An enthralling read, The Good Childtells the story of two women whose lives are linked – and damaged – by the one man.
Unfolding through a series of flashbacks interspersed with current happenings of the 1990s, the story introduces us first to Lucille and Quin. They’ve both lost everything. The two women meet on a country train headed to Melbourne. They’re on their way to attend a trial. Although they don’t know it for a while, they both have their lives invested in the man in the dock.
Lucille, like many of our mothers or grandmothers, was born between the wars. She lived through the hungry 1930s and blossomed in the 1940s. She suffered some awful tragedies, the sort that rip the heart out of women. Then WWII stamped all over her life.
Maybe her grandmother’s warning was right:
“Marry the wrong man and your life will be nothing but misery.”
When at last Lucille raises Tom, a golden boy, everything seems better. Perhaps life will be kind after all. Maybe the mistakes and heartaches will disappear into the mists of time.
A well-loved child, Tom leaps on the ‘greed is good’ train of the 1980s, spreading his charm and his captivating energy with a generous hand.
How could anything go wrong with his ambitious financial scheming? Well, what about shady dealings? Or the mates’ rates he shares glibly? And what about his greedy, grabby habits?
Ah well, if you lived through the 80s you’ll know what can go wrong.
Quin was one of Tom’s star workers, writing up loans, sealing deals, helping as he schmoozed up customers.
She knows that some of what she did enabled Tom’s rapacious dealings, but she wasn’t prepared for the double cross that sacrificed her to the wolves when the going got tough.
Quin would love to right her own wrongs and see Tom pay for his crimes. Her budding relationship with Lucille promises to heal some of the wounds of the past.
Finally, the compassionate insight of women bypasses the slick and deadly traps of masculine over-confidence.
This story is very generous in detail
The Good Child recreates its diverse time periods with such a keen attention to everyday life that readers are immediately immersed in the settings.
It’s almost possible to smell the kitchen of the 1940s, touch the dresses of the 1950s, hear the hubbub of the 1960s six-o’clock swill, and taste the extravagance of the 1980s.
Author S.C. Karakaltsas has a thorough understanding of the periods covered in this wide-ranging novel, as well as a keen eye and a happy gift with dialogue. Perhaps most remarkable is her ability to bring out the green shoots of hope in a story that charts so many tragedies.
It’s easy to get lost in the world of The Good Child, riding the emotional lows and brief highs as the story inevitably unfolds to its very satisfying end. If you love Australian historical fiction with a feminist slant, this one is for you.
Patricia Leslie blends history, magic, and fantasy in novels that explore hidden and untold stories. Today she gives us some insight into her sources of inspiration.
THEN enjoy an extract from Patricia’s Novel Keeper of the Way, Book #1 of the Crossing the Line series.
Tell us what you find inspiring!
Patricia:Art and poetry are the touchstones of my general inspiration especially the creators of those artworks and poems that resonate deep within. They inspire me to learn and understand more about the wellspring of creativity in a person’s soul.
The outpourings from these springs often seem at odds with the nature or the behaviour of the people that contain them. For instance, Vincent Van Gogh, a man seen as misunderstood, is often quoted as a source of personal wisdom. He was a deeply troubled man with mental and physical health issues that coloured his interaction with the world, and the people, around him.
How do we reconcile Van Gogh’s work with his illnesses and his consequent behaviour? He was not a particularly nice person to be around and his health probably exacerbated that. But would we now have the art he gave us, if not for the troubles that plagued him?
The interplay between the within and without of personality is a bottomless pool of eddies and currents that play beneath the surface. Whether the surface is pleasant or unpleasant, what lurks beneath is the inspiration of many a story.
I use this sort of inspiration for the character of Clement Benedict in my series Crossing the Line and have been delving into the paradox of evil and good, and how we recognise and respond to ever-changing shifts in the people that influence our journey through life.
Interpretation of history is also a constant source of inspiration and one I use as the base theme in Crossing the Line in regard to those early cultures and practices often labelled as witchcraft by opposing forces through ignorance or deliberate manipulation and oppression. It seems that any practice (in any culture) not within the realm of their understanding and belief is labelled observed by outsiders as “witchcraft”. Is there actually any such thing as “witches” – especially those women vilified and murdered as such?
The magic, spells and symbols throughout the Crossing the Line series is influenced by early Scottish and Irish traditions. While set in Australia, it’s during a time when emigration from Scotland and Ireland was high and the ties to home countries and family were strong. I’ve explored the strength of those ties and the tradition of wise women and healers that came out of centuries old belief systems, and looked at them through a more female-centric lens.
Keeper of the Way
I’ve chosen this extract as an early indication of the quixotic nature of Clement Benedict’s. Externally, he appears urbane and something of a dandy (when not in disguise) while internally he is a ball of conflicting thoughts and feelings. His relationship with his father is at the centre of his changing emotions and always carefully hidden behind the mask he presents to the world.
Lord Algernon Benedict’s word was both law and compulsion, the binding that kept his son close and, for the most part, biddable. Clement wasn’t sure whether he hated the old man or loved him. He knew though that he, and only he, had the man’s trust and that behind the stiff collars and trimmed moustache, the permanently frowned forehead and florid cheeks, his father was proud of him.
And so, Clement perched in a low branch of a tree. With his coarse woollen trousers and heavy cotton shirt and vest, worn boots and ex-navy cap, he had the appearance of one of the street cleaners, and should any curious soul wonder at his lurking presence in the garden, they would assume he was shirking his duties. A crew of cleaners were hard at work not far off, scrubbing shit and mud and dust from the wooden road. What was one more, albeit not quite as hardworking as the others?
Music stuttered out from the exhibition building behind him. He thought he might attend the evening concert if all went well. He’d miss the first half, of course, but the program was to be repeated and he was sure to fit it in before more nocturnal chores later in the week. The colonial band of musicians warming up for the night’s festivities struck a nice balance between the higher style he was used to and the working class jigs he’d taken a liking to on board the ship out here. A carriage rolled past, a couple of soused men fell out of the hotel across the road, and a straggle of people walked down the path. He ignored the distraction of the music and concentrated on the hotel and the people. He’d sipped a rather fine whisky in the main bar earlier in the evening; his father’s interest in the hotel proprietor had necessitated a reconnoitre of the premises. The woman in charge watched over her customers something like a mother hen, or hawk, he hadn’t decided which. She didn’t appear to be much of an adversary, but the effect she had on the crowd of drinkers couldn’t be mistaken. Raised voices softened when her gaze raked that section of the room; rough bantering edged toward gentlemanly conversation as she walked by. No, she didn’t look much of an adversary at all. They were the most dangerous kind.
Clement’s task tonight, simply to watch and remember, was already growing tedious, but it was one he was particularly good at. He had never forgotten a face, a voice, or a name.
He pulled his pipe and tobacco from his vest pocket, tucked the bit on the end of the aged wooden shank between his lips, and held it in place with his teeth so he had two hands free to pull out a small wad of leaf from the pouch and drop it in to the bowl. He pulled the strings of the pouch tight to close it and replaced it in his pocket. Hands free again he took the pipe, tapped down the tobacco with the tip of his finger, retrieved a packet of safety matches from another pocket, and prepared to light up. The process helped his concentration, and as the match flamed he paused before waving it gently in a circular motion over the tobacco. He breathed in the acrid smoke and let his focus go to the people walking down the incline toward him. They would pass by within feet of his position in the tree, but they were too full of themselves and the night ahead to notice him. Their chatter drowned out the soft draw and gurgle of the pipe as he coaxed it into warmth. He judged time by the life of the pipe. Each life took approximately twenty minutes. He allowed a similar length of time between lightings. By the end of the night, his mouth would be dry and bitter, and his lungs would ache. The next morning his chest would be thick with the need to cough out the poisoned air of the night before. But right here, at the start of the first pipe, he relaxed and enjoyed the taste and smell of the tobacco.
The chattering group passed by. Dusk was fast becoming true night. Lights in the hotel blazed like beacons as men going in to drink and out to wobble home ebbed and flowed like the tide. Clement narrowed his eyes and avoided the bright light to direct his gaze on the dull streetlights dotting the footpath. A lanky teen and young woman had rounded the corner on the opposite side of the street. They were ordinary in the extreme, nearly as chatty as everyone else out and about, until they drew level to the tree where Clement hid, and then silence fell over them. They darted fearful glances into the gardens; the woman appeared to look straight at him, and quickened their step as if they sensed danger.
The woman couldn’t have been much older than the teen and it was clear that she must be his sister, though her hair was a dark frame around her pale face while the boy’s hair was a sandy untidy mess beneath his cloth cap. The light was too dim to see the colour of their eyes, but the intensity with which they searched the trees was unmistakable. Clement held his breath and cupped one hand over the bowl of his pipe to hide the tell-tale glow of the burning tobacco. The smell would hardly be discernible over the stinging aroma that trailed behind the street cleaners. The boy put an arm around his sister and they hurried past the hotel, ignoring the drinkers and the noise, and sending furtive looks in his direction until they reached the corner of a dark lane. They turned in and disappeared between the buildings.
The buzz of excitement washed over Clement as he drew a deep breath and felt the warmth of the burning tobacco on his face. He’d seen who he needed to see.
Wow! Now that’s wonderful. Need to read the rest now?
Real people living though unprecedented times – sound familiar? This is what author Louise Fein brings to life in her novel People Like Us (see my review of this wonderful book here). Inspired by her family’s real life travels and tribulations, Louise looked at the historic events of Nazi Germany from both sides, creating wonderful characters who will resonate with readers. How can such things happen to ‘people like us’?
Welcome, Louise, lovely to speak with again. I see mention of your novel everywhere such as in the latest issue of the Historical Novel Society journal. I’m so glad to see it getting the attention it richly deserves. You came to writing later, after studying your masters – what advice would you give an aspiring writer?
LOUISE: My advice is: persist, persist, persist. Writing is a long game, so don’t be in too much of a hurry. Read as widely as possible, it’s the best and most vital way to becoming a writer. Set yourself easily achievable targets. Ones which don’t seem too daunting. You most likely have a job or busy life around which you must write, so at the end of a long day, you probably won’t want the prospect of writing 2,000 words. But, if you set a target of just 500 words a day, four days a week, you will easily have a first draft within a year. A comfortable target means you are less likely to bail or procrastinate. Then, once you have a first draft, even if it’s terrible (and most, certainly mine, are) you will have something to rewrite, edit and polish. Only when it is as good as you can get it, should you consider sending it out.
Yes, I agree, and I’d probably add that you need to put it aside for a little before sending. How much research is involved in your writing?
A lot! I am currently writing historical fiction, so it’s a huge part of the process. For People Like Us, I travelled to Leipzig twice to conduct in depth research there; I read everything I could get my hands on about Leipzig in the 1930s, as well as fiction and non-fiction set in that time period. I listened to people’s recollections, read contemporaneous diaries, letters, official documents and even Mein Kampf, to really understand the mindset of the Nazis. My current novel is set in 1920s England and I’m having to do just as much research for that, although a totally different subject matter. Luckily I love the research part of the job.
Can’t wait to see the new one! I guess that’s part of your writing goal for the next twelve months?
I am in the editing cycle for my second novel. I am excited for this book, but can’t say too much about it at present. I am also thinking ahead to my third book, and doing some early research for that. I have a setting for it, a premise and rough outline of a story, which is how I usually start. The early research is quite general but helps me to hone the story. I will then write a pretty rough first draft which will be a chance for me to explore my characters and story lines. Most of it will end up being ditched, but it’s part of the process. When I write the second draft, I will do more specific and detailed research as required. I will finesse and add depth and detail to the storyline. I will do at least three drafts, probably, before I feel ready to submit to my agent and editor. There will be further edits after that following their input.
And that process is why your writing is so good! Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
Before I started my master’s degree, I didn’t know any other writers. Through the course, I soon had a core group of writing friends and we continued to meet up long after the course had finished to critique each other’s work and to support each other in our journey to publication. Since getting my publishing deal, I have met a great many other writers, both virtually and in reality. They are, in my experience, THE most supportive, generous and lovely group of people who cheerlead each other. Writing is a lonely job and chatting to others who understand the writing life is crucial for me!
I find the #writingcommunity wonderful! Do you belong to a book club?
I belong to three! Reading is my passion and I also love chatting to likeminded people about books.
Three book clubs! That’s very keen. Where do you write?
I am very lucky in that I live in a 400-year-old converted watermill. In the garden we have an Elizabethan barn (dating back 500 years), beneath which runs a small stream, and which used to house a horse and some farm equipment. It has been converted into a library-style writing office, where I have my desk, a rug, couple of sofas and shelves full of books. I share the barn with some tiny birds who nest in the rafters and the odd bat! It is wonderfully peaceful and the perfect place for creativity, although, despite being heated, it is a little cold in the winter! My dog always accompanies me, curling up and sleeping in her basket at my feet while I type. Walking with her helps me solve many a plot hitch.
Writers and their dogs – a heavenly match. If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?
I think I would have to choose Erna. She is the best friend of my main character, Hetty. Erna is incredibly brave, selfless and a brilliant friend. We get to know Hetty in the book very well, having access to her inner thoughts and feelings. It would be great to know more about the lovely Erna.
I loved Erna, she’s great character. Do you send out a newsletter to readers?
I do. I send a quarterly newsletter to my readers who sign up to my website: www.louisefein.com You will receive a free WWII themed short story if you sign up and I promise, I won’t spam you!
That sounds like a wonderful deal! All the best, Louise, and let us know when Book #2 is here!
Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.
In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!
The Queen’s Almoner
Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
Sylvia Karakaltsas writes cracking historical novels – you can see my review of her fabulous and moving book A Perfect Stone here. I’m thrilled to have the chance to meet up with her, especially as we have discovered that we both live in Melbourne and can now be coffee mates!
Welcome, Sylvia. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
I guess the main thing is that I write historical fiction and short stories. My short stories are not, however, historical. If anything they tend to be contemporary fiction based on current day observations.
The two historical fiction novels I have written are both set in 1948 so I guess you could say, I like 1948. It’s not so much the year that’s fascinating but the time just after the war when there was still so much turmoil in the world and I find it rich for stories.
I think you have a great grasp of the period. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
I don’t necessarily have a favourite scene as such but there are scenes which have moved me.. In Climbing the Coconut Tree, two Australians were murdered on a Pacific island and the funeral scene for me was quite emotional to write.
In A Perfect Stone, there are scenes where young children are killed and writing them moved me to tears. Putting myself right in the scene affects me so much that the scenes are, I think, very powerful.
If the author is moved, then the scene has power indeed. Now, if I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
I think Jim from A Perfect Stone would growl and tell me in no uncertain terms how ludicrous I am. After all he can be cantankerous. He’d probably then add that he liked my new haircut.
He definitely would! He’s such a character!Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?
I’ve always loved reading. When I was a young girl, I devoured anything by Enid Blyton – who hasn’t? My goal had never been to be a writer, I had other things I wanted to do and the only constant was my love of reading.
I came to writing just over five years ago and dug into the books and the authors I had loved to study the art of writing. Inspiration came from Anthony Doer, Sonya Hartnett, Emily Bitto, Hannah Kent, Sophie Laguna and Nicole Hayes. Nicole in particular guided me with all three of my books I have the utmost admiration for her incredible skills.
That’s a great road for an author. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Getting older is so much better than everyone said and that you never stop learning and growing.
How lovely to hear. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I am well into my next novel. The character, Lucille, seems to be writing her own story despite me trying to send her in lots of directions. She pulls me right back where she wants to go and guess what, we’ve landed again in 1948. I just shake my head and wonder where she’ll take me next.
And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I’d probably be Helen from my novel A Perfect Stone. Although she’s probably more tolerant and nicer to her father Jim than me.
There’s a lot of Helen in you, I think. Or maybe vice versa! Thank you so much for sharing with us on Last Word of the Week. Coffee next week?
This story is based on what is (to non-Icelanders) a little-known piece of history: Turkish pirates raided Iceland in the 17th century to capture slaves – slaves for sale in the open markets.
Slavery was big business at the time. Many colonial powers were raiding Africa and any poorly-defended island or beach they could find to capture people for the slave market. Horrifying but true. Exploitation that was open and ‘fair game’ to the slave traders who thought nothing of capturing humans for sale. Slavery continues in many places and across many societies, and I wonder whether we are more civilised or less civilised than our predecessors just because we push it out of sight. But back to the book!
The evocation of Icelandic life is wonderful, and I was fully immersed in the characters (who are based on historical figures hinted at in old records) and their reactions to the raid. Asta, the preacher’s wife who is our main interest, is quite complex and not always as obedient and hard-working as she ‘could/should’ be, according to the standards of the village and the time. She is a bit of a dreamer, and that helps her survive the horrific events of the raid, the repulsive sea journey, birthing a child onboard, the slave market and her life in captivity (which is not as grim as it might have been).
There is a also a bit about the politics of Iceland and a fair bit about seafaring. I didn’t find the sea pirates very sympathetic although it is clear that we get many sides of the story. I didn’t quite feel Asta’s attraction to her captor, who had sold off her son and kept her young daughter in his harem, but the scenes of her inner struggles with her circumstances were intriguing.
A lot remains unresolved at the end of this story, but this is a great way into Icelandic history. Highly recommended.
Bone Lines, Stephanie Bretherton’s debut novel, considers what it is to be human by engaging us in the lives of two women, separated by millenia. Stephanie is a wonderful communicator who has a fascinating backstory of her own – Born in Hong Kong to a pair of Liverpudlians, she is now based in London, but manages her sanity by escaping to any kind of coast, particularly far west Cornwall.
LWOTW: Welcome, Stephanie, it’s lovely to meet you. Thanks for sharing this Q&A about writers and writing. Tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer.
Stephanie: Probably the first time I got an A for a school composition! Those kind of dopamine hits can become as addictive as sugar. Just as well, really, as I have struggled with ‘numbers’ all my life. Words, on the other hand, have been my friends. It’s amazing what you can do with them, from creating and escaping into your own imaginary worlds, to coming back out into the ‘real’ world and communicating ideas, forming friendships, entertaining people, making them feel good.
If I had lived in the times of the prehistoric character in my book, Bone Lines, I would have been a rubbish hunter but would probably have made myself useful as the storyteller of the tribe.
That’s a great thought. You are obviously good at imagining yourself into the texture of your stories. Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?
I use all three. A dream might inspire, or help solve a problem, but that’s more passive. Active imagination is the key driver. Planning tends to come retrospectively, if that makes sense. I reverse engineer the planning once I have a character, a world, a theme, an idea that has been allowed to run free and take its own shape.
I love that notion! Reverse engineering planning – brilliant strategy for the imaginative writer! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
I have always worked with words, communication or ‘storytelling’ in one form or another, and there have been quite a few thrills and spills along the way, from reading the weather report on Hong Kong television to building my successful ‘boutique’ communications agency. But creative writing fiction in particular has always been my first love and publishing a book was a lifelong goal. So undoubtedly bringing my debut novel Bone Lines out into the world last September, as exciting and terrifying as that journey has been, has to be the highpoint so far
I’m glad you mention the terror. It’s something writers don’t always expect, but it’s certainly there, hiding among the joys and delights. What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Three weeks unbroken chill at my bolthole in Cornwall in the summer, to rest, write, walk and play. I am very blessed to have found a corner of the world that fills my soul. I’ve had a rather nomadic life since childhood (though I have always been drawn to a coast) and I while recent generations of my family are not from Cornwall (we are misplaced Scousers) and I’d never spent much time there before, I had the strangest sense of ‘coming home’ when I visited friends near Land’s End three years ago.
I had a small inheritance after my widowed mother had died, and I found a tiny place near the sea that weekend, put in an offer on the train back to London and knew it would gradually become ‘my soul’s landscape.’ I still have to spend a lot of time in London for work, but whenever I can get back to Cornwall, it’s just magic. The perfect place to write. (And I really need to crack on with book two.)
That sounds divine – but yes, we need Book Two. (I’ll put aside thoughts of Poldark for the moment…very distracting…) If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
If it’s what you want to do so badly that you are prepared to make sacrifices of your time, ego, cash flow, personal life, and sometimes what feels like your sanity, then just keep writing – whether you are ever published or not.
If you have something that has to be said, a story that has to told, a head full of characters demanding to written about, if you feel most ‘yourself’ (and at peace with yourself) when you are writing, then write, write, write. But there are no guarantees. Anything can happen and you can get lucky, but it’s a hard profession in which to make either headway or money. On the other hand it’s also a wonderful profession to be a part of. You can also self-publish – but do that as well as you can too. All readers deserve your best, most professional work.
Do the work, learn the craft, take advice from those whose track record speaks for itself. Work with a good editor. If you can, pick a genre. I haven’t really yet, so am no example, but it will help when it comes to selling to the industry and then marketing – and know that marketing is a huge part of being an author too, so start to learn those skills as well. Nothing will just come to you though. Take rejection on the chin. You are unique, but you are not ‘special’ (yet) – writing is graft, but worth every minute, at least it has been to me.
Wonderful advice, thank you! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
Atticus Finch, and Scout. The father in The Road, and his kid. Cathy and Heathcliffe. Pip, Abel Magwitch, and Estella. Or Joe and Biddy. Luke, Han and Leia. And Chewie. My Dr Eloise and all her lost lovers, and John, the priest. My ‘Sarah’ and all her ‘children.’ Aren’t we all the characters we have ever loved, learned from, or imagined?
LWOTW: Indeed we are! Writers and readers are the most changeable, and perecptive, of humand. Thank you so much for speaking with me, Stephanie, it has been pure joy.