A Tea break with Mrs B · Interview

A Tea Break with Mrs B: Darry Fraser

tea break with mrs b new image

It is a pleasure to welcome back Darry Fraser to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews for A Tea Break with Mrs B, a short form author interview series. To help celebrate the release of The Last Truehart we sat down for a chat. Thanks Darry!

Hello Darry. It is my pleasure to welcome you back to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. I greatly appreciate the time you have provided to answer a few questions. To begin, can I interest you in a hot toddy again from your famous Kangaroo Island Whisky Barrel, or would you prefer another beverage?

Great to be back, Mrs B – thank you once again. Hmm, the weather is warming up just a little so a nice Kangaroo Island Wild Gin and Fevertree Mediterranean tonic might be the go this time, accompanied by wafer-thin slices of Granny Smith apple. (The apple is delicious by the end of the drink. Different take on the trad G&T.)

Can you give us a little insight into your achievements as a writer to date?

I’m humbled by what has occurred for me since Daughter of the Murray was first published in December 2016. Where the Murray River Runs followed, then The Widow of Ballarat, The Good Woman of Renmark, Elsa Goody, Bushranger and now, novel #6 The Last Truehart has just been released into the wild.

Harlequin Mira (division of HarperCollins) has had confidence in my stories, and I’m thrilled to report that numbers of my readers are growing and coming along for the ride. The best part of it, aside from seeing the books on the shelves, is people telling me they enjoy the stories. I’ve heard the books can cause very late nights – which I love hearing!

For a little kid whose dream was one day to be a published author … well, it doesn’t get much better than this. (Although – a movie of one or more of them would be good. Icing on the cake, really, ha!)

What kick started the creation of your latest novel, The Last Truehart?  

First of all, I can’t stop writing, so when one project is finished and off to the publisher, another must begin. Trawling Trove for iconic instances in the old newspapers in 19th century Australia is a past-time, (some of the stories can be pretty gory, too; I tend to get a bit bogged down) so when I came across an article on the American Civil War ship, CSS Shenandoah, docking in a Melbourne port in 1865, my imagination took off. I’ve lately been more interested in the 1890s, so I needed to be able to link the fascinating piece of history of that Civil War ship to something occurring in 1898. What if …? What if …? What if?

What is the significance of the title to the book?

For me, the name I was given at birth is very important, and I think many people feel the same about their name. For women, marrying, and having babies who would automatically take their father’s surname makes it tricky to carry on the name you were born to, à la 19th century, especially. To Stella, it means even more than that.

What issues do you explore in The Last Truehart?

The main one is the search for identity, who you are as a person, who you want to be. For Stella, it’s finding out about her heritage so she can try to understand herself. Also, as usual for me, it’s issues around women’s rights or the lack of at the time. Divorce and society and the law was interesting; divorce made big headlines in most cases – and private investigators did most of the dirty work.

There is also PTSD, although it wasn’t called that then, and only when men returned from war around World War I was it called shell shock. I don’t believe at the time that a woman’s injuries by mental, emotional or physical trauma, were given any such name. Oh, perhaps ‘hysteria’, which covered any number of ills that the medical profession couldn’t fathom at the time.

In The Last Truehart, I introduced Joy who’d had a riding accident as a younger person and who was in a wheelchair. I only touched on disability; the inspiration for her character was a real life young man, John Thomas Wrench 1868-1899, NSW, whose dad built him a wheelchair out of a perambulator (pram). I was interested to note that wheelchairs were possibly first introduced to Australia mid-late 19th century but overall, there was a lack of disability access to just about everything. As we know, we still have a way to go with that even this late in the day. I wondered what might have been put in place by caring family for a disabled relative, so I had Bendigo build a house to accommodate his sister and her big chair on wheels.

Who is your favourite character in The Last Truehart and why?

I’m truly not sure – I’m a bit partial to Bendigo Barrett. I’d like to see him again I think, give him another round of angst as he sleuths his way solving crime. We know he’s suffered a few years prior to meeting Stella; that’s in his backstory. I’d like to see him become a little edgier, take on a gruesome, dangerous case. I really enjoyed the three sets of sisters: Faith and Joy, and Isabella and Constance, and Stella and Danielle. That doesn’t really answer your question, but I can’t choose.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered about life in Victoria in the nineteenth century from your research?

That not much has changed since. Technology, certainly; hygiene practises thank goodness, and we have access to better food, but our bodies, our emotional responses – not so much. Attitudes are hard to shift generation to generation; law-making is still a slow process, and odd remnants of the 19th century and earlier have remained for a long time in weird things they call legal fiction – for example, the ‘rule of thumb’: it was never written as law that a husband could legally beat his wife as long as the switch he’d use was no thicker than his thumb. It was only a suggestion put forward by a 18th century magistrate’; society took it up as legal, and some people exploited it to the point where beating was not only allowed, but expected, with no ramifications. Makes you want to yell, really. Or worse.

Did you edit anything major out of The Last Truehart?

Lots of info dumping on the constitution conventions, and the arguments around the Barrett and Leonard dinner tables on the same subject. It was hard to bring it into the story without putting readers to sleep (my beta reader used the word ‘yawn’ frequently) so some few hundred words were deleted. I had never been interested in politics, or the constitution, thinking it was all a bit fusty, but when certain things come to light, it can be quite gripping. I had to wind back the info yet still get my point across. So the characters can carry that for you – Faith, for instance was very much engaged in the politics of the day, Joy not so much. Mr Reuben Quarrill of the Geelong Advertiser was a real person and a passionate advocate for Federation. I had a bit of fun there – his offsider had to steer him (me) clear of the soapbox.

What was the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing The Last Truehart?

Getting the balance right between storytelling and history telling – sort of. See the above answer. Also, finding the right balance so the reader wonders if Leo’s memory was reliable or not, and presenting the truth in the story according to what we understand as fact. My editor helped me recognise that Stella was suffering PTSD and that it needed to be highlighted by way of her hypervigilance.

What is one thing you would like your audience to take away from the experience of reading The Last Truehart?

That they time travelled for a bit, that they were right there on the stage with Stella and her fellow characters; that, like me, they learned a little bit about life in the day.  

How has your writing evolved since your first published novel, Daughter of the Murray?

I had many years putting Daughter of the Murray together, I was young when I started it, and much older by the time it was published. A lot of the young writer is still in that book, and that’s okay – I know my style has matured since it was published. My storylines, themes, characters have become more layered, their personalities deepened as I’ve had more experience in life and in writing. I think I’m more connected with my characters than before. Maybe I’ve got to know myself better.

What does your writing space look like?

Oh my Lord, send in the cleaners, or the tidiers! It’s messy. I tend to sit at a pristine desk for the start of a new book and it all goes downhill from there. Bits of paper mount up in piles, scatter, float to the floor … I promise myself that from now on, each new story will have its own notebook, then I lose that memo and revert to bits of paper. Dust bunnies abound …

I have two monitors which essentially block my view through the window – not that I mind, I’d be looking at my little tool shed otherwise. It keeps me focussed. Hamish the Wonder-dog has his end of the settee beyond the desk, and once in a while we might take a nap while the Muse skives off somewhere. I don’t feel the need to have a pretty space, although I admire (with a green tinge) those who do have lovely workspaces. The action is all in my head, so I don’t need a beautiful office while I’m writing.

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

When I’m not writing? Is that a thing, Mrs B? <squints worriedly>  

Although, now you mention it, I have some very good friends who insist on bringing over a bottle of something yummy, who throw on a dinner at their place or crank me out of the chair and down to the local. A writer has to have determined friends and I have some good ones.  

Hamish and I walk 4-5ks every morning, always around sunrise and that seems to set up my day. I have a part-time day job for a few hours three days a week that helps keep me planted in the 21st century and connected with the public. There is always someone to chat to at the supermarket (it can be a long ‘day’, shopping for thirty minutes), and I pop in to see the main street traders, ‘support local!’ And of course, the library. Kangaroo Island itself is a place of wonder, so there is always plenty to do.

However, I tend to sit and write. Mind you, someone whose name we won’t mention, Sarana, has got me onto Netflix. There goes the next few writing years.

What book would you like to read over the upcoming Christmas period?

Lots and lots of them. Currently I’m on Kathy Reich’s Conspiracy of Bones and have Harlan Coben’s Missing You in the wings. I’d like to get to some of Sulari Gentill’s as I’ve not read any of hers yet, and I’m a bit partial to Val McDermid, as well as Lisa Gardner but have to wait for their new releases. That might see out December.

What is next for Darry Fraser, do you have any works in progress you would like to share with your readers?

My next book has been accepted by my publisher and my working title is ‘The Unconventional Miss Prudence North’. Prudence has just finished her masters at St Andrews University in Scotland around 1898 and has returned home interested in following the emerging science of forensics. Unfortunately, she believes she carries the gene of a debilitating degenerative disease and so she focuses only on her work and her father and sister; marriage and children are not options for her. But you never really know what’s written in the stars, do you? This book is scheduled for release in December 2021.

For December 2022, I am two thirds the way through an untitled story that takes me back to the Murray River for a little while; a friendship between unlikely characters male and female, the art of journalism in the 19th century, the (ridiculous, it seems now) marriage breach of contract and the effect it had on those taken to court over it. I also touch on menopause and its misunderstood complications for women in the 19th century. (I’m not sure much has changed there, either!)

Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews Darry and congratulations on the publication of The Last Truehart.

Thank you, Mrs B – it’s always a pleasure. Enjoy your G&T.

A woman alone and a charismatic private detective are caught up in a dangerous quest to discover her true identity in this thrilling historical adventure romance set in 19th century Victoria, from a bestselling Australian author.

1898, Geelong, Victoria. Stella Truehart is all alone in the world. Her good-for-nothing husband has died violently at the hands of an unknown assailant. Her mother is dead, her father deserted them before she was born, and now her kindly Truehart grandparents are also in their graves.

Private detective Bendigo Barrett has been tasked with finding Stella. He believes his client’s intentions are good, but it is evident that someone with darker motives is also seeking her. For her own part Stella is fiercely independent, but as danger mounts she agrees to work with Bendigo and before long they travel together to Sydney to meet his mysterious client where they discover more questions than answers.

What role do a stolen precious jewel and a long-ago US Civil War ship play in Stella’s story? Will sudden bloodshed prevent the resolution of the mystery and stand in the way of her feelings for Bendigo? It is time, at last, for the truth to be revealed …

The Last Truehart by Darry Fraser was published on 2nd December 2020 by Mira – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

Connect with Darry here:





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