Adelaide Hills author Esme Barratt did a talk in my local library late last year, I couldn’t make the talk but did reach out to offer a review of the entertaining and original Sibling Realty, which I followed up with an interview request. So, grab a cuppa and sit back to find out a little more about the writing of Esme Barratt.
Hi Esme, welcome to Beauty and Lace and thanks for talking to us.
What made you want to be a writer?
I can remember wanting to be a writer as early as grade 5 in Primary school. I just loved books and the way a story can engage you and fill you with hope, fear, laughter and more. I’ve been writing for fun for about 20 years and even undertook some studies at TAFE a few years ago to try to focus my work. I also really love the way it feels when you get so into a story that it really feels like the words are flowing straight from your imagination through your fingers and onto the page – who wouldn’t love that?
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember writing book reviews when I was younger, and then some poetry when our kids were little. The first full story I completed was ‘New Years Eve at the Zoo’ – a kids picture book which still isn’t published but was a lot of fun to write.
I remember being quite surprised when I sat down seriously to write a novel and Sibling Realty emerged – it has such strong paranormal influences and I was always convinced I would write Science Fiction – but sometime you just have to go with the flow and let your imagination set the direction.
Your debut novel is Sibling Realty, can you tell us a little about it?
The story is about twin sisters, Jodie and Suzie Mackenzie, who dream of owning a real estate business together in the idyllic Adelaide Hills. They complete their studies and are well on their way to pursuing their dreams when tragedy strikes and Jodie is killed in a car accident. However, Jodie isn’t about to let a little thing like death get in the way of fulfilling her destiny and as Suzie continues on with the dream of becoming a real estate agent, Jodie is firmly by her side (in spirit form anyway).
The twins come across all manner of difficult properties with paranormal problems, but Suzie has much more success than the average agent, with the help of her supernatural sibling.
This is not a standalone story, have you got a set number of books in mind?
Yes, I have three novels planned for this series. At the end of the first, the girls are well on their way to establishing a stand alone (and somewhat specialist) business and as the second novel unfolds, there will be new characters and challenges, and perhaps an expanding of the Mackenzie clan.
The third novel is planned to venture further afield to the bonny shores of Scotland when ancestry and destiny combine for an epic finale – but lets not give too much away!
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for the story?
I had the idea years ago, when we were looking at properties to move to Mount Barker and I remember thinking about how helpful it would be to have a spirit guide there to give you advice on the history and vibe of the home. At the time I was reading a wonderful, funny and engaging book called An English Psychic in Hollywood and somehow the ideals just coalesced into Sibling Realty.
What sort of research was required into the psychic and spiritual side of the story?
I have an aunty who is a medium and I have great memories of hearing her talk about spirit and the information you could receive if you just opened your mind. Of course, I’m also quite interested in all things spiritual and did quite a lot of reading and online research.
On a personal note, I’m sure I’ve experienced a ghostly encounter at a friend’s property in Basket Range and my experience in England when I was just 18 convinced me there was something more to supernatural encounters than just imagination.
I was working in a breathtaking and somewhat isolated property in Somerset, called Shapwick House Hotel. The House was built by the monks of Glastonbury in 1487 (I’m not making this up! As an 18 year old from Adelaide, this place really blew my mind).
You can imagine the history and grandeur of a place like this – eleven elegant rooms, a ballroom, two bar areas and a large dining room. It was beautiful and eerie all at the same time. At night we needed to put on the heaters in the rooms and turn down the covers for guests but there was one room at the top of the stairs (I’m sure it was called the Elm room) which no-one wanted to do, in fact even thinking about it now has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and given me a little shudder! The door would always creep closed, even if you wedged a chair in front of it and it just felt cold and wrong. The emotion and memory of this site has stayed with me and really helped in describing some of the scenes in the book.
How much of the history in the story is actual historical fact?
Quite a bit in some of it – for example the ghostly milk delivery driver at the fictional Wheeler’s Hill property, is based on an actual milk delivery round which occurred in the Hills a long time ago (there was also a ‘personal waste’ pick up round too, but I decided not to go there!)
Plus anyone who lives near here will know about our wonderful historical Steam Railway and the reference to the historical Character A.W.Howard and his discovery of the clover strain is accurate too.
The hospital site is not based on a real hills site, but I did take inspiration from another closed site (now demolished) in the South East of South Australia. When I saw it, it was a creepy, run-down, fenced off, monstrosity of a building that just basically screamed at me ‘there’s more stories and ghosts here than you could possibly imagine!’
The story is set in the picturesque Adelaide Hills but the main town is fictional. How many of the buildings actually exist?
Some of them are based on actual buildings, such as Kintore House where the twins go for their graduation dinner. This is based on the rather spectacular Auchendarroch House in Mount Barker but others are entirely fictional (such as a couple of the properties which Suzie is charged with trying to sell).
There is a railway station which could literally be any one of the fabulous historic buildings in the Hills – such as Stirling, Aldgate and Nairne railway stations which are still there but not used as railway stations any more, since our passenger service ended in the late 1980’s.
Of course the scenery described is real, there are parts of Balhannah, Hanhdorf and Mount Barker although equally I could have been describing any of the glorious towns in the Adelaide Hills.
Are you working on anything new you can tell us about?
Yes a children’s novel called Wickedy Broom which I hope will be out later this year and a Space Opera (or science fiction epic journey to save the universe) which is kind of based on Jason and the Argonauts. These form great distractions from Sibling Realty (I can be a bit of procrastinator – just ask any of my friends and family!)
What do you love to read?
How much time have you got? Seriously, I just love reading. My all time favourite top 5 would be Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams); Contest (Matt Reilly); The Pellinor Series (Alison Croggen); The Obernewtyn Series (Isobelle Carmody); and Good Omens – aka the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett).
Of course there’s also the wonderful new Adelaide Hills Author T.R.Kester with Something Wicked (second book out soon – can’t wait) and I also love anything by Matthew Reilly, Rick Riordan, Fiona McIntosh, Cassandra Clare, MaryJanice Davidson, Jonathan Stroud, Derek Landy, Pittacus Lore and many, many more. Did I mention I love reading?
Thanks for your time Esme and good luck with the rest of the trilogy.
Sibling Realty is available in selected local bookshops including Matilda Bookshop in Stirling and Dymocks in the City and from BarrattBooks.com.au.