Pull up a chair and grab yourself a glass of something. The Mamamia dinner party is in full swing and the conversation is flowing. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been introducing you to some of the better-known women who read Mamamia.
First we met Leigh Sales, then Claire Bowditch. Last week Penny Wong dropped by and this week we’re joined by Caroline Overington – Walkley award winning journalist, best-selling author and newly appointed Associate Editor of the Australian Women’s Weekly.
She has written four novels, all of which have been wildly successful and her latest one, Sisters Of Mercy, comes out this week.
MM: When it comes to writing books, what’s the process like for you? How long do you take to research, write etc?
CO: I think about things for a while. Then I have a little go and usually decide it’s rubbish. So I scrap that, and start again a few months later. Then of course the clock has started ticking on the deadline, so I get into a bit of a panic. I start getting up early and staying up late, writing like crazy, and deleting most of it. Then I calm down and think: relax, it will come when it’s ready. And so far, so good!
MM: Your new book is being released this week – can you tell us a bit about it?
MM: Where do you find inspiration for your books?
CO: Most of the stories I’ve written come from events that I’ve seen in real life – for example, there is a scene in my second novel, I Came to Say Goodbye where a young refugee girl undergoes a forced genital mutilation, or cutting ceremony, to the horror of Australian doctors.
This was something that we as reporters, and the medical profession, have long known was going on in some communities in Australia – and earlier this year, there was an arrest of two people, for cutting two little girls. We will have to wait to see if there is a conviction, but there is no question that it’s going on in some communities, because doctors will tell reporters, off the record, that they have seen girls who were born in Australia, who are cut.
So the stories are based on real events, and I’ve mostly come across them while working as a journalist. Sometimes I think, “oh, nobody will believe me if I tell this story” … and then something even worse will hit the news, and I will think, honestly, is there no end to the harm we, as human beings, will do to each other?
MM: Your books often deal with such heartbreaking subjects – child abuse, mental illness, disability – do you ever find them difficult to write? Is there anything you would never write about?
CO: Yes. They do. But I am careful to always have a hero in my books, but in my experience there is always somebody who is trying to do the right thing … somebody who will never give up.
In terms of things I would not write about, all I can say is, there are things that reporters I know have actually had to cover – the couple in Tasmania who filmed their own children performing sex acts on them, to share with other pedophiles, for example – and that is much harder than writing fiction, where at least I can have a good outcome, or a hero in the story.
MM: 20 years ago it was unheard of to have a woman reporter or journalist or host on television who was over the age of 40. What do you think has changed?