This month we are starting something new with Author Spotlights to go along with some of our book club reads, the first of these is with the talented Australian author Tea Cooper, author of The Woman in the Green Dress which we read in December. She also wrote The Horse Thief, The Currency Lass and The Naturalist’s Daughter.
Hi Tea, welcome to Beauty and Lace. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Can you tell us a little about where your writing journey began?
My writing journey began the moment I was given a crayon. I covered my bedroom wall with symbols, not drawings! Sadly, I didn’t get much further, it could have been the beating I received, and writing dreams were put on hold for far too many years. It wasn’t until I retired after 35 years of teaching, that I wrote my first story, a contemporary romance. A snippet of information about a stretch of road called Ramsey’s Leap, just outside Wollombi, led to my first Australian historical, Lily’s Leap. Then I discovered a local rural myth… that Archer, the winner of the first Melbourne Cup, was born and bred in the Hunter, (he wasn’t!) however it sparked a much longer story and I pitched it to HarperCollins. The Horse Thief released in November 2015 and so my writing journey began.
Where do your story inspirations come from?
The inspiration for most of my books begins with a little known historical fact (or myth) that I have stumbled across. I particularly love it when I see the words… an unknown person… then I play a What—If game. My aim is to keep my stories fictional but feasible.
Your latest release is The Woman in the Green Dress. Can you tell us a little about the book?
The Woman in the Green Dress tells the story of two women Fleur Richards and Della Atterton whose lives, are inextricably linked by a mystery surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress.
The Woman in the Green Dress is an historical novel, as have been previous books we have featured at Beauty and Lace, can you tell us a little about how and where you do your research?
Old newspapers, advertisements and magazines are my constant online companions, and I haunt second hand book shops and library basements for discarded journals and books. I also love some of the smaller local museums that are filled with old photographs and fascinating memorabilia. And then there is word of mouth, old family histories. That’s why I set my books in what was the old County of Northumberland—the area bounded by part of the Hawkesbury River to the south, the Macdonald River to the south-west and the Hunter River to the north. It’s where I live and where many stories of early Australia live on.
Is there any factual basis for The Woman in the Green Dress?
There are several historical facts that are integral to the story. Baron Charles von Hügel, Austrian army officer, botanist and explorer visited ‘New Holland’ between 1833 and 1834. His journals were transcribed by an unknown amanuensis, a ghost writer. Johann Menge a linguist and geologist was employed by the South Australian Mining Company and various sources credit him with the discovery of the first Australian opal. No one knows what became of it. The Settlers Arms at St Albans has traded as a purveyor of conversation, beer, and accommodation since the mid-nineteenth century and two women, Tost and Rohu ran a shop in Sydney that sold all kinds of taxidermical work and held the largest stock of native implements and curiosities. Those facts are inextricably woven into the story. The characters and events are however purely fictional.
Are you working on anything new that you can tell us about?
I have just submitted my latest manuscript The Girl in the Painting (working title) to my publisher meanwhile I am playing with what I hope will become my December 2020 book. It’s currently titled The Cartographer’s Song. It tells the story of a girl who lives in the shadow of her father’s obsession with the disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt.
You write fascinating historical fiction, but what do you love to read?
Anything, and everything. I’m one of those people who read all the signs along the road, the junk crammed into the mailbox, the local paper from cover to cover. I obviously read a lot of research books, old newspapers and journals but I also enjoy historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers and other favourite authors.
What was your favourite read of 2018?
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton without a doubt. In fact, I read it twice. It is such a complex plot and I am in awe of her ability to faultlessly interweave so many timelines.
What is your most anticipated release of 2019?
I’m very much looking forward to the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale —The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. And I’m going to hear her speak at the Sydney Opera House. I can’t wait!
Can you give us the one piece of advice for aspiring authors that you think is the most important?
Be patient and persevere—and don’t leave it as long as I did, to take your writing seriously.
The Woman in the Green Dress is published by Harlequin and is available now through Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.
A selection of our members are reading The Woman in the Green Dress and you can read what they thought HERE.