"J.C. Burke uses dialogue effectively..... this is a mysterious and well crafted novel, which breaks many boundaries." - Fiction Focus, Volume 19, No 2, 2005
Nine Letters Long
Evie has a gift - a gift she's not always comfortable with. But when Poppy suggests they conduct a séance, Evie reluctantly agrees. The letters on the board start spelling out one name - C-A-Z - over and over, and Evie knows she's been contacted again. A cryptic message leads Evie to a family where two sisters, one living, one dead, share a dark secret that must be revealed so at least one of them can be spared from the horrors of the past.
ʻBurke takes Evieʼs encounters with the paranormal seriously enough to avoid blithe magic. The character of Evie, now almost 17, is drawn with sensitivity and understanding.ʼ - Sydney Morning Herald, July 30, 2005
ʻAn exciting paranormal thriller with a strong sense of menance..ʼ - Magpies Magazine, 2005.
A Puzzle within a Puzzle
Are you a lateral thinker able to solve problems by illogical methods. I'm not. I love the Quick Crossword in the newspaper but I'm completely hopeless at the Cryptic yet I find it fascinating.
When I first started on 'Nine Letters Long' the messages that were given to Evie in the seances were mysterious, in that their meaning wasn't clear, apart from that they were straight forward messages and held no other mystery. I felt that wasn't enough of a challenge for Evie or the reader so I came up with the idea of a puzzle within a puzzle - an anagram hidden within the messages. This anagram holds the answer and puts all the messages in their proper context. But I can't say too much if you haven't read the book!
The other reason for this was that it allowed Evie's friends Seb and Poppy to use their skills to help Evie. As early as page 38, the reader sees Seb doing a cryptic crossword on the bus. By getting these characters from ' The Red Cardigan' involved, it allowed me to further develop them as people and show how integral they become in Evie's life. In ' The Red Cardigan' I had the chance to do this with the character of Alex, that's why her role is different in this story. But giving more flesh to her other friends is a way of planning ahead, in case there are more books about Evie. And I hope there will be.
The Cuza Family
Nora and Janos Cuza were refugees from Romania. Why Romania ? I made the Cuza family from Romania as I've always had an interest in their recent dark history. I remember details in the footage and pictures of the time Ceausescu's government fell - the greyness of the sky, the bleakness of their city and the glazed expression on the people's faces.
During this time I was nursing in a big hospital in Sydney . The cleaners on our ward were from Romania . They desperately missed the family they'd left behind yet were relieved to have fled and had a chance to start a new life. Some of them had two jobs, also working at night. I never asked what work they'd done in Romania but I'm sure many of them were highly qualified professionals.
The Dark Side of 'Nine Letters Long'
Keeping secrets and revealing secrets are themes the story deals with. Evie has a sense that the truth she is searching for, the truth that lies hidden in the messages is full of darkness. Although Evie's role is to uncover it she's aware the fallout will be massive, almost destructive. But also Evie knows the right thing to do is to reveal this truth. Crossing this line is a dilemma we are all confronted with at some time.
Another dilemma we often face is failing to see the things closest to us. Even Evie with her gift falls into this trap - 'How could she have missed the very thing that was under her nose?'. In the subplot, Evie fails to see what is happening to Alex.
In the greater story, Nora Cuza, ambitious to create a better world for her daughters, fails to see what is happening to them right in her own home. The outer shell of 'Nine Letters Long' is a mystery where the consistent signs and clues eventually fall into place and all is revealed. Beyond that, it is a complex, often sad story, that looks at the different relationships in families; the expectations of parents; the growing bond and trust between friends and for Evie, the simple fact - that she is a girl with a special gift who again has been called upon to help.
'Evie sits quietly, their voices drifting around her. So may questions. So many concerns. Can Evie handle this? What could happen to her? Does she have to do this? Their words collide in the air but they are wasted. They mean nothing to her. Don't they know there is no choice? For at this very moment, the knowledge tingles in the soles of her feet. She feels it creeping up her legs and into her guts. For a moment, it sits there rumbling until it ascends into her chest, her throat and into her mouth. Evie tastes it - the knowledge. The knowledge that there is no choice. She has to do this. It's as simple as that.'