Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, The Good Woman of Renmark, is Darry Fraser.
Darry Fraser’s first novel, Daughter of the Murray, is set on her beloved River Murray where she spent part of her childhood. Where The Murray River Runs, her second novel, is set in Bendigo in the 1890s, and her third novel, The Widow of Ballarat, takes place on the Ballarat goldfields in the 1850s. Darry currently lives, works and writes on Kangaroo Island, an awe-inspiring place off the coast of South Australia.
Hello Darry. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?
Thanks for having me, Mrs B! Coffee please, a long black – and I think a slice of Mississippi mud cake would do the trick.
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
Currently I write Australian historical fiction and The Good Woman of Renmark is the fourth novel out with HarperCollins. In earlier times, I tried my hand at contemporary stories – romance, and thrillers. Altogether I think there have been 12 or so published, most no longer available now.
The Good Woman of Renmark is your latest release, can you describe it in just a sentence?
Maggie O’Rourke is running, and not just because of a violent event: she’s running from Sam Taylor who wants her for his wife.
How long did it take you to write The Good Woman of Renmark?
How different was the experience of writing The Good Woman of Renmark, compared to your other novels?
In all my other historic novels I’ve tried to focus on a young woman’s struggle for independence where survival always wins the argument. While this novel was much the same in that regard, Maggie had to really dig deep to learn what growing up was really all about.
Why did you choose to base your latest novel in nineteenth century South Australia?
I love that last decade in the 19th century – mostly because times were changing for everyone. Federation was just around the corner, and hopes were high for a new dawn, especially in the light of economic depression and back-to-back droughts. Everyone had hardship. Women were just beginning to take hold of their own lives and realising that a voice in policy-making – having a vote – was the only way forward. I set it in South Australia because the Murray makes its way through there down to the sea. Maggie had already begun another life in Renmark during the previous story, although she was only mentioned in passing.
Can you tell us about the research process that you undertook to bring The Good Woman of Renmark to life?
Once I knew where Maggie and co would be, researching was easy – and a trap. A rabbit hole! How many hours can be lost chasing snippets of information to ensure authentic context? Lots. Always interesting, and once a little gem surfaces, it’s great fun to work out how to incorporate it into the story. For instance, I had no clue that the SA government settled people by the river on small blocks of land (much like the soldier settlement scheme of the 20th century). The difference was that these blocks were communally owned, which understandably at the time, failed – small minded squabbles, poverty, laziness.
How did you incorporate this research into the narrative?
I had Maggie get to one of these ‘villages’, a place called Lyrup not far downriver from Renmark; she took refuge there but finds herself in more hot water – independence and survival for women is a most outlandish notion, and not one thought of too highly. She also learns that the settlement scheme wasn’t thought of too highly, either.
Where did the inspiration for the main character of Maggie O’Rourke come from?
Maggie appeared as a character in absentia in Where The Murray River Runs, and Sam Taylor in that same story bemoans losing her. Sam’s best friend Ard (the hero of that book) is Maggie’s brother so developing their story was a natural progression – and they told me as much.
What are the main themes of your new novel?
Once again, honour, strength in adversity, family responsibility, friendship.
What ingredients do you feel are necessary to compose a historical fiction novel?
Action. Stuff happened back then, awful stuff, so I try and weave fact through the fiction to make it as engaging as possible. Where I can, I use real historical figures and events. Research is the key to getting it right, but I always use a little licence and hope that my characters carry it off. (While I might know the truth historically, my characters live in a time where they don’t have all the facts all the time.)
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Good Woman of Renmark?
Learning something they didn’t know; a feeling that they’ve had a satisfactory read; that they’ve lived alongside the characters, and cheer when they win, commiserate when they lose – making a connection.
What is the best part of being a published author?
Knowing that people out there are enjoying my stories and having them ask for more.
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
I think I’d like to fall in step with my characters in the 1890s or thereabouts, in Australia. I’m not sure that as a 21st century person I’d enjoy the lack of running water, lack of electricity etc, but I’d love the opportunity to hear their voices, to share the wonder of their new experiences, and to be there when women finally began to realise their lives could be taken in their own hands.
What is next on the horizon for Darry Fraser? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I do. Next July, Elsa Goody, Bushranger will be released. This time I wanted to look at siblings, and how very different we are although born of the same parents. The new story has two sisters, who meet three brothers. What could go wrong? There is another novel just finished which if accepted will be released in November 2020.
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
The inaugural winner of The Banjo prize, Tim Slee’s Taking Tom Murray Home – I loved the voice. Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton – outside my usual genres, and for a bit of laugh-out-loud fun, Kitty Flanagan’s 488 Rules For Life.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
Mum x (although it would have to be at a table in heaven.)
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Darry. Congratulations on the publication of The Good Woman of Renmark!
Thank you – and thank you once again for having me, Mrs B.
Adventure, romance and history combine in this thrilling 19th century journey through the South Australian bush and along the mighty Murray River in the company of a determined heroine.
1895, Renmark, South Australia
Maggie O’Rourke has always had a hard head. No man was going to tie her down to a life of babies and domestic slavery, even if that man was as good (and as annoyingly attractive) as Sam Taylor. Maggie is happily earning her own way as a maid in a house on the Murray River when disaster strikes.
Forced to defend herself and a friend from assault by an evil man, she flees downriver on a paddle steamer. With death at her heels, Maggie begins to realise that a man like Sam might be just who she wants in her hour of need. As for Sam, well, Maggie has always been what he wants.
The further Maggie runs, the more she discovers there are some things she cannot escape…
The Good Woman of Renmark by Darry Fraser was published on 18th November 2019 by Mira – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Darry here: