Inheritance of Secrets Author, Sonya Bates on how her Family Recognises her in Some Characters

Inheritance of Secrets Author, Sonya Bates on how her Family Recognises her in Some Characters
  • Briefly tell us about your book.

Inheritance of Secrets is a mystery told in a dual timeline. In 2009, eighty-four year old Karl Weiss and his wife are mysteriously murdered in their home in suburban Adelaide, leaving behind a grief-stricken granddaughter, Juliet. The only clue to the murders is a missing signet ring, given to Karl by his war-time buddy Hans Whemar. When Juliet’s estranged sister comes back, in possession of the ring and fearing for her life, Juliet realises this is far more than a simple break-in gone wrong.

The historical thread follows Karl as a young man in Germany, first as he turns eighteen and is drafted into the Wehrmacht, and later, in the aftermath of war, when he finds himself homeless and alone, unable to find his parents who were evacuated during the war, and unable to return to his home town which lies in the Soviet Zone. Despite his longing to see his sweetheart Grete again, he makes the difficult decision to immigrate to Australia in hopes of creating a better life for them both.

Juliet begins to investigate her grandfather’s past. She knew him as a loving grandparent who cared for her when she was abandoned by her mother. But was he really the man she thought he was? As her inquiries delve deeper, she uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII, and unwittingly puts both her and her sister’s lives in danger.

The two threads of the story are woven together so that the reader witnesses Karl’s experiences as Juliet is discovering bits and pieces of his past, drawing the mystery together from the two timelines.

  • What inspired the idea behind this book?

The idea for the book came from the character of Karl, who was inspired by my father. Like Karl, my dad grew up in Germany during the time that Hitler was in power, and went to war when he was eighteen. He later immigrated to America in the 1950s.

As a child, I was aware that my dad had fought in WWII on the German side, although I don’t remember him talking about it. I was always rather fascinated and horrified at the thought that he’d had to do that – to go to war, and at such a young age too. But he was fighting for his country like thousands of men on both sides of the conflict were doing. Later, as an adult, I thought about how he’d moved to America, and wondered about how he might have been treated as a German going there not too long after the conflict had ended. I imagined that there could have been some animosity and prejudice, although I know now that that wasn’t his experience.

From that, came the character of Karl. He is a fictional character, inspired by my dad, but in no way resembling my dad except for their shared experiences as children and young men. Growing up in Germany at that time, they would have experienced many of the same things. I’d initially thought I’d write a purely historical novel. I thought maybe a family saga or a migration story, and started researching the WWII era. But that didn’t feel right to me. While I love historical fiction, it’s not what I write. My writing has always had some sense of mystery, intrigue or adventure. And that’s when the first scene came to me, with Juliet at the morgue with the detective, on her way to identify the bodies of her grandparents, and I realised that poor Karl had been murdered! Once I knew that, it was full steam ahead.

  • What was the research process like for the book?

With so many time periods and settings, the research for the book was huge and ongoing. I started by researching the time period of Europe post WWII, migrant ships, and immigration to Australia in the post-war years. Broad research that gave me a sense of time and place and the conditions of the era. Then I looked at personal stories – memoirs, letters and diaries. Once I started writing, the research became more specific. When I began writing the first draft, I knew the beginning and I knew the ending, but not the in-between bits, so as they unfolded, more specific research was required. Not just for time and place, but the little details that make historical fiction come to life. Much of the research at that point was done online, and in libraries and museums. Librarians are a treasure of information and were extremely helpful in finding the right resources. After the novel had been contracted to HarperCollins, I travelled in Germany and did further research on the war and the post-war years and visited Halle (Saale) where Karl grew up. Although you can do a lot with today’s technology, there was nothing like walking the streets and visiting the places where my character had spent his childhood.

The research didn’t start and end with the historical section of the novel though. I had a wonderful, patient police consultant who answered a myriad of questions and worked through various scenarios with me. And with the ‘contemporary’ thread being set in 2009, I had to be careful not to present it as it is today. This was especially important for technology, but also for the face of Adelaide. Times change, buildings are demolished, bridges are built and renovations, repairs and reconstructions completed.

It was a big task, but an enjoyable one, and I hope it has paid off in setting the scene for the novel.

  • Do you write about people you know? Or yourself?

No, not specifically, but I think we’re all influenced by our experiences, including and perhaps especially by the people in our lives, or who have crossed our paths at one time or another. Aspects of people’s personalities may seep into my characters, and family members have said they’ve recognise me in some of my characters over the years. When I was writing for children and my own girls were young, I found it difficult to write parents who had different values to my own. Interestingly, now that they’re adults, I find it much easier. And easier to put the children in peril or have them do things I wouldn’t want my own kids to do. But, with my main characters, it is more a matter of discovering who the character is rather than developing the character with purpose and intent. And while I may recognise similar personality traits to people I know, I’ve never intentionally written about specific people.

  • If I looked at your internet history, what would it reveal about you?

Aside from the usual suspicious internet history of a crime writer – decomposition of bodies, murder weapons, blood spatter patterns, psychological profiles of criminals, crime scene investigation and surveillance techniques etc etc? My recent history would show that I’m a speech pathologist, working with university students and searching for material to use now that we have to convert their placement experience to online content.

Also, that I love to travel. I’ve always loved to travel – that’s actually how I met my husband – but having moved to Australia from Canada, international travel was a necessity. We went back there every couple of years as a family while our girls were growing up, so they could get to know the family and where I came from. Since my parents passed away, it hasn’t been as often, but we love exploring the world. The UK, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, Germany, Greece. We were in the process of planning a trip either to Norway or Ireland when the pandemic hit. I think our travelling will be curbed for some time to come now.

You’d find out that I’ve been on a bit of a health and wellness kick, searching for natural ways to cure my insomnia and relieve my sciatic symptoms. And looking for recipes. I do like to cook, although I am no gourmet by any means.

And you’d find out that it’s my daughter’s 21st birthday, and that I’ve been planning and cancelling various celebrations as the social distancing regulations come into effect. We’ve got it down to a family dinner at home with just the four of us!

  • What are you hoping the reader will take away from reading your book?

Most of all? I’d like the reader to close the book thinking that it was a cracking good read, that they’ve been engrossed in the mystery and turning the pages desperate to find out what’s going to happen in the end. It is first and foremost a contemporary thriller, and there to be enjoyed.




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          Publisher details

          Inheritance of Secrets
          Sonya Bates
          Fiction, Thriller
          20 April, 2020


          A brutal murder. A wartime promise. A quest for the truth. Kate Furnivall meets Caroline Overington in a gripping, page-turning mystery.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?
          Sonya Bates
          About the author

          Sonya Bates

          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. Her debut adult novel, Inheritance of Secrets, was shortlisted as an unpublished manuscript in the inaugural Banjo Prize in 2018.

          Books by Sonya Bates


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