Author Interview: Darry Fraser

A selection of our Beauty and Lace club members are reading The Last Truehart by Darry Fraser.

Darry took some time out to chat with us, and you can learn more about her in the following interview:

Thank you, Darry for this opportunity to ask you some questions. 

Thanks for having me.

As you know I’ve been a fan of your work pretty much from the beginning. I’ve always loved your “meet the author” book talks, finding out where the inspiration for your books comes from.

So, can you tell us a little bit about where your latest book, The Last Truehart, springs from?

I’d just sent in a manuscript, Elsa Goody Bushranger, to my publisher and once I do that, it means that I’ve let that story go – so now what to do? Give myself a couple of days off, perhaps. No – start on Trove, search the old Australian newspapers of the 19th century for interesting bits and pieces.

There were always plenty of international news articles and information and just by chance (if I remember correctly) I spotted a reference in an 1865 edition to the ‘CSS Shenandoah’. Why on earth would an American confederate Civil War ship rate a mention in our papers? Because it was docked in Melbourne. Caused an enormous kerfuffle at the time. 

I was also thinking that I might try a dual timeline of sorts, where the actions of characters in one generation have ramifications for characters in the next generation. So, when I learned that forty-two colonial men in Melbourne had stowed away on that ship, I wondered what would happen if one of them had left behind a pregnant woman, never to see her again. And off I went.

One of the nice things about Q&A sessions is finding out some different things about the author.  There has been a lot of talk in the author world recently about plotters vs pantsers (those who plot the course of their book out, versus those who just write and work out where the story is going as they go along).  

Are you a plotter or a pantser, and has that changed over the course of your writing career?

I’m a pantser. I get a kernel of an idea and a story unfolds as I write. Having said that, I have been known to write a plot, only to find that if I expand on that plot, I get bored with it, so I revert to pantserism. Sometimes, authors are asked for a synopsis of a story to pitch to a publisher. I get unstuck there and find I might have to stick to the plot … but that doesn’t last long. Generally, I pants it. It’s more exciting.

It changes for me, story to story. I might not plot exactly, but I will jot down a few lines, thoughts, snippets, words, phrases for future use that mean something to me in the context of the story, and then weave them into the chapters going forward. Sometimes, when I’m editing, I’ll see something in later chapters that need signposting in earlier chapters. Plotting might have helped me there, but I don’t often know how the story will pan out in order to ‘signpost’ as I’m writing. 

Darry Fraser author in the garden

Your work falls into the historical fiction genre which must require a lot of research around events that you are portraying.  

How much time do you spend researching for your books, and what sort of things do you need to research?

Research is a rabbit hole, almost never-ending. It has twists and turns and sometimes I don’t remember what I started out looking for because I’ve found something so much more interesting. Hours could go by.

I don’t tend to research by reading a whole reference book on any particular subject but rather test whether or not a phrase or a word or an item I might have had a character use was current at the time, or legal, for instance. Etymology is a great tool, especially for language. Checking up on when the word ‘okay’ became a thing in the vernacular gave me a little surprise.

I’ve researched when paper-bags were first in use in Australia, what wallets or money-clips looked like, when pockets were first in waistcoats, the type of hats that were popular for men, what their work trousers were made of.

How newspapers were set up – advertisements took up the front and following few pages whereas now, the big news stories usually come first. I’ve googled how to make a wheel for a cart, studied the instruments 19th-century architects used for their drawings. What paper was made of for such drawings, what ink was made from …

When you aren’t researching or writing, what sort of books do you like to read?  Do you have any favourite authors?

Not in any order of preference, I like to read Kathy Reichs, Lisa Gardner, Jane Harper, Chris Hammer – so forensic thrillers, detective stories, mysteries. I enjoy my contemporary’s Sarah Barrie and Tea Cooper’s work, squeeze in a mega-seller like Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing.

I loved the inaugural The Banjo prize winner Taking Tom Murray Home by Tim Slee. I thoroughly enjoyed Kate Grenville’s A Room Made of Leaves for the clever fiction woven through fact that it was. Just checking my TBR pile now … Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, and an older one now of Bruce Venables, Eureka Run

Can’t say I have a preference for one author or one genre over any other. I just like to be entertained by a good read. Subjective, isn’t it?

On a more personal note, last years bushfires had a devastating effect on the Kangaroo Island community.  How is the Island recovering, and are there still things people can do to assist the recovery as we move back into bushfire season?

Recovery will be a slow healing. We know there are many who have already experienced some form of PTSD since the fires and also that the manifestation of PTSD for others could take up to ten years to emerge. Some people have left the island, such was their devastation.

The grass is green again, the native vegetation is thriving once more, the dunnart (a native rodent-like animal) thought at one point to have been wiped out has been found in tiny colonies here and there, thriving. Koalas are back in the trees, kangaroos and wallabies still plenty.

 The first warm day and a northerly in September had everyone holding their breath; in the last week we have had temperate days and dry thunderstorms. I don’t believe there are too many on the island looking forward to the heat the summer months will bring. 

Only half of the island burned in the 2019-20 summer season; the other half could ignite any time from now.

If your readers would like to help, The Mayoral Fund via Banksa is still current and has had donated funds in excess of $5 million already disbursed. Please see information:

All donations to KI Mayoral Relief and Recovery Bushfire Fund are tax deductible. In the meantime, the Bank SA details for donations are:

BSB: 105 094. Account Number: 035 680 540. Account Name: Mayoral Bushfire Fund. International deposit enter Swift Code: SGBLAU2S

100% of all money in the fund goes directly to people whose homes, properties or businesses have been impacted by the Kangaroo Island bushfires.

No donations of clothing or food items, please. Thank you so much for asking for details.

If you didn’t live on Kangaroo Island, where would you like to live, and why?

I think I’m pretty happy here but if I had to go, somewhere off the beaten track just a little, in a small town, and still close to a larger centre and good services. Not sure I’d change states, though. South Australia has everything except a large population. 

Can you give us a hint as to what your next book after The Last Truehart will be about, and when you expect it to be published?

The next book is scheduled for release by HarperCollins in December 2021. A young woman returns to Australia in 1898 after studying in Scotland and hopes to find work with the Victorian police in the emerging science of forensics.

She follows her dream to work and not to have marriage and children because she believes her life might be cut short by an inherited disease. However, mystery surrounds her, of course!

This time I have flirted with high society in Melbourne at the time rather than being in rural and less privileged areas as in some other stories of mine. But we do visit Ned Kelly country and spend a bit of time in Benalla, Victoria.

Story for 2022 is underway and I have a wheelwright, a journalist and a milliner as main characters, and I look at the devastation ‘breach of promise’ (in marriage) had on those who felt its effects, and menopause and the 19thcentury woman.

If you could have a dinner party with 5 people, living or dead, who would they be?

Family, and friends. Maybe some of my author contemporaries. Vida Goldstein (early Australian suffragist) would be amazing to have to dinner.

Otherwise – I wouldn’t have anything to talk about to Madam Curie, or Elizabeth I, or Nellie Melba. Maybe Meryl Streep and Olivia Colman would be fun.

Lastly, if you had 3 wishes what would you wish for?

  1. To wake up and miraculously be able to touch type.

2. To sing like Adele or Celine or Pink or Lady Gaga.

3. To see one of my stories as a movie or TV series. 

Thank you for your time Darry. As you know a selection of our Beauty and Lace club members are reading The Last Truehart. I hope they enjoy the book as much as I did.            

Thank you once again.

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