Character Column: Carol Ryles, ‘Saint Olivia’, and breaking free…

Today, dear friend and writing/critiquing buddy Carol Ryles joins my weekly Character Column with her favourite character, from her short story “Saint Olivia’s Light”. Saint Olivia is a unusual and beautiful character caught in a unique predicament. You’ll see….

Saint Olivia’s view of her world changes as often as the light that illuminates her. At daybreak, when sunrays angle upwards through her stained-glass panels, it’s the church ceiling she sees; its gothic arches thrusting heavenward like fingers ready for prayer… 

Saint Olivia is a spirit trapped in a stained glass window in a church in nineteenth century England. Her first memory is of waking up on a floor to find her maker, a drunken glazier, standing over her image and dripping blood onto her lips. Before dying beside her, he tells her that she is his greatest creation. He gives her his spirit.

Later, Saint Olivia’s window is lofted into place above the altar. Sunlight and moonlight passing through her allows her to see into the church. Mesmerised – and sometimes disturbed – by the lives and rituals playing out beneath her, her interest in a mistreated orphaned boy turns to love. As time passes, she longs to escape her entrapment in the window and to act as the boy’s mother. However, it takes a disaster for her to gain courage enough to make her first move. The result is not how she imagined it to be.

Saint Olivia is my favourite character in this story for the way she exists always on the brink of change. In her quest for self-discovery, she must face her greatest fear. Originally she grew out of a writing exercise that writer, Paul Park, set during my first week at Clarion West  in Seattle, USA. We were asked to write a paragraph that used movement in its descriptions of setting. I was also very taken with a stained glass window near where the workshop was based and promised myself I would use it in a story. At the time, I plucked the name, Olivia, out of my head because I liked the sound of it. But after I finished the story, I did some research to discover that the real Saint Olivia is the patron saint of music. Very little is known about her, but coincidentally it seems she was no stranger to entrapment.

My story, “Saint Olivia’s Light” was awarded third prize in the Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Award  in 2010. It also appears in CSFG’s anthology Winds of Change, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald. The printed version can be purchased from CSFG’s website or as an ebook from Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Winds of Change

About the Author:

Carol began her professional life as a registered nurse, which took her to The Peoples’ Republic of China working in occupational health and also teaching English to schools and colleges. A graduate of Clarion West 2008, Carol has recently finished a PhD in creative writing at the University of Western Australia, focussing on Steampunk. Her short fiction has appeared in over a dozen small press publications, and the rewrite of her steampunk fantasy novel, Heart Fire, is nearing completion. You can read more about Carol’s work at her website.


Carol and Olivia, thank you so much for joining us! Wishing you both happy times and your hearts’ desires. Winds of Change, from the Canberra Science Fiction and Fantasy Guild, is a wonderful anthology, packed with vivid tales by a diverse array of Australian SF and fantasy authors. Carol and I have done a lot of critiquing for each other (along with other members of the writing group we belong to, Egoboo WA, which can be found here). So I will whisper that Carol may revisit the Character Column in a few months with another character….who is so well-known and loved by me that he made it into my dream last night! Stay tuned to hear great things about Carol and her writing.


7 thoughts on “Character Column: Carol Ryles, ‘Saint Olivia’, and breaking free…

  1. Thank you very much for this, Jo. I should have mentioned that you also have a story in Winds of Change, “Stone Singer”, which is a fabulous story. xxx


  2. Wow, what an awesome character, Carol! Love the concept! Wishing you success in all your publishing and life-time endeavors. Cheers!


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