Tag Archives: historical fiction

My Book Anniversary

They say time flies but I had no idea how much until I began to look back to 10 March 2016 when I published my debut novel, Climbing the Coconut Tree.

My writing journey began two years earlier when I was inspired to write a fictionalised account of a double murder which occurred on a little-known place called Ocean Island. You can read more about how it started here.

What is Climbing the Coconut Tree about?

Set in 1948, eighteen-year-old Bluey Guthrie leaves his family in Australia to take the job of a lifetime on a remote island in the Central Pacific. Bill and Isobel, seasoned ex-pats help Bluey fit in to a privileged world of parties, dances and sport.

However, the underbelly of island life soon draws him in. Bluey struggles to understand the horrors left behind after the Japanese occupation, the rising fear of communism, and the appalling conditions of the Native and Chinese workers. All this is overseen by the white colonial power brutalising the land for Phosphate: the new gold.

Isobel has her own demons and watches as Bill battles to keep growing unrest at bay. Drinking and gambling are rife. As racial tensions spill over causing a trail of violence, bloodshed and murder, Bluey is forced to face the most difficult choices of his life.

I’m proud of my debut and in the years since, I’ve written and published three more books.

Out of Nowhere: A collection of short stories published in 2017

A quirky and delightful mix of short stories taking the reader into unexpected territory.

A Perfect Stone published in 2018

A sweeping tale of love and loss, an old man’s suppressed memories resurface after a stroke. He finally confronts what happened when, as a ten-year-old, he was forced at gunpoint to leave his family and trek barefoot through the mountains to escape the Greek Civil War in 1948.

The Good Child published in 2021

Rich in detail and epic in scope, The Good Child is a powerful novel of emotional and financial resilience, loss and unexpected friendship between two women.

So yeah, I guess I’ve been a little busy. No wonder time has flown.

Book Review: The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

A civil war in England breaks out in 1642 tearing the countryside apart, forcing families and villages to decide whether they support Parliamentarians or the King.

This is a beautifully told tale of a female physician Jayne Swift who is caught up in the war. From a Royalist family, she declares herself neutral prepared to offer her medical knowledge to people who need her from either side. She meets William Harrier who has many mysterious hats raising her curiosity each time their paths cross.

You might think that this is a novel about war but it is much more than that. It’s a novel about a strong and independent woman forging a career while the war rages around her. She’s an unusual character for the era – straight talking, single minded, witty as she is charming and knowledgeable. I suspect that a real- life character such as Jayne might have had many more difficulties in the day. Walters however does a good job in throwing many challenges Jaynes way and we as the reader constantly cheer for her.

As for William Harrier, he is a mystery – a mercenary, a tough fighter, wearing coats of different colours, his true character slowly evolves as does his interest in Jayne.

The medical knowledge and practices were fascinating and no doubt thoroughly researched and the siege of Lyme well conveyed. I’d not read a book about the Civil war before and there was a large focus on the content of battles and the history of both sides.

What I did find interesting is that the relationship between Jayne and William takes a back seat, weaving in and out of the story until the end when the last two chapters provide a quick summary. This surprised me a little as it felt like an information dump.

Having said that, I did enjoy the book, the writing and appreciated the history. It’s easy to read and although long, is very quickly absorbing.

Book Review: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

This epic story is mostly about eighteen-year-old Emmett and his eight-year-old brother Billie who set off on a road trip. I  say mostly because these two are the main characters from whom the rest pivot.

Go back in time to June 1954 when Emmett comes home having done his time at a juvenile work farm. His father, dead and his home sold by the bank, all he wants is to pick up his eight-year-old brother Billie, leave town in his beloved Studebaker and head to Texas where he figures there’ll be plenty of opportunity to use his skills as a builder for a growing population.

Billie, however has other ideas as he want to go to California to find their mother who abandoned him as a baby. Finding long lost postcards sent by her, Billie works out that the Lincoln Highway will get them there. Emmett agrees after realising the greater opportunity to build his wealth. What they both don’t figure on is Duchess and Woolly railroading their plans. Having escaped the juvenile work farm, Duchess via trickery and manipulation detour the brothers in the opposite direction to New York where Woolly is to retrieve his $150k inheritance which he is prepared to split.

What ensues is a series of disasters as well as a struggle for survival as Duchess and his erratic behaviour plunge the four into a course that is both comical and tense.

It’s a long book but an easy one to read taking us on a journey not just to New York but also into the minds of the various characters who are at times given their own point of view by the author. Mostly we see Emmett, Billie and Duchess but there are a host of other side characters who I’m not sure added much to the narrative. This is because it was part repetitive, part backstory and part meandering thoughts. Sometimes I enjoyed these asides but for the most part I thought it slowed the story down too much. I wanted to race ahead impatient to know what was to happen next.

Each boy is fundamentally good in their own way but through circumstance or a misguided view of the world have lost their place in it. Billie is the glue holding them all together and  is remarkably insightful for his young years, almost to the point of being scarcely believable. But I took the leap. Billie anchors them with a common sense that belies his years and is at times very touching.

It certainly is a hero’s journey in more ways than you realise, yet the twist in the end is heartbreaking. This one is certainly a memorable one. Check it out.

Author interview

I was recently interviewed about my latest book, The Good Child. You can check it out below.

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…

The Good Child: exploring how power is shaped — Clare Rhoden

New Book Release: The Good Child by S.C. Karakaltsas

We’re finally out of lockdown mark 6 in Melbourne and after three straight months I’m emerging into a social life and a little retail therapy.

It might look like I’ve spent my days reading and reviewing other people’s books, but in between I’ve been slowly and methodically and sometimes haphazardly writing another historical fiction novel.

It’s taken a little over three years and any writer will tell you that it’s hard work even with a pandemic to distract in between.

The cover was done by the brilliant, Anthony Guardabascio from Continue , and doesn’t it pack a punch of vibrant colour?

About The Good Child:

The Good Child is a compelling story of two very different women: 72-year-old Lucille, with a hidden tragic past, and 30-year-old Quin, whose ambitions lost her everything.

Everyone hates Lucille for what her son Tom, did and she can’t blame them. He’ll probably go to jail. She’s to blame too — she ignored all of his faults perhaps even encouraged them. She never wanted him in the first place. But that wasn’t her first mistake. She’d ignored her grandmother’s warning that if she married the man she loved, her life would be a disaster. She was right too.

Now Lucille’s on a train with no money and no home. All she’s left with is a blind overprotective love for her son, but even that is now pushed to the brink as she comes to terms with her actions and those of Tom’s.

Quin worked for Tom and knows exactly what he’s done because she helped him do it – she turned a blind eye to the corners he cut and the lies he told. Now, she’s lost everything and it’s her own fault. She wants revenge.

Then she meets Lucille on the train and finds herself facing her past and her future.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, The Good Child is a powerful novel of emotional and financial resilience, loss and unexpected friendship.

First Reviews

And the first reviews have started. Check out this lovely 5 Star review for The Good Child 

The Good Child is available on Amazon.com or Amazon.au

Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

This is the brilliantly imagined story about Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who inspires the writing of the play Hamlet.  But it’s more than that. It’s a story about Hamnet’s mother, Agnes (Anne) Hathaway, the wife of Shakespeare.

The first half of the novel sets the scene.  Judith, Hamnet’s twin sister suddenly falls ill and her bewilderment is described in detail.

“She cannot comprehend what has happened to this day. One moment, she and Hamnet were pulling bits of thread for the cat’s new kittens … and then she had suddenly felt a weakness in her arms, an ache in her back, a prickling in her throat. … Now she is on this bed and she has no idea how she got here.” 

Hamnet desperately tries to find help for his sister.  His mother is out looking after her bees, his grandparents are not where they should be and his father is away in London. His desperation grows as does our anxiety for him and Judith. Then, it slips back in time between chapters from the present day to when Hamnet’s parents meet. Their love is genuine despite the 8-year age gap (Shakespeare is said to be 18) between them and when Agnes falls pregnant, they marry.  

In the second half, Agnes comes home to find her child ill. With her herbal remedies and gift for seeing into the future she desperately tries to keep her child alive.

It is imagined that the child falls sick from the plague and the author provides a delightful side story about a flea and its journey from continent to continent via the sea until it comes to rest in the village and bites Judith. It makes for even more compelling reading given the state of the world we now live in and the migration of our present day virus.

The other fascinating thing about this book is that Shakespeare’s name is never mentioned. He is merely referenced as the tutor, the father, the husband which serves the purpose of pivoting the story squarely on his little-known wife. Indeed, we become familiar with the detail of her everyday life:  her marriage, childbirth, living with her in-laws, moving from country to town, the separation from her husband and the subsequent death of her child.

Imagery so fine, that we can imagine ourselves there. “She is drifting through the apartment, touching things as she goes: the back of a chair, an empty shelf, the fire irons, the door handle, the stair rail…. She is … out the apartment’s back door, which leads into a shared yard… she fires the oven in the cookhouse and coaxes the dough into rounds, adding a handful of ground herbs from the kitchen garden.”

Losing a child was more common than it is today but is nevertheless just as painful. No detail of the mother-child bond is spared and the depth of grief is raw with emotion.

The other characters are well drawn and the love between Agnes and her husband and the bond she also has with her brother is moving.   

A novel, beautifully crafted and lyrically executed makes this one a joy to read.

Book Review: Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams

I’ve been on a bit of a Elizabeth Macarthur odyssey ever since I read Michelle Scott Tucker’s book Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world. (See my earlier review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2020/05/22/book-review-elizabeth-macarthur-a-life-at-the-edge-of-the-world-by-michelle-scott-tucker/ ). When I heard about Elizabeth & Elizabeth, a fictional story about Elizabeth’s friendship with Elizabeth Macquarie, I had to buy the book.

Too many Elizabeth’s can be a bit confusing so I’ll use surnames. A young Mrs Macquarie was married to Lachlan Macquarie who came to Australia as the Governor of the new colony. He was a man of vision, providing the name of Australia and introducing social reforms to emancipate convicts despite strong opposition from the elite including Mr Macarthur. Williams imagines Mrs Macquarie to be a strong and assertive influence on Lachlan and credits her with imaginative ideas of architecture, garden landscaping as well as social welfare for young women.

Meanwhile Mrs Macarthur married to the troublesome, duel challenging at the drop of a hat, Mr Macarthur is much older and wiser not given to airs and graces while she’s grappling with a couple of sheep on the farm she’s managing because Mr Macarthur is in England sorting out the scraps he’s had with the previous Governor.

When she first arrives, Mrs Macquarie is portrayed as a wide-eyed and naïve young woman and I wondered if it might have been further from the truth given that she was thirty-one not twenty-one. But her character grows as she quickly adapts to the realities of the harshness of colonial life. She holds the much older Mrs Macarthur in high esteem. The relationship while brittle at first grows over the years as the challenges to the Macquarie’s post grows more difficult.

Of course, Mr Macarthur is as troublesome as history has portrayed. I’d always imagined that the relationship between Mr and Mrs Macarthur to be a difficult one with little love. Yet the author paints a loving and caring relationship between them. From what I’d read so far, I really doubted the woman could have done anything other than be relieved when he went to London for several years leaving her to make her mark on the colony with her sheep breeding ideas.

In reality, history being written by men provides us with little knowledge of the relationship between the two women but Williams reads between the lines to give us a delicious account of what these strong and intelligent women brought to society and to the foundations of the colony giving them credit when there’d been little before. No doubt there would have been few women from their class and they would have little choice than to fraternise despite their husbands opposing views of each other. I really liked the idea that women could come together to support each other enough to make the colony a better place. I can’t imagine how horrific it must have been to be a woman where childbirth and child raising was fraught with disease and death.   

The other great insight is just how entrenched the class system was adopted and continued on from England. It’s hardly surprising that the governing bodies, serving their own self-interests were mean-spirited about the people in the colony. But wait, what’s changed today with our present government? Perhaps not a lot when you consider the refugees who came here by boat.

This novel is rich in history, well-written and researched. If you’re after a bit of history about upper-class women of influence then check this one out.