Today Reece Carter is visiting to talk about his wonderful debut, A Girl Called Corpse: An Elston-Fright Tale. He answers some tricky questions on how he wrote this book … and I’ve reviewed it.
Reece Carter’s debut novel, A Girl Called Corpse: An Elston-Fright Tale was the subject of an international bidding war, with rights already sold in Norway, Italy and Spain – and it has been published in ANZ and the UK simultaneously.
Reece grew up in rural Western Australia and holidayed along the south-west coast as a kid. The coastal setting of A Girl Called Corpse is inspired in particular by Cape Leeuwin in WA, and the witches’ shack is inspired by Sugarloaf Rock. ‘This is the kind of story you would expect to see set in a Transylvanian castle or a graveyard in Salem,’ says Reece, ‘so for me one of the biggest joys of writing this book was knowing that its landscapes were inspired by Australia, and that the language is unapologetically Australian.’
ABOUT A GIRL CALLED CORPSE
Reece Carter’s A Girl Called Corpse: An Elston-Fright Tale is a fresh, unique and heartwarming debut about a lonely kid ghost searching for answers. With a body made of wax, seaweed for hair and polished abalone shells for eyes, Corpse is bound to haunt the Witches’ sea shack forever. She has no memory of her name or who she was before the Witches snatched her and took her to the rock-that-doesn’t-exist.
One day, a ghost called Old Man gives her a message: a treasure exists that can reunite Corpse with her family and her name. Corpse sets off in search of answers, bringing her trusted friend Simon, a huntsman spider, along for the ride.Allen and Unwin
Hey Reece, thanks for visiting. I’m interested to know, who or what inspired the character of Corpse?
Hi Dee, thanks for having me!
The character of Corpse came about reasonably fully formed (pun intended) when I was trying to get to sleep one night. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I realised that the manhole in my ceiling was ajar – eep! I began to wonder who or what might live inside a roof, peering through a gap down into the world below, and I came up with the character of Corpse – a kid ghost with a body made of wax, who wanted more than anything to rejoin the living world.
She is clearly flawed as well as dead, but still very likeable? Were you worried that readers might not engage with a ghost? If so, what changes did you make to get around this?
Funny – I never even considered that might be a hurdle! We see all sorts of non-human protagonists in children’s stories, from animals to stuffed toys, aliens to talking trucks – and, yes, ghosts! The thing they all have in common is that they are written with childlike qualities. That is, I don’t think it matters too much what your character is, as long as you write them as if they were a child.
This is where voice comes in really important. I tried as much as possible for Corpse to sound, act and think like a child. When I’m writing her, in fact, I quite often forget that she’s a ghost because first and foremost I’m focused on writing a stubborn, headstrong, but totally loveable child!
Did you develop profiles for your main characters before you started writing or did they evolve and develop along with the story?
I had a very strong idea of who Corpse and Girl were when I went into writing the book, so I never sat down to type out profiles or anything like that (though I did plot the novel out in a spreadsheet), and the rest of the characters just evolved as the story went on.
Flip was the exception in a way because he was a character from another manuscript of mine that was never published. He fit so well into the world of Elston-Fright, and I just love him so much, so I found a place for him in A Girl Called Corpse.
I love Simon. But am wondering why you decided to give Corpse a sidekick who’s a spider?
Corpse needed a sidekick, but the reader also needs to see her as quite lonely (initially, at least) and so it didn’t make sense for her to have another ghost as a sidekick. It just wouldn’t have worked. And so, I decided on an animal sidekick. Why a spider? Ultimately, it felt like a natural fit! A spider is the exact kind of critter you would find inside the roof of a rickety old shack, and so it made sense.
Corpse clearly has an intriguing past. Did you know her family history at the outset or did it evolve as you developed Corpse and her story?
I knew Corpse’s backstory before I started writing, but it’s continued to evolve and grow more detailed as I move deeper into the series. We learn quite a bit in the first book, but there’s lots more for readers to uncover in the next books too.
Which character do you like best – Corpse or Girl? Why? Which was the most fun to create?
I love them both equally! Although I will say that I expected Girl to be a favourite among readers. She’s very sweet. She’s honest. She’s kind. I assumed she would be the character readers loved most. I was way off though – Simon is the clear favourite! Kids, as well as grown-up readers, always ask for more Simon.
Corpse has a really strong character voice? Did her voice come to you fully formed or was this something you put a lot of work into?
Both! Her voice was quite clear from the outset but making sure that it landed on the page in the way that I was imagining it involved a lot of reading and re-reading, to make sure the words were having the right effect.
Voice is such an abstract concept, but so important to get right. It really does involve a lot of trial and error, playing with sentence structure and word choice until you can read your work back and it feels faithful to your character.
I understand that A Girl Called Corpse: An Elston-Fright Tale is your debut novel although you have been writing for many years. What would be your top two tips to aspiring authors?
My first tip is to keep writing! The hardest part of being a writer, in my opinion, is grappling with the self-doubt. There is a lot of rejection, and a lot of opportunities to throw it all in and give up, so sometimes just keeping on writing can be the hardest part. It’s a rubbish feeling, but I don’t know any authors – published or unpublished – who don’t experience it. Self-doubt is a yucky part of the job. Don’t let it stop you from writing though.
Secondly, I would encourage aspiring authors to take the time to learn as much as they can about the craft of writing. Take a course. Take two courses! Read widely in your chosen genre to see what works and what doesn’t. Hire a developmental editor if you can. I personally don’t believe in talent; I think writing is a skill set that can be learned.
WHY I LOVED THIS BOOK
I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to a book where the main character is dead, but this story is way livelier than it sounds, and Corpse’s enigmatic and delightful character really hooked me in – as well as the wonderful illustrations by Simon Howe.
Right from the start it’s clear that Corpse is a lot more than she appears to be.
There has to be a reason the dastardly witches, Worst-Witch, Gorflunk and Scraggleknee are so focussed on her destruction.
Author, Reece Carter cleverly brings Corpse to life with her unique voice and fascinating quirks.
I loved her pet spider, Simon and it was easy to empathise with what Corpse has lost and what she’s searching for.
All the characters in the book are so well drawn and complement each other’s narratives, and readers will want to know more about Girl, the friend Corpse lost early in the book who clearly brings out the best in her.
Corpse doesn’t seem as though she was a particularly nice when she was alive and yet she’s an engaging and intriguing character in death. So, we already know that in death she must have undergone some transformation and it piques our interest even more. It appears that even dead people can grow and change, and this makes us keen to learn about Corpse’s past, her present and her future.
There were plenty of twists in this book and I was wondering how the loose ends would be tied up, but seamless tied up they were.
And although A Girl Called Corpse: An Elston-Fright Tale works so well as a stand-alone there are clearly more adventures in store for Corpse, and I for one can’t wait to find out what they are.
An intriguing, fun and creepy read that will charm middle grade book lovers. It tackles themes of friendship, family and loss in a unique and insightful way.