10 November 2015 | Adult Fiction, Children's Fiction

Stories within stories

I read two books this week which had stories within stories, and saw a musical on Saturday night which had a story within a story. I love it – stories are fabulous enough but a story within a story is pure magic! Let me explain.

Miss 9 put Angelica Bank’s Finding Serendipity on my bedside table with a note saying, ‘Mum, you really should read this – it is so good.’ It is so good because it is about a writer called Serendipity and her daughter Tuesday. When Serendipity goes missing from her writing room, Tuesday decides she needs to be as brave as Vivienne Small, the heroine in her mother’s children’s book series. So she ends up having an adventure within the pages of her mother’s books and meets her mother’s character, Vivienne Small, confronts Vivienne’s antagonist and writes her own story. Real life taking place inside the pages of a book. As with all fantasy books, this works because the characters are strong and true and believable – so I was more than happy to follow Tuesday in her magic adventures. I loved the mother-daughter relationship – Serendipity is a famous writer, a magical adventurer herself and also a typical worrying mother. But she does eventually trust that Tuesday can look after herself. I am looking forward to reading the second book,  A week without Tuesday, and the third book is coming out next year. Angelica Banks is the pen name of Tasmanian writers Danielle Wood and Heather Rose. I attended two writing workshops with Danielle a couple of months ago. Warning – if Miss 9 is invited to any birthday parties for nine or ten-year-old girls over the next few months, this book will be the birthday present!


Then I read The Women’s Pages by Debra Adelaide, another mother-daughter story, which alternates chapters between Dove, who has recently buried her adoptive mother and is feeling lost, with an abandoned job and no family now. The alternative chapters are about the story Dove tentatively starts to write, with no experience of writing. Dove writes the story of Ellis, a young woman living in the 1960s, who feels trapped in the conventional life of being a wife and mother. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say that Wuthering Heights also features in this book as well, so that’s another story within the main story. This story reminded me again of how limited the choices were for women in the 60s. This book is a quiet one – there’s lots of thinking and reflection and small moments. It would be a fabulous read for a bookclub because the rich themes of mothers and daughters and babies and adoption and Emily Bronte and family secrets and women’s choices offer so much to think about.


Then on Saturday night I saw the musical City of Angels, about a writer living in Los Angeles in the 1940s, adapting his book for a Hollywood screenplay. Half of the play focused on the ‘real’ world of the writer – the actors wore coloured clothes. The other half of the play showed the characters from the screenplay – dressed in black and white. To add to the complexity, some of the characters from the ‘reel’ screenplay were based on the characters in the ‘real’ life of the writer. And then to add to that complexity, the actors played dual roles, often the ‘real’ life person and then the ‘reel’ character from the screenplay. The orchestra was fabulous, the jazz singing soul-stirring, the script witty and the plot so very clever. One of my favourite moments was when the writer, typing away at his typewriter in an argyle patterned yellow and brown vest with matching socks, was forced to write some really terrible lines, as directed by the film producer. The main ‘reel’ character, a fabulous womanising detective delivered the terrible line, and then turned to look at the writer as if to say, ‘Mate, you’re kidding me?’ This happened just before intermission, and in the second half, the ‘real’ writer mixed with the ‘reel’ characters.

Unfortunately, the show only went for four nights and it’s finished now, so I can’t recommend that you go and see it!

Stories within stories, characters living lives as real and authentic as their creator – this has been my theme for the week and I am trying to apply it to my own life, to make the kid characters in my book seem as real as the three kids in my home.

Author interview – Victoria Carless



Very interesting. Real life has many events and if we stop to examine these, there are stories within stories.

November 10, 2015 at 7:10 am

Terri Dixon

Hi Karen,

Your post reminded me of my favourite story within a story, “The Christmas Mystery” by Jostein Gaarder. Perhaps some of your subscribers might enjoy this with their mid to late primary school children, a beautiful read.

November 11, 2015 at 10:15 am

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