Author Archives: S.C. Karakaltsas

About S.C. Karakaltsas

I am a published author of historical fiction and short stories.

Writing is Hard!

Writers know what I mean. Writing is hard! It’s about finding the story and getting it down in a coherent way. It’s about editing, rewriting, deleting, and thinking and mulling and… I could go on. Wait! I already have.

But it’s also about finding the sweet spot of the story, the joy of a beautiful sentence, of falling in love with the characters, nurturing and cajoling them along and the sadness of leaving them when it comes to the end. It’s all consuming, night and day in your head until it’s time to let it go. Out into the world for others to see, to judge, to like or not.

I’ve been writing my next book for the last eighteen months, pushing it along slowly and methodically at times, researching and looking for the story. The draft is done and there are two stories not one. Parts of it have been rewritten at least three times so far.

Rewriting is not new to me. My first novel was rewritten at least twenty times, my second perhaps ten or more times. I enjoy the editing and rewriting process as I mould the book from rough diamond to something polished and a joy to read (I hope).

Someone said to me yesterday. “Surely it’s easier by now.”  I raised my eyebrows. It’s not easier. Should it be? For me it’s not.  And neither will the next one and the next one after that. There’s no easy shortcut. It doesn’t get done by any other way than sitting/standing in front of a keyboard or notebook or Dictaphone and just writing.

Writing is just plain, hard work!

Book Review: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe, in Dark Emu has conducted a thorough research into the evidence by a host of sources to refute what was taught to me in school and what most Australians believed. And that is, we were under the impression that Aboriginal people were nomadic hunter gatherers. Pascoe turns this on its head to explain that Aboriginal people had their own villages with well-constructed huts, dams and water traps, toiled the land, grew crops and enjoyed a fair political system. Not only that, Pascoe convincingly argues that Aboriginal history is rich and is all around us, if we only care to look for it.

 “We’ve been taught that Aboriginal peoples arrived in Australia after crossing land bridges from Indonesia. … it was assumed that this happened 10000 years before sea levels began to rise – after the Ice Age. After the introduction of carbon dating, that figure ballooned to 40000 years and, after further research using more modern dating techniques, to 60000 years.”

Each chapter produces a raft of research and evidence to challenge the colonialist way of thinking of what happened before. Of course, the argument that Aboriginals were nomadic suited the colonialists as it gave them the opportunity to acquire the land – after all, in their minds, no-one else had ties to it.

Pascoe gives us evidence of advanced aqua cultural practices from sophisticated eel traps to sustainable fisheries. A few months ago, I went with friends to the Budj Bim National Park half way between Hamilton and Port Fairy in Victoria and was awestruck by the historic significance of the eel traps. What many Australians may not know is that Budj Bim is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List and features the earliest living example of aquaculture in the world. Simply astounding. In Australia there has been very little fanfare about this significant announcement. The Roman empire ruins across Europe has nothing on aboriginal culture.

The chapter around Fire was particularly enlightening as more than one hundred and fifty fires rage across Australia at the time of writing, causing untold damage to houses, people and millions of animals and plant life. I wonder if we had listened and to our Indigenous citizens whether we could have managed to ease the current disaster in any way.

“The Aboriginal approach to fire worked on five principles. One, the majority of the agricultural lands were fired on a rotating mosaic, which controlled intensity, and allowed plants and animals to survive in refuges. Two, the time of the year when fires were lit depended on the type of country to be burnt and the condition of the bush at the time. Three, the prevailing weather was crucial to the timing of the burn. Four, neighbouring clans were advised of all fire activity. Five, the growing season of particular plants was avoided at all costs.”

In fact, this has been discussed many times over the last few years yet action and further investigation has been slow. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-14/traditional-owners-predicted-bushfire-disaster/11700320

It’s natural to look for a scapegoat in the current bush-fire disaster which sees little end in sight until rain begins to fall. Climate change, land mismanagement, lack of funding, lack of leadership by our paid politicians, the drought, all have a part to play. But if what we learn takes into account a respectful dialogue with our Aboriginal elders then we may actually fix up our mistakes and change our thinking for a better future.

“If we could reform our view of how Aboriginal people were managing the national economy prior to colonisation, it might lead us to inform the ways we currently use resources and care for the land. Imagine turning our focus to the exploitation of meat-producing animals indigenous to this country. Imagine freeing ourselves from the overuse of superphosphates, herbicides and drenches. Envisage freeing ourselves from the need of fences, and instead experimenting with grazing indigenous animals and growing indigenous crops.”

Yes! My imagination is wild with possibilities and ideas. And so, this book serves as a timely message to all of us and as I peer around my own garden, I’ve started to question why the hell I have a water-sucking English style garden of roses, lawn and hedges and ponder about what was here before.

Dark Emu is sobering to read yet provides a hopeful argument for each of us to change our thinking. This is an important one  for all Australians to read.

NOTE: Bush Fire Fundraiser 

I’m participating in a fundraising effort for our firefighters. It’s a twitter auction involving hundreds of Australian authors. Incredible items are being auctioned -from signed books, writing retreats, mentoring, workshops etc. If you’d like to know more head over to the webpage below and if you have a twitter account, type in#authorsforfireys and make a bid.

Get in quick. The twitter auction ends 11pm on 11 January, 2020 (Melbourne/Sydney time)

I have offered up signed copies of my three books and am throwing in a framed original drawing used for the cover of Out of Nowhere.

https://authorsforfireys.wixsite.com/website

Book of the Year 2019

I’ve read thirty-four books this year, many of which I’ve loved. Is it because I’ve been selective? Or is it just that there are so many fantastic books around? Perhaps I’ll never know.
But what I do know is that I’ve decided on my most favourite and claim it as my Book of the Year for 2019. Before I reveal the title, I’ll run through what I actually read. Have you read any of the same.

  1. The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton (Aus)
  2. The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein (Aus)
  3. Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak (Aus) *****
  4. The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden (Aus) *****
  5. Orhphan Train by Cristina Baker-Kline
  6. Beartown by Frederick Backman
  7. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
  8. The Corset by Laura Purcell
  9. Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales (Aus)
  10. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  11. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Aus)
  12. The Hollow Bones by Leah Kaminksy (Aus)
  13. The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
  14. The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper (Aus)
  15. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens *****
  16. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  17. The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan *****
  18. Islands by Peggy Frew (Aus) *****
  19. Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman (Aus) *****
  20. Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia by Anita Heiss (Aus)
  21. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  22. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver *****
  23. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan *****
  24. Academic Curveball by James J Cudney
  25. The Erratics by Vicki Leveau-Harvie (Aus) *****
  26. Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith (Aus)
  27. The Fragments by Toni Jordan (Aus) *****
  28. Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar (Aus) *****
  29. Stone Girl by Eleni Hale (Aus) *****
  30. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid *****
  31. The Spy and the Traitor by Ben McIntyre *****
  32. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth (Aus)
  33. Normal People by Sally Rooney
  34. The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

More than half were by Australians which is natural given that I live and write in Australia and there is a strong writing community. I notice that most of the books were written by women and  that wasn’t meant to be intentional but it just so happens that there’s an amazing number of great women writers. I rated fourteen books with five stars which is why it’s so hard to narrow down my book of the year.

However, the book which stays with me the most was : Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak. It had every element just right, great writing, humour, tragedy, sorrow and drama. Check out my review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2019/02/15/book-review-bridge-of-clay-by-markus-zusak/

Happy New Year everyone.

 

Book Review: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

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The Island of Sea Women is a fascinating novel of sorrow and grief but more importantly it’s also a novel of friendship, spirituality and the strength of women in an unusual matriarchal society.

Set on the  Korean Island of Jeju, the friendship of two women Young-sook and Mi-ja stretches across time from the occupation by the Japanese until 2008. From different backgrounds, they join the Haenyeo, a collective of women, who traditionally for centuries dive and harvest sea creatures to not only feed themselves, but for sale. The men traditionally stay home and look after the children while the women come together and dive. The island is known for their Haenyeo traditions where women dive even in freezing conditions and worship a female god to protect them when they go out. At the age of fifty-five they retire and nuture baby dives in their teen years.

I thought the book started slowly as we learnt about how the friendship began and all about the matriarchy of the collective and the diving. I have to be honest, while I didn’t warm to the characters at first, I persisted and I’m so glad I did. The next two thirds was a dynamite of action, tragedy and heartbreak. The story flipped into and out of 2008 but not too often.

It’s a fascinating history and the author has done a mountain of work on her research, not just about the Haenyeo, the ancient practice of worshipping female Gods but of Korea’s past and lead up to the War. I’d never heard of this particular Island and when I finished the novel, I found myself reading more about it.

I’d recommend it thoroughly.

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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There’s a lot to admire about this novel. The writing for one is wonderful. It’s quite different although you’ll need to get used to the lack of dialogue punctuation. But I liked this touch, as if listening in on a conversation. There are lots of detail which puts you right into the world of two young people, Marianne and Connor. We’re taken into key moments in their lives identified by the chapter headings of two months later, six months etc. You might also be surprised as I was that it’s not set in America but in Ireland.

Now, for a bit of background. Marianne is friendless and alone in high school with a poor home life, despite being wealthy. She’s the odd one out and is ostracised by everyone. Connor on the other hand is one of the popular boys at school and he fits in well. The class difference is stark as Connor’s mum is Marianne’s family cleaner. At school they pretend not to know each other but a relationship between them builds. He’s desperate to keep their relationship a secret for fear of ridicule but she doesn’t care. This changes when they leave home and go to the same University where being the odd one is cool and popular while Connor struggles to fit in.

Their relationship and the power dynamics between the two, twists and turns from sexual to friendship and back again. Apart, they’re different people and struggle with their own angst about their identity and how they fit into the world. What happened in Marianne’s family is teased out slowly until we understand her more, although I failed to understand why her mother was so against her. Together, they’re better people but can’t seem to communicate clearly about what they want and this becomes a pattern in their relationship. At times this feels frustrating and I can see why it has polarised some readers. About three-quarters of the way through I was getting restless and then I was pulled in again.

There are dark themes tackled and there’s been a lot written about the ending which I enjoyed. It was as it should have been. The subject matter of young love and angst may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s one to read simply because it’s very well done. Long listed for a host of prizes including the Booker, it really is a good read, skilfully written.

Book Review: The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth

 

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It’s an ordinary day for Lucy. The kids are arguing over a television program, her husband Ollie is cooking burgers on the barbecue, and the house is a mess. When police knock on the door, Lucy knows what it will be about.

“I close my eyes because I already know what she is going to say. My mother-in-law, (Diana) is dead.”

A suicide note is found next to Diana but things don’t add up. She was an upstanding member of the community with high standards. She also happens to be very wealthy and questions begin piling up. When Ollie and his sister, Nettie both desperate for money, find out that the will was changed only weeks earlier, things really begin to get interesting.

The story is told mostly from two points of view, Lucy and Diana. We get inside the heads of both women, feeling their pain as their secrets unfold. When Lucy met Diana, she hoped for a  mother figure to replace her own long dead mother but is disappointed by her mother-in-law’s coldness.

I liked the intricacies of the relationships between every member of the family and secrets are revealed nicely so that the reader understands why they behave the way they do. Diana’s harsh upbringing and the way she treats her children makes sense when you find out what happened to her as a teenager. Her husband Tom is a saint keeping the peace between his children and his wife.

It’s an intricate story weaving back and forth between the main characters. In fact, each character is well drawn and the changing relationship particularly between Lucy and Diana is very well done.

This is another great book by a Melbourne author who also happens to be a New York Times best seller.  If you’re looking for something fantastic to read during the holiday season or a great gift, then grab this one.

Book Review: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben McIntyre

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Move over James Bond. The Spy and the Traitor is an edge of the seat read about Oleg Gordievsky, a Russian spy working for the British intelligence during the Cold War.

Oleg was the son and brother of KGB agents and it only seemed natural that he too join the KGB. His first post as an intelligence agent in Denmark opened his eyes to the West in 1968. As he rose through the KGB ranks to become the top KGB officer in London, his disillusionment with communism intensified and became an informant for the British from 1973 until his defection in 1985.

The intimate workings of both sides of the spy game was a fascinating read and I was astounded to find out that the world was on the brink of nuclear war in 1983 when Russian paranoia was at its height. Russia mistakenly believed that the US was about to push the nuclear button. Gordievsky revealed this information which was given to Thatcher and Reagan who quickly diffused Russia’s concerns. Thank God for Gordievsky. He is also credited with not just preventing nuclear war but quite possibly the break-up of the Soviet Union.

MI6 kept a close eye on Gordievsky; the risks were high and very few people knew his identity. However, the CIA were desperate to find out the identity of the British source and the power struggles between the two intelligence machines was intense.

The spy world is filled with treachery, ego and stupidity highlighted by games of cat and mouse. I had to keep reminding myself that this actually happened and was not make-believe which served to make me feel a bit uncomfortable that the world’s peace is in the hands of these so-called intelligence gathering experts.

The way the author has pulled this book together from interviews and documented evidence  is truly remarkable. It makes for chilling and uncomfortable reading. Just try and put it down. I’ll bet you can’t.