On Monday I shared my review of Darry Fraser’s latest novel, Elsa Goody Bushranger, and today I’m delighted to be able to share a Q&A with Darry. I always love getting a little peek into the writing process, and am so grateful to Darry for sharing her time and answering these questions for me! =)
Do you remember when the idea for Elsa Goody Bushranger first came to you, or what the first spark of inspiration for this story was?
There were a number of things, but the main idea came from a picture I had in my head of a young woman in a darkened room reading a letter by candlelight. Even in that nanosecond image, I knew she was reading bad news, and reading it to someone else. What could it be? Who might have sent it? Where was she? Her first name popped out, and her surname is that of a long term friend of mine who’s now in her eighties and living in Queensland. Elsa then needed a quest, as you do, so that became the chase for the gold coins. That came from a family story, that led to … and etc.
That’s how it works.
One of the themes, or events I guess, that I really enjoyed in the book was the newly won right for women to vote in South Australia – and how much this meant to Elsa. Was there something specific that inspired you to include this aspect of the story, and did that have an impact on the setting – both in terms of the location and the era?
I’ve read numerous bits and pieces about how a lot of women at the time did not want the vote, or rather, to have to vote. What must it have felt like for someone who desperately wanted to do it, who understood what it meant? (Most of my girls want to stand up and be counted.) So then I decided to find a town, Robe, and I trawled Trove for newspapers of the day to see if the first vote for women had caused a stir – and there was this article among others that told me the first woman had arrived at 9.45 to place her vote. Unfortunately, no name was given … fortunate for Elsa, though.
I already had Robe in mind, so it just all seemed to come together. There were a couple of really interesting things about that particular election; a first for women – all women – in Australia (and second only in the world to NZ women) and the first referendum. Its three questions were on whether religious teachings should be allowed in public schools. I sometimes get comments from readers telling me off – that everyone was religious then, or went to church (nope), that every woman was a virgin when she came to her marriage bed (nope), that ever woman was submissive to father/brother/husband (nope). I try to convey that although women had to fight for basic human rights, they were human and some were strong, and made the same decisions as we more modern women do. Thing is, back then there were greater ramifications if they got it wrong. The vote for women gave them a voice; a pity it took a while to catch on.
I felt like I got to know the areas of Robe and Casterton a little bit throughout the book, and I imagine it would be quite fun to see them portrayed if you knew the real places now. Was there a particular reason you used these towns as the setting? Are they places you know well or that are special to you?
I wanted to use another South Australian area that wasn’t along the Murray (though I have a feeling I’ll return to the river). Back in the day Robe was a huge part of the trade in SA, was the second biggest port outside Port Adelaide. It was a drop off point for many Chinese people as they walked cross country avoiding Victorian taxes to get to the goldfields there. Has a wonderful history. Then – I came across the old Kangaroo Inn between Robe and Penola, a ruin now but a staging post for Cobb & Co … and then, when bushrangers roamed …
Not well known to me, but the history there is lively.
The subject of the letter Elsa is reading as the book opens had gone on an adventure and met his death in Casterton in Victoria, nearly a straight line from Robe on a main road. It’s only a few hours run in a car now but in the 19th century it was a three-day ride, or more if you got bogged or had an accident. It could seem like forever when you’re trying to get back to vote at the polls in the only colony in the country that lets you vote!
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on next?
The Last Truehart is out in December 2020 –An American Civil War confederate navy ship docks in Melbourne 1865 and carries secrets far out to sea. Thirty years later those secrets taunt a young woman in Geelong whose life is inexplicably tied to the shadow of that dark ship, the CSS Shenandoah.
The Unconventional Miss North (wt) is due for release July 2021 – A young woman returns home to Melbourne in 1900 from university in Scotland. She believes she might land a job in the emerging field of forensics, only to find murder as a cause of death is closer to home than she thought it would be.
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?
I’ve recently read one of Lisa Genova’s – Inside the O’Briens. A hard storyline, as in heart rending. It was timely for me because by coincidence, its subject matter is the same issue for a current character of mine, although set once again in the 19th century. She’s such a clever writer: I didn’t like the opening chapter’s main character – through no fault of his own! I got to like him very much – kudos to Lisa Genova. She wrote Still Alice which was another fine read for me.
Thank you for having me, Bookish Bron.
Huge thanks again to Darry for joining me here on the blog today, and to the team at Harlequin Books for connecting us!