It gives me great pleasure to welcome Tea Cooper to Behind the Pen with a few of her favourites.
Over to you, Tea!
What is your favourite…and why…
Character from one of your books?
I’m a bit flighty about this … it’s usually the hero or heroine in the book I’m writing however I have the feeling Rose Winton, in The Naturalist’s Daughter, may outlast them all.
Scene from one of your books?
Without a doubt the first chapter in The Naturalist’s Daughter where we meet Rose as a five-year-old. She wants nothing more than to work with Charles Winton, an eminent naturalist. He is her hero, her mentor and most importantly her father.
Movie of all time?
Birdsong. It tells the story of an English soldier fighting in the trenches of northern France haunted by the memories of his forbidden love affair with a French woman. I loved the book by Stephen Faulks and usually, if I love a book, I dislike the movie. But in this case the tension between Stephen and Isabelle is so well executed it surpasses the book, in my opinion. Highly recommended, if you haven’t seen it!
Book that you always keep a copy of and recommend to others?
I’m totally boring about this … Lord of the Rings (and for the record I didn’t like the movies!) I never think of fantasy as a genre I like to read but Lord of the Rings has been my go to favourite for more years than I’m prepared to admit to!
Fashion accessory that despite having plenty of, you still keep collecting?
Boots, especially ones with heels, and so I hardly ever wear them. I’m much more a Doc Marten kinda person! One can but dream.
Drink that you enjoy every day?
Can’t go past a flat white heart starter!
Treat you indulge in?
Treat always sounds as though it should be sweet and I haven’t got a sweet tooth, the occasional piece of dark chocolate, the darker the better. However, a nice ripe piece of brie with some strawberries fits the bill!
Place to be?
At home. I’m totally spoilt. I own a cute, stone cottage set in the middle of a hundred acres of bush in the Lower Hunter. (It always makes me feel a little like Pooh … a hundred acre wood … I have the Australian version!) I love the space, the trees, the family of lyrebirds, the resident wombat and the quolls and, most importantly, the wonderful human friends who like to visit.
Person you admire?
As a hot headed and rebellious twenty-something I was lucky enough to live and work in India and Ghandi’s teachings had a profound effect on my beliefs. Where there is love there is life. You can’t do much better than that!
Season of the year?
Autumn … the promise of open fires, red wine and good company.
About the The Naturalist’s Daughter:
Two women, a century apart, are drawn into a mystery surrounding the biggest scientific controversy of the nineteenth century, the classification of the platypus.
1808 Agnes Banks, NSW
Rose Winton wants nothing more than to work with her father, eminent naturalist Charles Winton, on his groundbreaking study of the platypus. Not only does she love him with all her heart, but the discoveries they have made could turn the scientific world on its head. When Charles is unable to make the long sea journey to present his findings to the prestigious Royal Society in England, Rose must venture forth in his stead. What she discovers there will change the lives of future generations.
1908 Sydney, NSW
Tamsin Alleyn has been given a mission: travel to the Hunter Valley and retrieve an old sketchbook of debateable value, gifted to the Mitchell Library by a recluse. But when she gets there, she finds there is more to the book than meets the eye, and more than one interested party. Shaw Everdene, a young antiquarian bookseller and lawyer, seems to have his own agenda when it comes to the book but Tamsin decides to work with him to try and discover the book’s true provenance. The deeper they delve, the more intricate the mystery becomes.
As the lives of two women a century apart converge, discoveries rise up from the past and reach into the future, with irrevocable consequences…
Praise for THE NATURALIST’S DAUGHTER:
“…An exciting, moving and satisfying read.” — Books + Publishing
“An engrossing narrative… fabulous.” — Peter Fitzsimons
Agnes Banks, New South Wales, 1808
Rose loved Pa’s dusty workroom filled to overflowing with notebooks and samples, paints and charcoals. A treasure chest of strange and wonderful objects. A charred boomerang; the tall, tall seed head from the shaggy grass tree; a huge oh-don’t-touch emu’s egg painted with careful patterns, more tiny dots than even she could count. Collected heads of banksia, their knotted faces leering; the beautiful curling tail feather of a bulln-bulln; and in the centre of the worn table her most favourite of all—the mallangong. Once it lived and breathed until Bunji’s Pa speared it out in the billabong. Now it sat … pre-ser-ved for all eternity—that’s what Pa said. Pre-ser-ved. She ran her hand over the dark brown fur and touched its funny little beak.
Pa rose from the chair, his brown face wrinkling as he smiled his special smile. ‘Shall we go down to the river, my heart?’
A trickle of excitement ran through her—she’d sat quietly waiting all afternoon for him to say those very words. ‘Yes please, Pa.’
‘Put on your boots before you tell your mother we are off.’
She rammed her feet into her clodhoppers, leaving the long laces trailing, and hoisted her knapsack carefully onto her back. Pa’s supplies were precious. How she loved the wooden box with its tiny blocks of paint and brushes wrapped in fine linen. Pa promised she’d have her own paintbox when she was bigger, all her very own. Now she shared his and she had to be careful, so very careful not to break anything. The box came from London a long time ago with Pa on the big ship when the colony was blackfellas’ country. Now there were people everywhere—mostly convicts with their clattering, clanging chains and long sad faces.
Some days Mam was sad too. She’d stare down the river and sigh as though she’d been waiting a long, long time and every time Pa went to Sydney Town she asked him for a letter. When he shook his head, tears came to her eyes. One day she’d write her a letter so Pa could bring it back; maybe then Mam would smile.
‘Mam, where are you? We’re going to the river to see the mallangong.’
Mam turned from her seat on the ground, her fingers dirty from scrabbling in the garden where she grew her medicine—herbs that made people well, helped birth their babies, fixed their fevers and healed their cuts and bruises. That made Mam happy but the letter sadness never left her eyes no matter how hard Rose tried to be a good girl.
‘Tell your pa not to be late for tea. And don’t forget to keep your hat and boots on. The sun’s still strong.’
‘We can’t come home too soon because the mallangong don’t play until the sun goes down.’
‘You and your mallangong. I’m frightened one day I might lose you. You’ll swim away and not come back to me, go and live with them in Yellow-Mundee’s lagoon.’
She’d never do that, never leave Pa. Why would she do a thing like that?
‘Off you go now. That’s your pa calling; he doesn’t like to be kept waiting.’
Pa was always saying he had two precious treasures brought to him by the piskies. That made Mam smile. A sad faraway smile. She leant over and brushed her lips against her mother’s smooth cheek, wrinkling her nose when the curl of hair, black as black,
tickled her face. ‘Bye Mam.’
Little puffs of dust rose at her heels and her heart beat in time with her boots as she ran. The rain hadn’t come and it was hot and dry and dusty. Down by the river it would be cool, underneath the big gum where the fallen branch stretched its arms into the river. That’s where the mallangong dug their burrows in the damp sand.
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More about Tea:
Tea Cooper writes Australian contemporary and historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling.
Tea always knew one day she would write a novel. It all began with a rather risqué story in the back of an exercise book at boarding school featuring the long-suffering gardener- not really the ideal romantic hero but it was before she knew any better.
Life and a few real heroes showed her the error of her ways and with a husband, a baby tucked under one arm and a half-built house she entered a Mills and Boon writing competition. To her earth-shattering amazement she won second place – the prize was a bottle of perfume. Next time she was determined to do better.
Writing remained the stuff of fantasy. Her family, a herd of alpacas, a protea farm and a full time teaching job intervened until one day she decided it was time to do or die. No more procrastination. The characters and plots that had lived in her head for so long were clamouring to escape.
In August 2011 Tea joined Romance Writers of Australia and her debut novel Tree Change was published in November 2012. She has since written several other Australian rural stories both contemporary and historical. Her historical novels are published by Harper Collins HQ Fiction, MIRA and Escape Publishing.
Tea is also a member of Hunter Romance Writers, the Australian Romance Readers Association and Wollombi’s Pencil Orchids. She is currently working on her next Australian historical novel.