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Fostering the child within

Thalia Kalkipsakis talks to Neos Kosmos about her love affair with writing and the latest instalment in her time travel series, Split Infinity

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Author Thalia Kalkipsakis. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

29 June 2016

For Thalia Kalkipsakis there was never any doubt in her mind as to what she would pursue in a career.

"I've always wanted to write," she recalls.

"I grew up writing my own stories in the summer holidays and can't remember a time when I didn't have a story rolling around in my head."

But unlike most of us, she's managed to maintain a child-like sense of wonder and discovery into adulthood; a challenging feat for the majority faced with the day-to-day responsibilities that accompany work and family.

"I think that's the reason I've been drawn to writing for children and young adults - the fact that I first fell in love with stories when I was young myself," Thalia tells Neos Kosmos.

And her chosen path has served her well thus far; the author's catalogue of children's and young adult fiction is consumed both locally and across the globe in the US, Canada, Brazil, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

It was with the Go Girl series in 2008 that she first made a name for herself as a children's writer. Written for primary school-aged girls, there are currently 19 books in the series with plans for more.

Three years later she decided to venture beyond series writing, with a collection of six short stories Head Spinners, one of which, entitled It Began with a Tingle, was a finalist in the Children's Fiction 2011 Aurealis Awards; followed by the release of her first standalone young adult novel, Silhouette.

But it was in 2015 that she decided to draw on her fascination with science, an inspiration from her upbringing on a farm on Melbourne's outskirts.

"I can remember my dad (a chemical engineer with an impressive green thumb) describing the way plants grow towards the sunlight - the chemical reactions that occur to make the leaves physically turn to the light - the way he described it made it all so amazing.

"The science of it, to me, was no different to magic. Even today, I see that blend of 'science being awe-inspiring' in the stories I read," which is evident in her latest instalment, Split Infinity.

The author's latest novel, Split Infinity.

The sequel to Lifespan of Starlight, the book is described by the author as "pure good fun, time travel fiction" which follows the story of Scout, a time-skipper who jumps years into the future to encounter a world of accelerated technology with her loved ones grown up, or worse yet, having disappeared.

In the story, time skipping is illegal and the young protagonist is distressed to discover the government she has been trying to elude is prepared for her return and capture.

As the book unfolds, Scout is faced with a dilemma: caught between finding her mother who she hasn't seen for years, and time-skipping with her friend Mason.

From page one, the reader is immersed in the story, and drawn in by its intrigue and fast pace.

Aside from the author's innate imagination, and the inspiration that can only come from two young children of one's own, it is through a developed understanding of her readership that she is able to win over her readers, employing clean and simple language, with reasonably short chapters.

"Profound and complex ideas don't need to be conveyed with complicated sentences," explains Thalia.

"In fact, the more complicated and flowery the writing, the more it can get in the way of a pure idea," which is exemplified in Lifespan of Starlight.

While the author draws on scientific theories about time, they are adapted into the storyline using analogies to convey complex ideas, one of her favourites is "the idea of time being a river; the secret to travelling through time involves learning to make the river freeze," she says.

Her latest instalment brought surprises she didn't expect, serving as a reminder that learning and perfecting one's craft is a lifelong pursuit.

A lover of time travel stories, in the process of writing the sequel Thalia admits she was aware of the problems and paradoxes that can occur. In a bid to avoid them, she planned to give the protagonist a case of 'time travel amnesia', where she would be unaware of what happened to her when entering a new 'realm'. But when it was time to write the story, the author recalls the idea falling flat.

"The minute the character forgot what had happened to her - it was like I'd gone in and deleted the whole story up until that point. I realised that I needed to change the 'magic' behind this time travel element so that she still remembered everything," she explains.

The author admits to having been lost for weeks trying to work out what would happen next in the plot. But in the end it was that magic from her childhood that came to the fore: Thalia says it was the characters themselves that saved her.

"After a while they effectively 'stood up' and began responding to, and existing within, the story's new reality. It was such a relief to watch the rest of the story flow from there," she says.

"A couple of the biggest 'aha' moments in Split Infinity weren't planned - they just revealed themselves to me once I arrived there with the character's response clear in my mind."

After a stint living in the city, Thalia has returned to her roots in regional Victoria with her husband Campbell Mattinson (wine critic and award-winning biographer), children, and two lovable black cats, where she has given herself the chance to pursue her writing full-time.

While there have been challenges, it is lucky for her devoted and growing readership that the sense of "losing yourself in another world and, even more compelling, travelling inside someone else's head" is a love affair that continues to see the writer returning pen to paper.

To purchase Split Infinity or Thalia Kalkipsakis' other books, visit www.thaliakalkipsakis.com and follow the links.

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