell, whose play Alone Outside (what a chilling title!) has finally reached us over here in the east of Australia after debuting in Perth in 2017.
STS: Welcome, Liz. You have exciting news for us?
Liz: My one-woman play Alone Outside is making its East Coast debut as part of Melbourne Fringe, thanks to the glorious guys at Lab Kelpie. It’s on in the Fringe Hub at Arts House from September 14-29. It’s a warm, funny, occasionally bittersweet exploration about the journey home – about how the things we leave often wait for us to get back, and about how we wouldn’t be who we are if it weren’t for where we’ve come from (whether we like it or not). The play premiered in my hometown Perth in 2017 as part of FRINGE WORLD Festival at The Blue Room Theatre, so this is its second outing, and my first play to be produced on the East Coast, so it’s a pretty exciting time.
STS: Alone Outside sounds very interesting. What aspect of the play do you relate to most – the character, a scene, an effect? Can you tell us more about that?
Alone Outside is a pretty personal work for me – by no means autobiographical, because I’m nothing like Daphne is (I wish I were!), but it’s very much based on people and places I’ve experienced. I grew up in a small regional city in south-west WA and the story takes place during a woman’s first few days back in her small home town after a long absence. The coast, the rolling green hills, the little islands in the harbour, the cold nights and warm days, the dingy pubs, the school friends she hasn’t seen for ages who are all married now – it’s not much of a stretch for my imagination because I’ve experienced it first hand many times.
Daphne also wrestles with this sense of unease upon her return, with the knowledge that she doesn’t particularly enjoy being there anymore, but that so much of who she is now has to do with the place and its people. It’s strange to confront the things that make us who we are, and even stranger when we’re not sure if we like them anymore, and I think a lot of people who grew up in places or situations they don’t look back on fondly can relate to that.
Playwright Liz Newell and performer Sharon Davis.
STS: Yes, I totally agree. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
Writing is the only thing I absolutely love doing and feel like I sort of know how to do. Other things I probably know how to do, but don’t enjoy, or I do enjoy, but I don’t know how to do them.
I draw a lot of inspiration and motivation from theatre and TV shows and any kinds of stories that I see and think are phenomenal in one way or another – well acted, well written, well structured, a solid story, a surprising character arc, anything. I saw Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (directed by Imara Savage and featuring Helen Thomson and Kate Box, amidst an all-star cast of ladies) in March this year and I still think about it nearly every day. I also recently devoured US sci-fi show Counterpart on SBSonDemand in a single weekend; it’s brilliantly acted, and a master class in narrative structure. To create something at least half as good as the things that light a fire in my belly, and maybe give some other audience member the experience that I once had, is the dragon I’m forever chasing.
A lot of my work is very character-driven and female-centric, and I think it’s really important, especially in this day and age, to give people the chance to see themselves onstage wherever possible – especially, with any due respect, people who aren’t Straight White Middle Class Males. I’d like to give a bit of a voice however I can to anyone who can’t see themselves in anything Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and others of the Canon have ever written.
STS: Chasing dragons, eh? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – Hemingway staring at a blank page until he sweats blood for example. What can you say about your process?
Hemingway’s “sit at a typewriter and bleed” is a classic. I think of that often and I think there’s an important lesson in there that I like to remember – that in order for words to really sit perfectly on the page, or for a story or scene to really sing, you do have to put a tiny piece of yourself into what you’re doing; some small truth which, if it weren’t there, the work would be lesser for it. The audience might never know what it truly means, and you might never tell anyone how true it is to you, but it’s still there, doing an important job.
I’m also a fan of the often-used expression that to write a first draft is to just “vomit onto the page” and deal with it later; the key is to just get something out as a starting point. It certainly feels like that sometimes when you’re pushing through a scene or plot point that you’re not convinced is working yet, and all the words on the page look like slop.
Bleeding, vomiting, it’s all pretty unpleasant stuff but then, the act of writing can be pretty brutal!
For my overall process, I tend to think of every beat or scene as a building block. I move them around, stack them on top of one another, replace them with bigger, better ones. Eventually, hopefully, you end up with something strong enough to bear the weight of the director, actors and creative team who will eventually jump up and down on it in rehearsals.
STS: Wonderful images; thank you for those! Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Today we’re speaking with the Melbourne writer Deborah Sheldon.
Some of Deborah’s latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the noir-horror novel Contrition, the dark literary collection 300 Degree Days and Other Stories, the bio-horror novella Thylacines, the dark fantasy and horror collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (winner of the Australian Shadows Award “Best Collected Work 2017”) and the monster-horror novel Devil Dragon. Deborah’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, and Midnight Echo. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis Awards and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.
Something to Say: Welcome, Deb! That’s quite a list of achievements. What project are you talking about today?
Deborah: Award-winning press, IFWG Publishing Australia, is releasing my noir-horror novel, Contrition, today – September 3rd. The back-cover blurb reads:
In her late teens, Meredith Berg-Olsen had all the makings of a runway model. Now in her late forties, after everything she had been through – including horrors that John could only guess at – she looked bloodless instead of pale, skeletal instead of slender, more dead than alive…
John Penrose has two secrets. One is the flatmate he keeps hidden from the world: his high-school sweetheart, Meredith. His other secret is the reason he feels compelled to look after her.
Contrition is a horror story with noir undertones and an atmosphere of mounting dread.
STS: Is there one aspect of Contrition that you relate to the most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
My novel has two timelines: the present day and the 1980s. For the latter, I drew upon my own memories of high school for inspiration. If some of my old chums were to read Contrition, the basis of a few events might seem vaguely familiar. Since I hadn’t thought about my teenage years in a long, long time, it was interesting to sift through the memories, both good and bad. I think doing so gave the novel’s earlier timeline its rawness and pathos.
STS: What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
My brain is hard-wired to write. I started writing when I was a kid, and I’ve been a professional for 32 years. I’ll write until my dying day. There are two of me: the subjective self who lives this life; and the “observer” who squirrels away occurrences, feelings and thoughts to use in fiction. Every experience is potential fodder. I often reassure myself while going through a rough time, “Deb, elements of this will make good stories.” And it helps!
STS: That’s an interesting way to approach hard times. I like it! Now, many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I see each writing project – whether it be a short story, novella or novel – as a kind of jigsaw puzzle. I know what “picture” I’m trying to create. I just need to find some way to put all the pieces in the correct order. I’m technique-driven. To use another analogy, I build a story like an engineer builds a bridge.
STS: Jigsaw-like, that’s excellent. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Something to Say is pleased to welcome Pernille Hughes, whose debut novel has just been released. So exciting. Brand spanking new book!
Photo by I. Hughes
STS: Welcome, Pernille. This must be a thrilling time for you! Tell us something about your project.
My debut novel Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was published on August 3rd. It’s a Romcom, a second-chance love story, a HEA story, and ‘getting up again when life punches you in the face’ story.
STS: That’s HEA as in Happily Ever After, yes?
It certainly is! Tiffanie Trent gets dumped by boyfriend Gavin on their 10th anniversary. Heartbroken and homeless, Tiff, a bookkeeper at an old-school boxing gym, figures that at least she has her job. But then the owner drops dead, leaving her floundering. When she then inherits the gym, Tiff, not sporty at all, needs to decide if she can take it on, defy the naysayers who say she can’t do it, and bring the club and her life into a better state of play.
STS: And Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was just released last week on August 3rd. That’s awesome. Is there one aspect of the story that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
As well as sharing Tiff’s reluctance to take part in physical exercise, I relate to her coming to see that she needn’t let others tell her what she is capable of. A teacher once said I couldn’t be a writer and I believed her, abandoning writing for about ten years. When I had my kids I turned back to the words to keep my brain clocking over and saw that actually I get to decide whether I am a writer or not. Tiff gets to examine her life too and understand that she determines what she can do, not others.
Photo by C. Knappe
STS: I’d like to meet that teacher now! What is it that drives you to pursue your creativity, despite that lack of encouragement?
Without wanting to come across as scary, the voices just rattle around in my head and need to come out onto the page. I’ve been making up dialogue since I was little, verbally playing out scenes either in my room, or say, if we were walking on holiday. Additionally I’m conflict shy and so always end up coming away from issues and spending the rest of the day making up what I should have said and wished I’d said. Writing stories is great for getting it out, although it doesn’t make me better at wading into conflicts.
What pushes me to get my writing out there is partially a desire to make others laugh with my words and also to get validation for them (so, I’m ‘giving’ and ‘needy’ at the same time…). Also, as a stay-at-home mum, words and my stories are my marketable commodity.
STS: Many writers have described their processes using analogies – stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I visualise my process as sculpting. First I’ll write what I call a Vomit draft, just splurging words onto the page, only writing forwards and chronologically, not going back to correct anything, even if it means writing ‘something about XX, here’. That feels like choosing the material, like clay or stone.
The next draft will be looking at the ugly lump of words and deciding what the form of it is, what the essence of the piece will be and beginning to shape it. Each draft is then shaping the clay/stone until the sculpture is defined and the final draft will be the polishing. I like to have everything rounded off in my stories, ideally no loose ends, so when I’m asked to make edits, I find it really hard. In this analogy it’s like having to add an arm or something to a contained piece and then having firstly to make it look like it was always supposed to be there in the balanced piece and secondly smoothing the edges so no one can see the joins.
My stories start from an idea and then conversations around that idea come into my head. Until now my Vomit drafts have been extremely loosely plotted, after which I’ve found that when starting the first proper draft, I work best if I have a fully plotted plan and know the arcs of my key characters so that the choices they make from the start are true to their needs.
STS: That’s amazing. I love the name Vomit draft! Thank you for that – I’ll feel better throwing out great chunks of draft one now. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Contemporary, Funny (hopefully), Plotter, Un-ambiguous (I’m not a fan of an ambiguous ending), Distraction-prone (ach, Twitter, you are my downfall…)
STS: Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your news with us today, Pernille, and I look for to a HEA future for your writing!
Today I’m pleased to welcome playwright Petra Kavile to tell us about her play, Oil Babies, which is coming very soon to Northcote in Melbourne. OIL BABIES explores climate change and our continued “hope-investment” in procreation compared with our feelings of helplessness at the state of the planet – and our role in its demise. Babies – to have or not to have?
STS: Welcome, Petra. Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming project?
My play Oil Babies is opening at the Northcote Town hall as part of Darebin Arts Speakeasy on August 9-18. It’s being produced by the wonderful guys at Lab Kelpie.
STS: That sounds great! Is there one aspect of Oil Babies that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
Oil Babies is about the environment and babies, both of which have played on my mind lots in the last few years. The environment and our impact on it is a constant concern of mine (as I’m sure it is for many people) – but the structures that support us to live the way we do haven’t really taken minimising our impact on the environment into account. So we constantly have to be on guard and vigilant in our attempts to minimise our carbon footprint. Add babies into the mix and you’ve got thousands more tons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere. And yet, we can’t stop reproducing. I’m guilty of it too. So that’s what first spurred the urge to write Oil Babies, this growing conflict in myself and amongst my friends and family – of wanting to live as lightly as possible in a world set against us doing so while we contemplate reproducing.
STS: What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
I’m passionate about new Australian stories. I think stories help us figure out who we are and what we want and why we behave the way we do. I think there are fundamental ways of being that cross history and culture – but I also strongly believe that stories of our time, place and culture are necessary too. I can’t stop helping facilitate stories for today, it’s like a compulsion.
STS: A compulsion, yes, many of the creative people I’ve spoken to feel that way, driven to pursue their art. Many describe their processes using analogies – like speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I’m a dramaturg – a bowerbird at heart. I steal little bits from everywhere and weave together something that resembles the mess / conflict between my head and heart. I write for short intense bursts. I set myself a task and hopefully magic happens and I lose myself in creative flow. Then, the fun part of weaving all those tasks together begins.
STS: That bower bird is a beautiful image, thank you Petra! Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Concise. Weaver. Cut-it! Humorous. Flexible.
Lovely words to live by and to create by. Thank you so much for having Something to Say!
Something to Say is an occasional blog series showcasing authors and other creative types who have upcoming launches or events. STS #1 is thrilled to welcome Melbourne author and playwright Emilie Collyer, who has some news to share with us.
STS: Welcome, Emilie. What project are you talking about today?
STS: Congratulations, Emilie! Is there one aspect of Contest that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
Contest uses netball as a lens through which to ask the broad question: ‘How to be a woman’. The impetus came from two things. Firstly, as an adult, attending my stepdaughter’s club netball games when she was a child and the sense I had walking into that space with the other adult women – did I belong, would I be accepted? Just like back at school. That emotional see-saw of how we do and don’t fit into groups has such potency, no matter what age we are. I started researching netball and was fascinated to find it had been adapted from basketball in the late 19th century as a more ‘appropriate’ sport for women (no contact, being delineated into certain parts of the court, no running with the ball). So what started as an activity to control women’s bodies now lives on as a fiercely competitive female space. I love this contradiction.
I also love the responses I got from women when I said I was writing a piece about netball. Nearly everyone had a visceral reaction: they loved netball or hated it. The second impetus was that I wanted to write a piece where we saw different kinds of women being highly physical on stage. Women whose bodies we don’t often see in this context. The actors in this piece are in their 40s and 50s. One of the characters has a chronic illness and one of our actors is a wheelchair user. We are working with choreographers to create a movement score along with the text of the play which is new and exciting territory for me. The piece is definitely about endurance, in all kinds of contexts. This is probably the aspect I relate to the most, that circles back to that initial question and what it takes to forge out a place and identity as a woman.
STS: That sounds awesome and very creative. What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
My urge to create stems from an intersection of deeply personal existentialism and the rough justice of social structures. So the obsessions and frailties and dark recesses of my own being on the one hand, and things that infuriate or perplex me about the world at large on the other. While I also write prose and poetry, I think this is why theatre suits me so much. Theatre is a very socio-political form that is great for investigating and interrogating cultural structures. I write to nut through problems and externalise my neuroses (so they don’t eat me from the inside). In my writing for the stage, I am particularly interested in theatre as a site of potential transformation. I suspect some of this stems from a Christian (Lutheran) upbringing, attending church from a very young age and having that sense of ritual, cosmic mystery, dread and personal sacrifice as part of my psyche.
STS: Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I look and listen for words and situations that strike me with a delicious or terrible incongruity. My plays will often be born from a single image or moment I have heard about or imagined. I then (usually slowly and very painstakingly) build a world around that to create a whole piece that can hold that moment. For example, my past play Dream Home was born from the words: ‘We’re going up.’ It was an exploration of suburban ambition, dreaming and terror via the lens of home renovation. People often describe my works as psychic spaces or dreamscapes. But they are always also grounded in character, relationship, situation and often humour.
STS: That’s great. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Tenacious. Wonderer. Excavator. Multifarious. Verbose (see above).
Emilie Collyer, thank you so much for having Something to Say.