The first book I read from Harlequin’s HERSTORY campaign – featuring historical fiction about women who rebel – was Tea Cooper’s The Girl in the Painting. This was my second time reading a book by Tea, having read The Woman in the Green Dress last year, and I absolutely enjoyed both – you can see my reviews here and here.
This week Tea has kindly answered a few questions I asked about The Girl in the Painting, as well as giving us a little sneak peek at what she has coming up for us next.
First, what is The Girl in the Painting about? Here’s the synopsis
Miss Elizabeth Quinn is something of an institution in Maitland Town. For longer than anyone could remember she and her brother, businessman Michael, have lived in the impressive two-storey stone house next to the church. When she is discovered cowering in the corner of the exhibition gallery at the Technical College the entire town knows something strange has come to pass.
Was it the prehistoric remains or perhaps the taxidermy exhibition that had reduced the whale-boned encased pillar of society to a quivering mess? Or is there something odd about a striking painting on loan from the National Gallery?
Mathematical savant Jane Piper is determined to find out. Deposited on the doorstep of the local orphanage as a baby, she owes her life and education to the Quinns’ philanthropic ventures and Elizabeth has no one else to turn to.
As the past and the present converge, Elizabeth’s grip on reality loosens. Can Jane, with her logical brain and penchant for puzzles, unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late?
My interview with Tea Cooper, author of The Girl in the Green Dress
The historical notes at the back of The Girl in the Painting tell us that it is based around a series of unconnected historical events that really happened. I’d love to know about your inspiration for the story – was there an event in particular that inspired you? Or did the characters come to you first?
Without a doubt the character of Elizabeth came first. Maitland is a fascinating town full of beautifully restored buildings and I could see Elizabeth, in 1911, walking down the street. The focus of the story became Who is Miss Elizabeth Quinn?
I feel like it must be hard sometimes to decide how to bring together historical events into a story like this (which you do so beautifully!), and what to leave out. Were there any really cool stories/events you came across while working on The Girl in the Painting that you would have liked to have included in the book but that didn’t quite fit?
I have a hankering to write an entire book about one piece of research! I have some good friends in Mudgee and I have spent time in the area and visited Hill End several times. I’ve always known that one day it would end up in a book so I revisited Hill End. The museum had been revamped—it used many, many photographs from The Holtermann Collection and brought alive the life and times in the area. So off I went to investigate The Holtermann Collection. I discovered that it wasn’t until after the Second World War that the 3500 wet plate glass negatives had been found in a GARDEN SHED behind a house in North Sydney! I’m trying to ignore my itchy fingers and finish the books I am currently working on! (If you’re interested, they were acquired by the State Library of NSW and have been restored and can be viewed on line.) There’s such a story in that!
I really love the way that we meet Elizabeth and Michael in 1913, and then learn more about them as their younger selves grow. When you were writing them, did you start with them in 1913 and then learn more about them as you wrote? Or did you have an idea of their backstories when you started?
As I’ve said, Elizabeth came first, and Maitland, so the story started there, followed by the question how did they get there!
Did you have a favourite scene to write, or one that was particularly difficult to write?
There was one integral scene which was rewritten. It was very close to the end of the book (Oh! Difficult. Spoilers. I don’t think I want to explain!!) Suffice to say it had ramifications throughout the entire story but after much angst I know it was the right decision!
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on next?
I’m currently deep in the structural edits for my November, 2020 release THE CARTOGRAPHER’S SECRET. It tells the story of Evie Ludgrove who lives in the shadow of her father’s obsession with Ludwig Leichhardt! No more spoilers! I’m also playing with my 2021 story THE PALAEONTOLOGIST. Quite where it will go I am not sure but it is a mystery set in the Hunter Valley, at a ‘real’ place called Bow Wow Gorge! (How could I bypass such a wonderful name?) So this time the setting came before the characters!
Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or whether there is something you have read recently and loved that you would like to recommend to us?
Because of my editing I am re reading one of the books that were central to my research for THE CARTOGRAPHER’S SECRET—WHERE IS DOCTOR LEICHHARDT? by Darrel Lewis. I’m also reading one of Nicole Alexander’s books RIVER RUN. I love Nicole’s books and somehow have managed to miss the last couple. I recently finished THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART which I highly recommend.
Thank you so much!
My pleasure! Thank you for the invitation.
Thanks again to Harlequin Australia for sending me this gorgeous book, and the others featuring in the HERSTORY campaign. You can check them all out here.
And, of course, huge thanks to Tea for taking the time to answer my questions so I could share them here!