Author Talks: Sonya Bates on the transition from Children’s Fiction to Crime Thriller

On first glance, children’s fiction doesn’t seem to have much in common with crime thrillers – in this case, a murder mystery with a dual timeline. And yet, that is the leap in genre that I made when I set out to write Inheritance of Secrets.

I’d been writing children’s fiction for a few years when I first got the idea for Inheritance of Secrets. I’d had some success with my children’s writing and had five published chapter books. I’d written a middle-grade fantasy novel and a humorous adventure set in the future, both of which still sit in the bottom drawer. I had no intention of writing adult fiction – or crime. But the muse doesn’t always listen to the mind (does it ever?) and the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. That idea was the character of Karl – a fictional character inspired by my dad. All I knew about Karl was that he was a young German soldier fighting for his country in WWII, an ordinary man caught up in a terrible period of history, who later moved to Australia.

I tried to ignore him. I wrote the fourth in a series of chapter books, and then at my publisher’s suggestion, tried my hand at writing high interest/low reading level novels for young adults. Short novels for teens who were reluctant readers. I learned that every word had to count. I had to keep the readers interested, turning pages, wanting to read on. And yet, keep it simple. Use kid-speak in dialogue, make it sound authentic, have a believable plot. Make the characters relatable and not perfect. No one likes perfect. And I must put those characters in an interesting setting that kids could visualise, but not be bored by over-description.

Years passed, but Karl didn’t go away, despite my attempts to ignore him. In fact, he insisted he wanted his story told. I just didn’t know what that story was. I started researching. What was it like in Germany in the 1930’s when he was a kid? What kind of a childhood did he have? What would it be like growing up with the knowledge that at 18 you would be going to war? And afterwards. What would he have experienced coming to Australia only a few short years after the war ended? How would he be received? Those questions led to research and research led to more questions, but still, I couldn’t start writing. It was too big. Too daunting. I didn’t know where – or how – to start.

What I wanted to write – what my mind was telling me to write – was a historical novel. An immigration story, a family saga. But that wasn’t Karl’s story. Not the one that needed to be told. Not the one that I could tell. And then I saw the opening scene of the novel. A young woman walking down the corridor of the morgue on the way to identify the bodies of her grandparents. And I knew that the grandfather was Karl. And that he’d been murdered, that secrets from his past had come back to haunt him. This then, was his story. His and his granddaughter Juliet’s.

I started writing. The novel opened straight into the action, it was fast-paced, with a hook at the end of each chapter to keep readers turning pages and wanting to read on. Each character had their own voice, an authentic voice for their time period, their age and personality. They were flawed, open to their vulnerabilities, relatable. And placed in an interesting setting, an interesting time period, something the reader could visualise.

Now this is starting to sound familiar. Fast-paced, page-turner, authentic and believable. Unbeknownst to me, those skills that I had developed writing children’s fiction were the very ones I needed to write Inheritance of Secrets. Yes, it was more complex, it had multiple subplots and a dual timeline. It was longer. Ninety thousand words longer than my longest published children’s novel. And I’d never written historical fiction before. That was the biggest hurdle. But writing is writing. Every word needed to count. Every character needed to be authentic. It really wasn’t that different after all.

Inheritance of Secrets is not the historical saga I had initially intended to write. It is the story that I needed to write, the only story I could write. And I am certain I couldn’t have written it without my apprenticeship in children’s writing. Karl’s migration story is there, as I always knew it would be, underpinning a contemporary mystery, Juliet’s story of loss, love, loyalty and a search for the truth.


Inheritance of Secrets

A brutal murder. A wartime promise. A quest for the truth.

No matter how far you run, the past will always find you.

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break-in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get any answers, Lily vanishes once more.

Juliet only knew Karl Weiss as a loving grandfather, a German soldier who emigrated to Australia to build a new life. What was he hiding that could have led to his murder? While attempting to find out, Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger …

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

Published by HarperCollins – AU
Released 20th April 2020


About the Author:

Sonya Bates is a Canadian writer who has made South Australia her home since 1997. She studied linguistics at the University of Victoria before obtaining a Masters degree in speech-language pathology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. Having worked with children with communication difficulties for over twenty-five years, she now enjoys sharing her knowledge with speech pathology students as a part-time clinical educator. When her two daughters were young, she started writing for children and has published several children’s books. Inheritance of Secrets is her debut adult novel, which was shortlisted as an unpublished manuscript in the inaugural Banjo Prize in 2018.

4 thoughts on “Author Talks: Sonya Bates on the transition from Children’s Fiction to Crime Thriller

  1. I just finished this book. It was a ‘turn-on-your-head’ for me. It’s all about perspective, angle, point of view… I wanted to put the book down and forget about it. But the author (her voice, dynamics, way with characters) made me to read it in one go…

    Liked by 1 person

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