Elisabeth, it’s lovely to finally meet you. I’ve been wanting to talk to you ever since the revelations that came out during Russell Montgomery’s trial. I thought we could tackle it by starting at the beginning and working our way from there.
Elisabeth: Sounds good to me.
What prompted you to move from Sydney to Canberra?
Elisabeth: I love Sydney but not to put too fine a point on it I felt I had to leave. Work and life there were no longer tenable.
You were with Legal Aid and you moved to the Canberra Legal Aid office. So it wasn’t Legal Aid as such that you wanted to move away from?
Elisabeth: No. It was more that I kept running into someone I wanted nothing to do with.
Would that be Thierry Richards QC?
Elisabeth: Look … regardless of how I feel about that person I don’t want to … would you mind if we moved on.
Okay, let’s talk about when you arrived in Canberra. You jumped in at the deep end with the Russell Montgomery case.
Elisabeth: I’m really sorry… but do you mind if we don’t talk about that either. It’s still very raw.
Not a problem. I understand. Let’s take a step back. Describe yourself to me. How do you see yourself?
Elisabeth: Okay. Let me attempt a bit of objectivity. Short spiky red hair. I used to be able to sit on it but had it cut before coming to Canberra. Typical redhead’s colouring … white, no freckles because I’ve never been a sunlover, size 10, 5’7” in bare feet, and I’m 34. How’s that? Oh, and shall I tell you what Robert said about my eyes? Green as deep ocean on a sunbright day. I was speechless when he said it. No-one’s ever described them quite like that before. So now you’d know me in a crowd, yes?
Yes, I believe I would. Next question: What do you hope to achieve in life?
Elisabeth: That a big question. Many things I suppose, but happiness has to be at the top. Nothing’s worth it if you’re not happy.
And are you? Happy, that is.
Elisabeth: I’m working on it.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Elisabeth: I’m a walker. For the exercise but also because I love it. Getting out and exploring and letting my mind wander. Never fails to refresh and re-invigorate.
Your friend Honey Milton was often a walking companion I believe. What is she to you?
Elisabeth: My best friend. Always will be. She’s gorgeous. I adore her. I miss her like crazy now that I’m in Canberra. We used to see each other all the time because her man travels a lot. He’s an actor and tours with his company. And as you say, we both liked walking. Not so often together nowadays, given we now live in different cities.
What about Robert Murphy?
Elisabeth: Robert? I liked him the moment I met him. He’s straightforward, sincere, good at his job. What’s not to like? The fact that he’s very attractive is a plus … . He stuck with me from the start despite the fact I couldn’t have been very likeable. I had my reasons, but he didn’t know that. But I count him among my good friends now. I hope he feels the same way about me.
As much as I’d like to explore that further I know you don’t want to, so let’s turn to the trial. What was it about the Stavros family that irked you so much?
Elisabeth: Every single one of them was lying and I knew it. But proving it was almost impossible because of Russell’s amnesia. Thank God for Robert and Joe Gaudry. In spite of me being no help they kept pushing. It was entirely because of them we got to the truth.
Let’s finish with what’s made you the woman you are today?
Elisabeth: Mmm. That may be a question better put to others. But I’ll have a go at it. On a personal level I was very young when I made the decision that altered my life. At the time I felt it was the only choice I could make, I believed I was too young to do anything else. I still believe that. But I feel the weight of condemnation from some people. I try not to let it bother me. On a professional level, law was something that always interested me. When I started university I began a Bachelor of Arts, but the law components really gripped me so I changed and ended up doing a combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Economics. I still like law. But that’s not to say I wouldn’t be happy doing something else … if something else came along.
Elisabeth, thanks, I know you weren’t looking forward to this and what I might have been planning to ask you. How about we go for a drink. My shout.
Elisabeth: It’s Friday night so why not. Great idea. Just so you know though. Anything I say under the influence is not for public consumption.
Fair enough. Grab your bag then. There’s a new bar opened up in Garema Place. I thought we could see if it’s any good.
You can find Elisabeth and get to know her story in AUTOMATON
My guest today is THEA ATKINSON, author of many books, but for me specifically the VAMPIRE ADDICTIONS series because they’re the books that introduced me to Thea.
Alana: Thea, welcome. Tell us something about yourself: who you are, your philosophy on life, what your day job is—you know, the little things.
Thea: Ah, the little things … they tend to be so big, don’t they? Well, I’m a teacher in my day job, and my students (adults at a community college) always seem to be shocked when they discover one of my books (usually a freebie) and give it a read. They say I seem so quiet and unassuming during the day. Nothing like the person who would write such dark stuff. Grin.
I had an amazing childhood: two loving parents and three brothers. I think dealing with three scrappy boys on a daily basis really defined who I am as a woman. My husband says I’ve mellowed a bit since he first met me, so I guess his influence outweighed theirs. The spitfire comes out every now and then though!
Alana: Home is Nova Scotia, I believe. It conjures up images of a cold and wild Canada for me—no doubt a hangover from my reading as a child, but compounded by the fact that when I contacted you for this interview I found you out camping.
Is it something you frequently do? Why do you do it? Where do you typically go and what do you get up to while you’re out there?
Thea: So glad you get such a romantic image of the place! It’s every bit as wild as you think—and there are spots of such beauty you’d stop breathing for a moment. Cold is relative: we had a day this summer when it was 31 degrees.
I LOVE camping. Used to camp far more … even did a three-hour bike run a few years ago to a backwoods cabin in Kejimkujik with my best friend and our hubbies. It’s the best camping trip we ever took despite me falling off my laden bicycle and into a puddle (more like a pond from my perspective) and banged my knee up pretty bad. We still talk about the trip but, alas, no opportunity to repeat has presented itself. Actually, summers here are quite lovely and, if you can bear it, the true outback camping (so folks say) is wonderful. I must admit I glamp more than camp nowadays … the fear of a raccoon slicing open my tent at night keeps me from going all the way so to speak …
Alana: Heavens, I’ve always pictured them as cute little creatures. Are they dangerous?
Thea: Oh no … but in the dead of night, a squirell is considered dangerous when a gal’s mind starts to weave a nice tale.
We have a bunch of friends who pop up their trailers in Keji every third week in August and we spend 10 days or so yakking, eating, swimming, kayaking, biking, and hiking … oh, and a few drinks along the way. I discovered spritz in Italy this summer and I must admit to enjoying a few during our “road parties”.
Alana: Italy! That’s right. I remember you saying on your blog you were there for three weeks in July. I’ve been twice now: once in 2000 with my eldest daughter, and we stayed in a 17th century building a five minute walk away from the Largo di Torre Argentina that you mention—cats by the zillion! And two years ago my husband John and I were back there for said daughter’s wedding and I discovered Prosecco. Loved that you can keep drinking it with no ill effects.
Thea: Spritz is my new favorite summer time refreshment. It brings me right back to Tuscany and sitting on a lovely balcony enjoying the view of the rolling hills. This photo is of me at Lake Iseo in Italy.
Alana: Let’s talk about your books. You’ve written so many! Tell us about them. Novels? Novellas? Series? Genres?
Thea: All of the above! LOL. I started out as what I hoped was a literary writer, but those books just don’t sell so I let them lanquish on Amazon. I have such an eclectic set of tastes and interests that I have a hard time sticking to one genre anyway so I mix it all up all the time—thus my brand of Fiction to the Left of Mainstream. I tried my hand at some light fantasy with hints of romance in the hopes of finding an audience. You’ll find witches and reincarnation themes, ancient Egyptians and black magic, and vampires and voodoo. I write what interests me, basically.
WITCHES OF ETLANTIUM was my first foray into fantasy and I based it on a character I had written for my blog streak a few years ago when I wrote a flash fiction piece for a blog every day for 30 days. The character of a witch being controlled by her megalomaniac father really intrigued me.
CHASING DRAGONS was my last litfic offering, and I wrote it at a time when I was studying a bit about social justice. The character of J had so many dark spaces, I wanted him to find the light ones.
VAMPIRE ADDICTIONS was just fun. It still is. I fancy it’s more suspense and adventure than romance, but Magnus is just too mouth watering to resist adding a little steam. I love how Jade has evolved from a down-trodden, lost-her-self-esteem character into a woman who discovers her confidence was just flagging, not totally destroyed.
Alana: Why fantasy? Why vampires and witches?
Thea: I LOVE love love vampire stories, movies, series, and the like. I’ll watch the cheesiest story if it has a vamp in it. Same for witches … I have a few friends who have accused me of being the latter. LOL. I don’t doubt, if there’s such a thing as past lives, that I was one at some point—witch, not vampire.
Alana: Yep, I knew you meant that; past life and vampire being a contradiction in terms. As well as being prolific you’re also generous. You give away samples of your work on your website. What’s the reason behind that?
Thea: Purely in the hopes folks will enjoy them and keep reading. I’m no Alice Munro or Stephen King, so it takes a few freebies to interest folks in a nobody like me.
Alana: I understand you occasionally lecture on writing. How did you get into that and why do you do it?
Thea: Teacher by vocation and writer by heart. The match just seemed right. I wish I were articulate enough to say there was more to it. I have a feeling the reason has a lot to do with why I love both of those careers in the first place.
Alana: What are you working on at the moment?
Thea: Two things, actually. The next novella in my WITCHES OF ETLANTIUM series and book 3 in VAMPIRE ADDICTIONS.
Alana: I’m looking forward to that one. I’ve become very fond of Jade and want to know where she’s heading.
Thea: … and when I get stumped on one, I switch to the other. It keeps me moving ever forward.
Alana: Well, I wish you ever-productive days. Thea, thank you, it’s been lovely talking to you.
Thea: You’re too kind to say so, but the thanks is all mine. I’ve really appreciated having the chance to meet with you. Your questions were phenomenal and made me dig. I hope I gave you enough to work with; I’m the kind of gal who listens to someone else being interviewed and thinks: Now why didn’t *I* say something cool like that?
Alana: You were pretty cool today.
Take this link to Thea’s freebies | Buy Thea’s books via her website
Once in a very rare while a writer appears and knocks your socks off. Their prose transcends much of what you’ve read before. Their story touches you so deeply it settles to reside in your soul.
Much has been written over the years since TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published about how it stands tall among other wonderful works. If there is any fairness in creation ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH will come to be looked upon as its equal.
The beauty and pathos of Christina Carson’s story reaches out and wraps its tendrils around your heart. So too do her words.
Centred in the small town of Ellensburg, Mississippi, this story follows the lives of a number of its inhabitants, both white and black, focusing on two families, the white Sutton’s and the black Ware’s who served them.
The story begins in the 1960s and opens with a funeral. John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King are still alive. They won’t be at the end of book 2.
Except for chapter 1, book 1 is told in the first person by Imogene Ware, a woman with more love for the human race than anyone could fairly expect of her, given her situation in life. The narration of book 2 widens to take in the voices of several other main characters, so we get to see the viewpoints from both sides of the fence.
It’s an ugly story. The racism, the hatred, the belief in superiority and inferiority are without any redeeming features.
Yet the story is told beautifully, and it leaves you feeling not repulsed by the inhumanity portrayed but uplifted by the generosity of spirit shown by the Ware family to their oppressors and—can I get away with saying it again—the beauty of the prose and Christina Carson’s skill as a storyteller.
My guest today is Christina Carson, an author with a lot of living and experiences under her belt. Her latest books, ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH books 1 and 2, are the first of her stories that I’ve read and to say I was impressed with her storytelling skills is certainly an understatement. I will be finding time for her others. Let me introduce you.
Alana: Christina, welcome. Let me first ask you a little about yourself. In your own words you’ve ‘worn many hats’ and ‘travelled many roads’. Would you tell us a bit about those hats and roads.
Christina: I started out intent on being a medical doctor, not my choice—
Alana: That’s a tantalising comment. May I ask whose choice it was and why you acceded to it?
Christina: …When I was three years old, my mother said to me, ‘Christina, you are going to be a doctor.’ Every relevant decision in my education from that point on was based on that assumption. Because pleasing my mother made life more bearable I never said no. Luckily science quickly began to fascinate me. But two years into pre-med I realized I wasn’t looking forward to the job, just the science, so I picked up an undergraduate research opportunity and found medical research was my place. By then the Vietnam War was front page news and just as I was heading into a PhD program my world changed radically. Because of my views I left the program, was turned out by my family and moved to Canada.
Alana: You’re saying there, I presume, that you were against the war. Why did that cause you to leave your job?
Christina: It wasn’t just the war, it was the realization that my country, the only thing left that I believed in at that point in my life, was selling wholesale lies to its populace and killing young men for personal and political gain, not defense. That may sound naïve, but growing up in the 1950s in the US created a very Pollyanna view of life which I acquired from my parents—meaning the USA was above reproach. The Vietnam War made it all too clear that was not true. As I struggled to determine what my response to the war was going to be, I realized I couldn’t live in the States any longer. Since my parents had severed their relationship with me I crossed the border into Canada and never looked back. My position, my graduate degree and everything else, I left behind. In Canada I taught for a few years but then wanted out of academia and that’s when change ran rampant through my life. First, I worked in the trades and then was a sheep farmer for 15 years in the far North.
Alana: That’s a heck of a change in direction.
Christina: It certainly was, but I felt I needed it. Life went rather smoothly for the next 15 years, and then the bottom fell out again, and I lost everything that mattered to me.
Alana: I’m sorry to hear that. Would you care to share the story behind it?
Christina: Due to a marriage breakup I had to leave the North and with it my farm, my community, the man I loved, and a life I treasured. I moved south to Vancouver and started over once again. I was deeply unsettled and moved from magazine ad salesperson to stockbroker, corporate consultant, contributing editor to Canada’s then only financial magazine, then in a period of financial ruin anything I could get to stay afloat. Some of it was thrilling, some of it hell, but years later it certainly serves my writing.
Alana: You weren’t exaggerating with the many hats and roads! Where do you call home now? Is it permanent or do you envisage moving again at some stage?
Christina: My home of heart will always be Canada. I should have been born there. It felt like home from the get-go. The title of my latest novel ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH came from hearing myself rationalize my birthplace and why I didn’t want to go back. I’d say being born there was just an accident of birth. I doubt I’ll ever return to Canada, and I am finally seeing the beauty of living in the Deep South. In a most fascinating way it is like stepping back in time, both alluring and instructive.
Alana: So how did you end up in the Deep South?
Christina: My present husband, Bert, was born and raised in Alabama. He’s traveled the country widely but prefers the South. So I followed him here.
Alana: And what are you doing now, workwise? Are you a fulltime writer or are you pursuing another career in parallel with your writing?
Christina: Bert and I have a small photography business, which strangely requires an inordinate amount of time. Thus is takes me ages to finish a novel. I can only write in our slow months, which is about the most inefficient manner in which to write a novel that I could imagine. I would like to write full time, but I don’t know if that will happen.
Alana: Your husband, Bert Carson, is also an author. Have you found that both of you being writers creates problems in the household or does it actually ease the way, so as to speak?
Christina: We both share a passion for writing and that is a marvelous passion to share. We are not in any way competitive with one another; in fact, completely supportive would be the accurate description. I’ve always thrived on sharing things of meaning with the one I love, and now Bert and I have several such points of intersection.
Alana: ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH—where on earth did the story idea come from? It’s an amazing read. It seems a world away from your own experiences and yet it rings so completely true and believable.
Christina: That is a conundrum, even for me at times. The initial spark came from wanting an experience of true mother-love at a difficult point in my life. Crazy as that sounds for an older adult, it was the initial inspiration. But the only place in my life where I had experienced such all-inclusive love was from two Black orderlies in a hospital in Pennsylvania when I was 16. I had never felt anything like what they offered to comfort me, and I never forgot it. Then living in the South I was privileged to meet many more Black women due to the nature of Bert’s and my work. Our photography business focuses on taking photos of little children in daycares. When we’re in towns or counties that are predominately Black, the daycare Directors are always Black women. I have met many through that experience and since our customers, the Directors, become like family, we have close ties with them. Over and over, these women show me that my early experience wasn’t an exception.
I was half way through another novel when I got the sense of a story that would let me, in a ‘writerly’ way, spend time in the company of the very people who had taught me about love. I set my other novel aside. I brought up a blank screen and the first chapter felt like it fell out of the sky. Then in chapter 2, Miss Imogene, who was only to be a supporting character, since I feared how the sense of hubris in writing outside not only your world experience but also your race might appear, stepped out and took over. She made herself the protagonist. I, at that point, was merely the scribe. By then I could hear the dialect in my head and I could hardly keep up with the story that flowed onto the page. I fell in love with Miss Imogene and in the end she healed her world in an amazing number of ways as well as healing mine too.
Alana: I fell in love with her too. I love her philosophy on life. All of your books including ACCIDENTS OF BIRTH are categorised as literary fiction with some sub-genres happening for each. Do you feel that it quite captures the spirit of the stories you tell?
Christina: I will be the first to admit I am genre-challenged. The best category would be contemporary fiction, but if you are selling through Amazon that is akin to stepping into oblivion. I write about love but my books aren’t romances. I write about human interplay, but without the pounding metronomic rhythm of modern fiction. And I always seem to include an underlying current of the spiritual and metaphysical. If someone can tell me what genre that belongs to I’ll kiss their feet. So I chose literary fiction as it permits the most latitude in topic and form of presentation. Your sense, Alana, was most accurate. I don’t really fit there.
Alana: Your bio says you’re a long way from finished, so tell us what’s in the works next for Christina Carson, novelist.
Christina: In truth, what that statement referred to was the larger project of my life, a never ending desire to attain a greater awareness about what we are and why we are here. I refer to it as human cosmology, and it is my life’s work. There is no finishing that one, so indeed I am not finished.
Alana: And your writing?
Christina: I plan to go back and finish the novel Miss Imogene interrupted. I don’t as yet have a title, but it is historical fiction only because I wasn’t sure it could happen in these times. The story relates the experience we all have—we come into the world whole, open, connected with life and filled with wonder. But then the pressures to conform begin. The protagonist, Tibatha Nase, has had enough freedom in her childhood that she rebels as she senses her circumstances closing in on her. She moves West with the large migration of those seeking new beginnings in the 1850s. In the process she walks right into the Indian Wars, the Sheep and Cattle War and the genocidal action of the American government toward Natives. If she thought she was confused before, she now faces a tragic scenario she could have never imagined. It takes years for her to regain her balance and finally find her place in the world.
I have a contemporary novel sitting in the back of my mind presently. I’m calling it The Mobius Strip [a one-sided surface]. It asks if life is a Mobius Strip, a situation we can never leave, or is there way out? The protagonist is an older woman, now a widow and in a state of penury that has her feeling defeated and frightened (The US can be a cruel place to live for old, poor people). She has taken great risks in her life to take a road less traveled hoping to understand the nature of human reality, but now feels like a dreadful failure. Surely it shouldn’t have brought her to this end. In the ugly little concrete block apartment building she’s been forced to move to she meets a crazy Vietnam veteran whom she befriends, a man who knows all too well about life’s disappointments. As well, through seeming serendipity, she crosses paths with a successful young IT entrepreneur who works in the field of artificial intelligence. These two new acquaintances set up a triangle of relationship that becomes the next phase of her life. Neither knows she has been a student of mind and consciousness, for she seems quite broken when they meet, but when tragedy strikes she begins to see a bigger picture of how life works, perhaps even a way out.
Alana: There sounds as though elements of your own story may be finding their way into that one. Before I let you go would you tell us a little about your other published novels.
Christina: My first novel, SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN, is set in a wilderness community in western Alberta. I was really homesick, so that gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in a world I knew and loved. It asks a question, like so much of my writing does. In this case it was: what is it we do that drives our children from us? It haunts the protagonist, for her only daughter has been missing for 8 years and not until a neighbor child ends up on her doorstep, also on the lam, does Anne Mueller realize she must find the answer or perhaps create the situation again. She is assisted by her wise Native friends and the very wilderness in which she lives as it pits her against her worst fear to bring her to a point of reckoning. It is a great book for parents and children to read together.
I switched to something a tad more metaphysical in my second novel, DYING TO KNOW. In it a young woman faces cancer but is insistent that she’ll not take the traditional route of treatment after having cared for her mother dying from cancer. As one reviewer said, ‘ … but it is not a book about cancer’. And he was right. It is a story about the search for the real nature of health and well-being, for the reader lives each day with Calli Morrow in her search for an alternative view of life and healing. As another reviewer deftly summarizes: ‘… in the undercurrent of the story, the careful reader will see the struggle with the paradoxical world and the taffy-pull of the scientist with the philosopher’. It is a book that gives the reader much to ponder.
Alana: Christina, many thanks for giving us your time today.
Christina: Alana, I am most grateful for your invitation. I am particularly delighted that this will touch Australia more directly as your country has always had a pull on me. In fact, just before I met Bert, I was seriously considering moving there. I appreciate the time and effort you give these interviews. Thank you indeed.