Welcome to Behind the Pen. Today my guest is the ever-popular Téa Cooper, here to chat about her latest historical fiction release, The Woman in the Green Dress.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, or tell stories. My mother branded me a storyteller at an early age, and while she wasn’t being complimentary, these days I relish the title! When I left school I refused to sit my university entrance exams. I wanted to be a journalist. I talked my way into a job as a cub reporter but, to cut a long story short, ended up doing a Bachelor of Education majoring in History and English. My English lecturer Alan Brownjohn, the English poet, seemed to think I could write a good yarn but at that point in time I was interested in fact not fiction. Fast forward thirty-five years to the catalyst … I woke one morning and decided I’d been a teacher for long enough. I took long-service leave, discovered a competition called New Voices (Mills and Boon) and wrote the first three chapters of a story and entered. I didn’t win but I retired from teaching and those three chapters become my first published book, Tree Change.
How many novels have you written and published?
I’ve written and published fourteen stories but it wasn’t until my first print book, The Horse Thief, (2015) I felt I could say I had written a novel. Since then I’ve written several other historical novels for Harper Collins.
How long on average does it take you to write a novel?
It’s almost impossible to calculate because every story is different. I work on more than one at a time and the different stages overlap. Currently I’m writing, and researching, the very dirty draft of The Cartographer’s Secret which, if everything goes to plan, will be my December 2020 book. My December 2019 book, The Girl in the Painting, will go to edits in the new year and The Woman in the Green Dress is about to release, meanwhile I’m fiddling with some mad ideas for 2021!
What inspired your most recent novel?
Without a doubt Baron Charles von Hügel’s New Holland Journal written during his visit to Australia from Austria between November, 1833—October, 1834.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
This is an interesting question and there’s been a lot of discussion about this recently in some author groups. I would love to be a plotter, (most people look at me sideways and wonder how I can say this because of all the research) but I’m not. There is usually one fact that makes me start what if-ing and my characters emerge. When I wrote The Naturalist’s Daughter it was a line in an old journal that said Sir Joseph’s Banks had received a platypus pelt from an unknown source in the Antipodes prior to 1799 when Governor John Hunter claimed to have seen an Aborigine spear a ‘Small Amphibious Animal of the Mole Kind’. A line in the introduction to the translated version of von Hügel’s journal sparked The Woman in the Green Dress. It said his journal had been transcribed by an amanuensis, a ghost writer. In a flight of fancy I dreamt up this character and the story began.
How would you describe The Woman in the Green Dress if you could only use 5 words?
I’m going to cheat … deadly, nineteenth century, mystery, opals … with thanks to my lovely publishers for the artwork!
How much research do you do? How do you balance the demands of getting the facts right and telling a good story?
I do a lot of research, and I love it. More often than not fact feeds fiction, however occasionally I tamper with the truth or the timeline for the sake of the story. My over-riding aim is to produce historical fiction that is feasible … it might have happened.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
More than one … The Nowhere Child by Christian White, four copies of The Old Machinery Magazine, (I’m researching Tarrant cars pre WW1!) and Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak.
Are you more of a print, e-book, or audio book fan?
I like e-books for research because it is so easy to bookmark important bits and pieces and use the search function, however this causes a huge amount of conflict. I love print books, old books especially. I’m not a fan of audio books although The Woman in the Green Dress will be available in audio so I may change my mind. I haven’t listened to it yet!
If you could go back in time for a year, which historical era would you choose to live in and why?
This isn’t going to come as a surprise! November, 1833—October, 1834 so I could travel through the Hunter with my very own Austrian Baron!
The Woman in the Green Dress
A mystery from another era draws Londoner Fleur Richards deep into its web in pursuit of an inheritance, the first Australian opal, and a poisonous legacy…
1853 Mogo Creek, NSW
Della Atterton, bereft at the loss of her parents, is holed up in the place she loves best: the beautiful Hawkesbury in New South Wales. The unexpected arrival of Captain Stefan von Richter on a quest to retrieve what could be Australia’s first opal, precipitates Della’s return to Sydney and her Curio Shop of Wonders, where she discovers her enigmatic aunt, Cordelia, is selling more than curiosities to collectors.
1919 Sydney, NSW
When London teashop waitress Fleur Richards inherits land in Australia from her husband, Hugh, killed in the war, she finds herself ensconced in the Berkeley Hotel on Bent St, Sydney, the reluctant owner of a Hawkesbury property and an old curio shop, now desolate and boarded up.
As the real story of her inheritance unravels, Fleur and damaged returned soldier Kip, are drawn deep into the past by a thread that unravels a mystery surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress … a green that is the colour of envy, the colour buried deep within an opal, the colour of poison…
THE WOMAN IN THE GREEN DRESS by Téa Cooper
Published by HQ Fiction
Released on 17th December 2018
Available in Print, ebook and audio