Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her book, Under the Midnight Sky, is Anna Romer.
Anna Romer was born in Australia to a family of booklovers. She led a nomadic life for many years, travelling around Europe and Britain in an ancient Kombi van where she discovered a passion for history.
These days she lives in a little old cottage surrounded by bushland, writing stories about dark family secrets, rambling houses, characters haunted by the past, and settings that feature the uniquely beautiful Australian landscape. Anna’s debut bestselling novel was Thornwood House, followed by Lyrebird Hill and Beyond the Orchard.
Hello Anna. 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?
Hi Mrs B, thanks for the invite! I’m a devoted tea drinker, my top three being earl grey, chai, and dandelion. And there’s nothing nicer than a slice (or three!) of cake to go with it. Poppy seed and lemon, carrot and walnut, salted caramel – to name just a few must-haves!
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
I love writing stories with mystery and suspense, lashings of history and a touch of romance thrown in. Under the Midnight Sky is my fourth book.
Under the Midnight Sky is your latest release, can you describe it in just a sentence?
A small-town journalist races to find an abducted teenager, fearing the answer lies somewhere in her own troubled past.
What came first in the creation of the novel – the title, plot, characters or setting when you first set out to write Under the Midnight Sky?
All my books start with a strong ‘feeling’ or theme I want to explore – unrequited love, redemption, fear of moving on. I love exploring how these feelings might overshadow other aspects of a person’s life, such as their ability to trust. For Under the Midnight Sky it was the idea of entrapment. Trapped against your will, trapped in a relationship, even trapped by your own fears and memories.
Once I find my theme idea, I start collecting things that relate to it – pictures, articles, books, movies etc. Usually by this stage I’ve been mulling over what sort of plot and characters would be a good fit, but that ‘feeling’ is the thread that helps me unravel all the rest. And when I get stuck – which I always do! – it’s what draws me back and keeps me focussed on the heart of the story.
How long did it take you to write Under the Midnight Sky?
I had about a year and a half of false starts; outlining ideas, doing research, writing a bunch of chapters … but the story kept going nowhere. I’m very disciplined with my work and never really worry too much about writer’s block but I do go through periods of self-doubt – a writer’s worst enemy. I must have written an entire novel’s worth of plot variations, all of which I had to reject. It was very annoying, but part of the process. My process, anyway!
Once I found a core story that worked, it flowed easily. I wrote it in three months, then another few months to sort out the ending. Maybe five months all up? Then a couple more months of editing and refining. Quite a whirlwind!
How different was the experience of writing Under the Midnight Sky, compared to your previous novels?
My previous three novels all evolved from story ideas I’d been brewing for years. They all took shape slowly over time. Under the Midnight Sky was very different. When all my initial ideas led nowhere, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to come up with an entirely new storyline.
In the end – out of sheer desperation, I suppose – I drew on an unsettling experience I once had while exploring remote bushland. I found this desolate old abandoned cabin and went inside to have a look – and it was wonderfully creepy! Moth cocoons and cobwebs galore. But then the door slammed shut, sticking the latch and trapping me inside, resulting in a hot panic. The stuff of nightmares! I was miles from anywhere. No one knew where I was. Of course I managed to escape, with my imagination flying in all directions. Years later, those few moments of panic still haunted me, so I decided to weave it into my entrapment story – and the plot of the two sisters and their captor was born.
Under the Midnight Sky is a multi time period novel, did you find one time period easier than the other to write? How hard was it to link the time frames together?
For me, the historical threads are always easier to write. I adore researching the day to day lives of people in the past, and how their era and culture might affect the choices they make. Historical settings also allow plot complications that just wouldn’t be feasible these days. For example, in the 1940s a lot of people suffering from war-related trauma were sent home to deal with the emotional aftermath in their own way. It’s a lot more plausible in a historical timeframe for things to go wrong in that situation, because there just wasn’t the degree of medical care back then that there is today.
As for linking the timeframes, it’s always a tricky procedure! My first novel, Thornwood House, caused a fair amount of angst as I struggled to weave the timelines together. Sleep was lost! I created intricate maps and calendars, charts and mad-scientist equations. And I devoured other duel timeline novels, trying to understand how the professionals did it. These days, I’m way more intuitive in my approach. I can sense when the plot is ready for a change of pace. Usually I write big chunks of one time period until I stall, and then I jump to the other.
What I really loved about Under the Midnight Sky was the different genre categories the book falls into. Did you intend for this to occur? What genre do you feel best fits your book?
Not intentional at all! I’ve always enjoyed a crazy mix of genres – dystopian YA, mystery and crime, science fiction, psychological thrillers – and I’m always happier when they involve a love story. When I’m writing, I tend to just throw in all the things I like. It’s a bit chaotic, but for me that’s the fun of telling a story.
Another reason I mix my genres is to try and balance events so the novel ends on a positive note. I like the idea that any crimes or ghastly deeds committed in my stories are offset by the hopefulness of romance, if that makes sense?
When anyone asks me about genre, I always say my stories are a kind of historical murder mystery with a bit of love story thrown in.
Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?
Two of my favourite characters in Under the Midnight Sky were Lil and Joe – who were inspired by a real-life couple very close to my heart. I drew on their independence and capabilities, and also their great devotion to one another. They were two of the kindest and most inspiring people I have known, which made those characters a joy to write.
But inspiration is just the start. Once the story is underway, the fictional characters take on a life of their own. By the end of the novel, the character has morphed into someone entirely fictional.
Can you tell us more about the evocative Australian setting of your novel?
I set this story in the New England region of NSW, and loosely based my town on the city of Armidale. Years ago, I lived on a very remote property on the western slopes and I still dream about the place. It’s where my mind gravitates to when I’m thinking up a new story. If I close my eyes and think of the bush, I’m right in there among the huge granite boulders and towering ribbon gums. Stories are a writer’s way of exploring themes and feelings that haunt them, and I guess that particular landscape is one of the things that haunts me.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Under the Midnight Sky?
My only wish is for my readers to slip through the pages and be entertained for a few hours or days. Being transported by a story that you enjoy with characters you love is one of life’s greatest pleasures! And if they also emerge with a sense of renewed hope – that no matter how rocky the road gets, their courage and humanity will see them through – then that’s definitely a bonus.
One of my favourite all time novels is your debut, Thornwood House. I would love to know how this book came about and what do you think makes it such an enduring novel?
Thank you, I love hearing that! Thornwood House is very special to me. It was sparked by a trip to far north Queensland many years ago to visit my sister. We had some crazy adventures, all in that impossible heat! One night we sat around a campfire with friends listening to their stories of local mayhem and murder … really, it was eye-opening. As I sweltered by the fire, rubbing goose bumps from my arms, the spark of an idea that would one day become Thornwood House was ignited. Treachery and vengeance in this devastating heat seemed entirely plausible. Of course, the dead body in the fly-covered caravan and the woman who drove snakes out of her house with a shotgun did not make the final cut – but they were there in my first few drafts!
Maybe readers enjoy Thornwood House because it was very heartfelt. While writing it, I thought the only person who’d ever read it was my sister! So I threw everything into it, and at times it was quite a mess. But I persevered and just kept trying to love what I was doing. Enjoy the process, you know? The characters came to feel like family, I even had a soft spot for the baddies, so I wanted to tell their story in a way that did them justice.
Love is always the secret ingredient in everything. Love of the doing. If a story is heartfelt and the writer is in love with the writing of it, if they’re really immersed in their characters and world regardless of genre or literary importance, then I believe readers will respond to that in a positive way.
How did you make the transition to a published author?
By a long road of trial and error. I was always a reader. I adored stories. But when I finally mustered the courage to sit at the keyboard, I had no idea how to go about writing one. So I learnt the hard way – by writing and writing and writing. I have five or more failed novels buried in my bottom drawer. But eventually I approached an agent who thought I had potential. So I kept at it, and nearly ten years and countless redrafts later, Simon & Schuster offered me a contract.
Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?
I have a little writing studio tucked away at the front of my house – it’s nothing grand but it’s crammed with inspiring paintings and a lovely old bookcase and a few curios to set the mood. There’s usually at least one cat on the desk and my faithful hounds snoring at my feet. My desk is ancient and falling apart, but it’s my lucky desk that I’ve hauled all over the countryside and I guess I’m keeping it. I love my space – although I’ve been known to escape into the bush with my laptop and bash away in the silence, several times with an audience of dingoes. The only vital I need to get me going is a nice hot cuppa!
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
One of my favourite eras to write about is wartime Australia in the 1940s, so maybe I’d like to slip back there for a visit. There are so many great stories from this time, because the conflict on all fronts was so intense. I’m fascinated by how people got on with their day-to-day lives, despite the world they knew collapsing around them. Ordinary people were pushed to the very edge of their capabilities and emotional resources.
I’m sure my fascination for the 1940s comes from my family history – the oral history passed down to me by my grandparents and parents and great aunt. All their stories call very strongly to my sense of nostalgia and belonging. Young nurses riding off on bicycles and camping under bridges, or childhood visits to remote dairy farms, or getting letters from your brother on active service, or near drownings in the sea, or timber trucks going off the mountainside, or meeting your true love at a country dance. Wonderful stories that anchor me to my family.
My grandmother was a warden in a tiny coastal town who walked around at night checking that people’s windows were properly blacked out in case of air raids. She was tiny and had a pronounced limp because of polio as a child, but she was a very determined person. Oh to be a fly on the wall when she and her equally determined little sister were young women!
What is next on the horizon for Anna Romer? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I’m working on something a little different, a project I’ve been utterly obsessed with for a decade or more – and only now feel skilled-up enough to write. It’s a rollicking adventure that will take me deep into the past – and across the sea! I love revisiting characters I’ve been dying to write for such a long time. To immerse myself in their world and culture. Meanwhile, I’m also doing preliminary work on a mystery set in a small Australian town in the 1940s.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
Call me a dag, but I’d really love to slip back in time (again!) and share a few pots with my Granny and Grandma. They were a fascinating pair with broad interests and life experience, and some really amazing stories to tell. I spent big chunks of my childhood with them and we were very close. One of the reasons I love setting my stories in the past, is that I feel closer to them when I travel back in my mind. They were two very wise and wonderful birds.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Anna. Congratulations on the publication of Under the Midnight Sky!
My pleasure Mrs B, thanks for inviting me!
Chilling secrets buried deep in wild bushland drive this thrilling new novel from bestseller Anna Romer
When an injured teenager goes missing at a remote bushland campground, local journalist Abby Bardot is determined to expose the area’s dark history. The girl bears a striking resemblance to the victims of three brutal murders that occurred twenty years ago and Abby fears the killer is still on the loose.
But the newspaper Abby works for wants to suppress the story for fear it will scare off tourists to the struggling township. Haunted by her own turbulent memories, Abby is desperate to learn the truth and enlists the help of Tom Gabriel, a reclusive crime writer. At first resentful of Abby’s intrusion, Tom’s reluctance vanishes when they discover a hidden attic room in his house that shows evidence of imprisonment from half a century before.
As Abby and Tom sift through the attic room and discover its tragic history, they become convinced it holds the key to solving the bushland murders and finding the missing girl alive.
But their quest has drawn out a killer, someone with a shocking secret who will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.
Under the Midnight Sky by Anna Romer was published on 1st May 2019 by Simon & Schuster Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
My review for Under the Midnight Sky can be viewed here.
Connect with Anna here: