Interview: Caroline Overington, Ghost Child

| 24 November , 2009 | 3 Replies

Premise: On 11 November 1982, police were called to a housing estate an hour west of Melbourne. In the lounge room of an otherwise ordinary brick veneer home, they found a five-year-old boy lying on the carpet. His arms were by his sides, his palms flat. The paramedics could see no obvious signs of trauma other than an almost imperceptible indentation to the boy’s skull, but he died the next day.

After you\’ve read this post, you will want to head over to your favourite online bookstore and buy a copy of Caroline Overington\’s book, Ghost Child, and have it shipped to your mailbox ASAP! Ghost Child is seriously un-put-downable (I read it in two days).

This story is one that needed to be told and it\’s a story that we all wonder about somewhere in our minds when we read any horror story in the media particularly the ones involving children … what happens to the victims of a tragedy, especially the children?

In the past couple of years reporting for the Australian, Caroline has reported on eight murders of young children and she felt frustrated by the limitations on what she could say in the media about the victims and so she overcame that frustration by storytelling her own fiction about the lives of the victim’s after any such tragedy.

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Caroline Overington is a two-time Walkley Award winning journalist (the Walkley‘s recognise excellence in Aussie journalism); she is currently a journo with The Australian newspaper and we met at her book launch in Bondi and then recently sat down to have a chat over coffee and cake and seriously I could sit and chat with her all day, she\’s not scary (in case you think that ‘cause she\’s a hard hitting journo), she\’s so down-to-earth, easy to talk to and totally awesome.

Sidebar: Do you remember the Norma Khoury story?  Well that story was one of the stories that Caroline won a Walkley for and do you remember the documentary, Forbidden Lies?  Well Caroline was the journalist.  Her other Walkley was for KickbackInside the Australian Wheatboard Scandal (see why you could think she was scary?) 🙂

But back to Ghost ChildCaroline\’s attention to detail is so precise, the characters and storytelling is so real, it doesn’t feel like it’s a fictional tale at all.  The story is spoken from the perspective of eleven people and Caroline succeeded succinctly in creating different voices and perspectives for each of them; the narratives just flowed from one chapter to the next. I particularly loved the kindness and compassion she bought to the characters and the ‘realness’ of the role media play in shaping a victim’s life moving forward; as well as the ‘realness’ of the emotional impact a tragedy has and what behaviours can come out in the children as a result.  Kindness and compassion is something that I feel strongly about and I believe we should consider them first first before judging someone in a negative way; I believe by removing judgment from our every day we would have a less aggressive society, it’s hard to do but being more conscious about it is the first step.

Anyway, Caroline has kindly answered some questions for us:

The story you told with Ghost Child was so needed and I\’m so glad you did tell it from the victim’s perspective.  The level of detail allows it to feel real.  Why did you choose to write this story and as fiction?

As a reporter, I\’ve had to cover child abuse and child murder and many times I felt like I couldn\’t tell the whole story, because of the laws that prevent reporters naming the killers and closed courts.  Fiction enabled me to tell the truth.

Was it hard to write in a fictional voice than your own voice being a journalist?

I enjoyed the freedom of being able to decide what would happen.  As a reporter, you aren\’t allowed to decide anybody\’s fate, only respond to it.

I know you didn’t initially start writing this book to be specifically published, it was a creative process to help you through a difficult time, when did you realise that it should be published?

I suppose I always hoped it would be published. I already had an agent from ‘kickback\’ so I just gathered up all my courage and gave it to her, hoping she wouldn\’t think it was dreadful!

How was the process different to writing your opinion pieces?

It was interesting to me to write as a man, and as a woman, as a police officer, as a surgeon as a barrister.  I had to try and imagine how each of these people would think and speak and what they would be like.

How does it feel to be on the other side of the media fence?  I know you were really nervous about the release, being judged in a different way?  (I\’ve got such thin skin, couldn\’t do it!)

My challenge was this: if you write fiction how do you know it\’s any good?  It\’s all come out of your head, and who is to say that it\’s interesting?  So of course I was warned I\’d be crushed but it hasn\’t happened!

How did it feel to win not one but two Walkley Awards?  I can imagine you being shocked and humbled.

Awards are strange things.  Sometimes you do great work and nobody cares and other times you just happen to be at the right place at the right time.

How amazing was the Norma Khouri story? I never got to read the book, I really would have liked to, why did she have to say it was real?  People still would have bought it and read if it wasn\’t!

Norma is one of the most charismatic people in the world. But she cannot be trusted.

What was the best thing about living in New York?

It was all so marvellous.  One of my favourite times was Winter; in the snow, in toboggans, in Central Park, with fur hats and pretzels and the carousel.

What or who inspires you every day? The children; I want to be, more than anything, a great mum

Do you have a favourite book? Anything by Corman McCarthy, but especially “Blood Meridian”


Okay some fun and girlie questions:

Who is your celebrity crush? Brad Pitt – especially his first appearance in Thelma & Louise

Where is your favourite place in the world and why? New York City, because all my memories of the children\’s earliest days are there.

Describe yourself in five words: Mum, redhead, Bob Dylan fanatic

What\’s your life motto? Don\’t be daunted

What five favourite things you can\’t live without? My twins, husband and Bob Dylan’s music.

Which Sassi Moment best describes you and why? Just in Case – I like to be prepared!

Your favourite fun and girlie thing you like to do? Go shopping with my 9  y/o daughter Chloe

Who would you like to have at a girl\’s night in and why? (can be anyone around the globe living or passed): I\’d watch whatever Chloe wanted on TV, make popcorn and eat all the Maggie Beer burnt fig jam ice cream in the freezer!

Available now: Random House RRP$32.99

You can follow Caroline on twitter or visit her blog at the Australian, I promise she’s not scary!

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Comments (3)

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  1. Carmina says:

    Can’t wait till I get my copy of this novel from Santa,hint,hint and relax on my summer holidays.

  2. Natalie says:

    Aaaaand on the strength of that I’ve just given my mother a bit of paper with the words “new novel: Ghost Child by Caroline Overington” written on it. She’s trying to sort out her Xmas present list.

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