Caroline Beecham, the Sydney-based author, always wanted to tell stories but didn’t consciously set out to be a writer. While she did some screenwriting and advertising blurbs during her time working in television, it was the birth of her children that saw her change career. Wanting to develop her love of storytelling, she returned to university and then the Faber Academy to develop her love of the craft. Having just published her third novel Finding Eadie, Caroline believes that she’s just getting started.
Growing up in the seaside town of Brighton in the UK, Caroline spent her early years working in television as a producer. While working on documentary television, she discovered a love of sharing stories historical stories “about lesser-known, pioneering women whose lives can be reimagined through fiction. Women’s stories have been underrepresented in history,” she says. “My interest lies in what was happening on the home front in wartime, and also the social history. It’s really interesting seeing what people were doing and how they lived”.
Caroline finds her inspiration through research, “trawling the internet, looking through archives and travelling”, and it’s not unusual for her to stumble on one story whilst researching another. The story in her second book, Eleanor’s Secret came to her while she was researching Maggie’s Kitchen, a novel inspired by real events from the Second World War. The story often comes in the details and “they are really important in my writing,” adds Caroline.
For Caroline, her characters form as she researches her books, and it all “kind of happens painlessly,” she says. However, it was fellow author Jennifer Egan that helped Caroline realise that her book research was creating “a second memory bank” in her mind. “It’s while living in that fictional second memory bank, that Caroline can determine if her characters are “reacting in the right way in a particular situation. If they’re not, or it doesn’t feel right then you have created the world around them well enough,” she says.
It takes Caroline a few years to research, write and edit her books, and often one book with tale into the next. Her aim is to tell an “entertaining story that other people want to read. The fact that its historical fiction and people will learn from it is a happy by-product. While I didn’t set out to write historical fiction day, I want to write the kind of books that I’d like to read. I’m quite an impatient reader. I like a book which has got a really good story and that I’m going to get something else from it too”.
Caroline credits her Grandmother with the idea for her latest book. A story about a mother who sells her unwed daughter’s child was a common one in the early 1900s, especially during wartime. Finding Eadie tells the story about these illegal adoptions, a law to prevent them that had been shelved due to wartime, and the pioneering women Clara Andrew and Olive Melville Brown who fought to keep it in the spotlight. “It’s the parallels between then and now that I’m really interested in,” says Caroline.
Advice for budding writers
There is that old adage that there is a book in all of us. However, Caroline believes it’s essential to “have a story that you’re really passionate about, that you want to tell. You have to really love what you’re doing because you’re going to be spending so much time on it”. Once you’ve got that story, Caroline’s advice is to do a course where you can “learn the craft, have a structure and get feedback”.
Her other advice is to read a lot of books in the genre you’re interested in. “See what other people are doing and what appeals to you. Carry a notebook because you come across words that you either really like the sound of, or that you don’t use very often, or phrases that appeal”.
Stories find you
Caroline is currently working on turning her story Maggie’s Kitchen into a mini-series, but she’s also working on another book. “I just can’t help it,” she laughs. The thing is, it’s sort of cliché, but stories find you, and when they do, you can’t ignore them. That’s the thing I’d say to anyone who does have a project if you feel that this story has found you and that you want to tell it then that’s really quite precious”.
Finding Eadie is available now, and you can buy it here.