Caroline Overington has made a name for herself as a thorough, topical and talented Australian writer. Her newest book, Matilda is Missing explores the fallout from a painful separation and the increasingly vitriolic battle for Matilda, the daughter stuck in the middle. Originally a journalist, Overington is able to weave the information gained from research into a compelling story. Well paced with a final turn of events that will leave you reeling, Matilda is Missing doesn’t hold back from exposing the difficult truths about Australia’s Family Court system.
Caroline recently had time to answer a few questions for us:
Your writing targets specific issues especially in the realm of child protection. Was this always the way you wanted to write fiction?
Oh no! I started writing fiction after becoming so frustrated with what I couldn’t say in the newspaper! The average journalist knows vastly more about any particular crime than the public is ever allowed to know. It was driving me crazy.
After so much time as a journalist, what has been the most challenging thing about transitioning into fiction writing?
It’s been a dream run. I have felt so free, to finally explain, in detail, with passion, what is going on out there.
The interesting thing about Matilda is Missing is that another character is recounting the story of the battle for Matilda to the reader through old court documents. Why did you decide to approach the novel like this?
I did not want to have either one of the parents telling the story, because if it was the Mother, then people would think, well, that is just the mother’s side of the story, and if it was the father, they might say, well, that’s only his side of the story. I wanted to try to be even-handed. It’s very often the case in the Family Court that each side is absolutely sure they are right, and refuses to budge or move on any issue. I didn’t want to be biased.
What I loved about this book was how even handed it was. When hearing from Softie’s perspective I was completely on her side, but as soon as it switched to Garry, I found myself agreeing with his view instead. How actively were you trying to achieve this balance, where we could be sympathetic to both sides?
Thank for saying that. It’s what I hoped would happen. I was thinking to myself all the time, don’t take sides! You can’t take sides. Just present the material as you find it, and see what the reader thinks.
What kind of research was necessary, and how did it shape the formation of the plot, the characters, etc.?
I spent a year covering Family Court matters for The Australian newspaper, after the shared care rules came in. I saw some absolutely terrible decisions. Some of them, you would not believe.
Your work addresses some sensitive issues. Have you encountered any resistance from readers or the general public?
Not from readers. Readers can handle the truth. Politicians don’t like me much, but that’s okay. I didn’t go into journalism, or into fiction, to make friends with politicians.
Finally, can you tell us what you will be reading this Spring/Summer?
I have read Jessica Rudd’s Ruby Blues, and I loved it. I am about to start Saving Private Sarbi, by Sandra Lee. It’s about an explosives detection dog who works alongside the Australian army in Afghanisan.
Matilda is Missing is available now.