A Girl Called Corpse: WA author Reece Carter’s anticipated debut novel just released after bidding war

As Reece Carter lay in bed in the dark one night, he noticed that the usually tightly closed manhole in the ceiling was ajar.

When his heart stopped beating, he used a broom to put it back in place. But he couldn’t sleep, for his imagination conjured up images of who, or what, might be hiding in the roof of that creaky old terrace in Paddington.

One such figure remained with him – the lonely ghost of a child, with a body of wax and pimples for his eyes, staring out, desperate to rejoin the world but unable to do so.

For the next six months, this ghost girl haunted Carter in the best possible way. He wrote his story, his debut novel, A Girl Called Corpse, and sparked an international bidding war between publishers, resulting in a three-book deal and the kind of hype a beginning novelist usually dreams of. .

In just a few months, Carter went from being a well-known nutritionist with a secret life writing fantastic stories for children after hours to being a full-time novelist. For the boy who grew up on a farm in Tammin, and whose love for reading and writing grew in part out of a desire to escape a difficult life at boarding school, it all was, is and will likely remain a surreal experience.

Camera iconReece Carter, who grew up in Tammin, worked as a nutritionist and wrote after hours. Credit: Simon Fitzpatrick

“I always look at the cover and I feel like there must be another Reece Carter; like, who is this guy with my name,” laughs Carter. “I don’t know when that will change. Having worked towards this for so long, I feel like I’m wired in my brain to think of it as an aspiration. It is very difficult to understand that this is now my reality.

A Girl Called Corpse is the story of a ghost child, who embarks on an adventure in search of answers to her past, after finding herself with no memory of her life before being snatched by witches and taken away in a sorry “rock-that-“. does not exist “. It is set around the forgotten fishing town of Elston-Fright, inspired by the area around Geographe Bay where Carter spent his childhood vacations, specifically where his mother now lives, along the coast wild and wooded between Old Dunsborough and Meelup Beach, past Castle Rock.

Although its roots may be Western Australian, the book’s appeal seems global; the rights have already been sold in the UK, New Zealand, Norway, Italy and Spain, after Allen & Unwin succeeded in what publisher Anna McFarlane described as a “highly competitive environment” .

“Say the auctions. . . was heated is an understatement – ​​it was a volcanically hot battle between several publishing houses – but the truth is that I would have waded barefoot through molten lava for the privilege of releasing this darkly funny and very imaginative,” says McFarlane.

Carter remembers the auction well, as he watched the stakes climb higher and higher – the icing on the cake of an already dreamed-up scenario. Over the course of 48 hours, he received a series of escalating offers via “a series of the most exciting emails I’ve had in my entire life”, from his new high profile agent, Gemma Cooper, who also represents Jessica Townsend, the author of the hit series Nevermoor.

The cover of A Girl Called Corpse, by Reece Carter.
Camera iconThe cover of A Girl Called Corpse, by Reece Carter. Credit: Allen and Unwin

Now, as the release date and book tour for A Girl Called Corpse nears, Carter thinks back to where it all began. Among the early copies of the book heading west is one for Tammin’s approximately 39 elementary school children and another for Carter’s high school English teacher at Scotch College, John Webb.

After tracking down Mr Webb’s email address, Carter wrote to the man who, in the book’s acknowledgments, changed his life by showing his faith in an ostracized boy who would act as a talisman to get him to write .

Carter was in Mr. Webb’s class in eighth and ninth grades, a time when he sought refuge in the books of a world where he felt rejected, especially in the “boys club” atmosphere of the boarding house.

“I didn’t like boarding school. I was not having a good time there. I didn’t fit in,” Carter says. “I wasn’t particularly academic, but I wasn’t super athletic either, so I also flew under most teachers’ radar… but something made Mr. Webb realize that I liked to write, and he encouraged me.

“If there was nothing essential going on in class, he would say, ‘Reece, go to the library and write. I don’t even think I finished a story, it was more like creating characters and writing worlds, but Mr. Webb never asked to see any. He just had this complete trust in me, that I just had to enjoy it, do my thing. It really impressed me.

That’s part of the reason why, when Carter returned to writing at age 25, he focused on middle-level audiences (8-12 year olds).

“Writing for children has always interested me more than writing for any other audience, for several reasons. First of all, that’s when I fell in love with reading, so I great memories of those books,” he says.

“But I also know how much of an impact they had on me: when I didn’t feel comfortable at school, not only was it fun and an escape, but they felt safe. . You would become best friends with the hero and the characters. You would go on an adventure with them. It gave me a place to belong, and I know how much that meant to me. So I thought, if I could write a book that has that effect even for a kid, that’s an amazing thing.

Also, says Carter, children’s books can be great places to explore big ideas, such as good versus evil, good versus evil, bravery, friendship, and love. “Besides, you become stupid”, he underlines. “I have a witch called Scraggleknee and some kind of talking spider and sea monsters and all kinds of stuff that you don’t do in adult books.”

That’s not to say writing has always come easily to Carter. He didn’t write much after high school, as he traveled and lived in Romania and London, but returned there while studying for his health sciences degree and postgraduate degree in Melbourne, then in working as a nutritionist. He wrote three full manuscripts that “went nowhere” (as well as authoring The Garden Apothecary, a guide to herbal medicine, in 2017).

At the launch of a children’s fantasy book, he and his friend Tobias Madden, who worked in musical theater, both confessed that they were writing a manuscript on the side. But while Madden’s book, Anything But Fine, was published last year, Carter’s third manuscript has not been picked up.

“I was feeling a little flat, and he was like ‘look, why don’t you turn to somewhere else? I think you’ll get your mojo back if maybe, instead of writing another novel right away, you write some short stories that can give you that sense of fulfillment and accomplishment,” Carter recalled.

Carter took his advice and experimented with writing a horror novella as part of a competition to be included in an anthology.

Reece Carter, who just finished a draft of the second book in the Elston-Fright series.
Camera iconReece Carter, who just finished a draft of the second book in the Elston-Fright series. Credit: Simon Fitzpatrick

“He wasn’t selected,” he laughs. “But I think that’s what got me into this scary mindset. I really liked leaning into the slightly darker side of things. So I think I was looking for this kind of story, unconsciously, when the idea of ​​A Girl Called Corpse came up.

His other manuscripts had taken two years each to write; it only lasted six months, starting from that fateful night under the open manhole. Carter would set an alarm at 4 a.m., drink a few strong coffees, and use the calm and clarity of dawn to write until about 7 a.m., before walking his dog, Hagrid, going to the gym and the noise. of the day to settle down.

“It really hit me,” he says. “The first thing I wrote with was the title, which never changed. It’s really a case of the character coming first and shaping every other creative decision along the way. And it just flowed.

But as any budding author knows, having a great story that burns a hole in your pocket is only part of the puzzle. Carter decided to tackle the next one – getting a literary agent – going straight to the top, British agent Gemma Cooper. After sending the email to Cooper and a few others, he called Madden “full of regret.”

“I was like ‘what did I do? So this manuscript is not ready. I shouldn’t have sent it. He was like ‘oh it’s fine, it’ll be fine. There’s so many other agents there. And I was like ‘but I sent it to Gemma Cooper’, and Tobias was like ‘oh, oh, did you? Um. No, it’s fine, it’s gonna be fine’, Carter laughed, “But miraculously she loved it and she offered to take me.”

Carter just submitted the draft for the second book in his Elston-Fright series and admits writing it was a very different experience, likening it to a musician trying to keep up with a hit debut album.

“No one was pressuring me, but I felt enormous pressure,” he says. “When you write that first book, you hope someone picks it up, but if no one does, the only person you’ve really let down is yourself. There’s no expectation attached to When all of a sudden I had all these speakers, these other people who had already paid money for the book . . .

“You feel like (your writing room) is full of all these other people looking over your shoulder. Fortunately, I’ve since heard from my Australian publisher and my agent, and both loved it. I’m not even thinking about book three until next year. I’m just trying to enjoy the ride for now.

A Girl Called Corpse by Reece Carter, published by Allen & Unwin, is out now.

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