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, an author interview series. To help celebrate the release of The Prodigal Sister we sat down for a chat. Thanks Darry!

Hello Darry. Welcome back to 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 Kangaroo Island Wild Gin and Fevertree Mediterranean tonic again, or would you prefer another beverage?

Hello dear Mrs B – great to be here. Let’s stick with the gin again, such a civilised tipple these days.

What writing and publishing highlights have you experienced this year?

As always, the publication date of a new novel is a highlight, this year 1st December, as much as holding that new book in your hands for the first time. I love everything that leads up to it – the four or five edits, the final cover image and the start of the promotions tour.

What came first in the creation of the novel – the title, plot, characters, setting or something else when you first set out to write The Prodigal Sister?

After The Last Truehart and the private investigator in that – Bendigo Barrett – I wondered if there were any female counterparts at the time. Trove delivered me some interesting bits and pieces, that there were ‘lady detectives’ in the UK (mostly undercover) but none here that I could find. Knowing what I did about the colonial police forces, female officers were non-existent – but what of female investigators in the forensic science side of things? Still nobody, but the science itself was relatively new so that was understandable. The Bachelor of Arts degree for females had only just become equal to that of males, so I had to push my timeline to 1900 instead of staying in my preferred 1890s. It was a rabbit-hole!

The plot wove its way around the blackmail a young woman fresh out of university. That young woman, Prudence, had to carry a genetic illness that she’d feel would prevent her from marrying. So then I had to have an enigmatic hero who might change her mind, except that it wasn’t likely – she was sure of her convictions. So I had to put her to work and drop a dead body- or two – into the mix.

Someone mentioned that Prudence was by name the same as her nature. That sums up my choice of name for her and as with most of my main male characters, their names had to be strong, and distinctive too. The police officer’s name came before any other character; the gardener’s name took a little longer.

And setting – Melbourne at the time was the cultural centre of the southern hemisphere, but so like many of us do these days, the characters also longed for the peace and quiet of the country. Benalla is close to Ned Kelly country and the wonderfully named Strathbogie Ranges. It’s a beautiful and historic part of Victoria.

What topics do you explore The Prodigal Sister?

There seems to be a few. My tried and true: independence (for women) and/or survival. Higher education for women (the lack thereof). Medical care for those deemed incurable. Contraception, and the awareness of genetic illnesses. The divide between the ‘classes’ … I don’t consciously set out to explore many topics, I think it just appears as part of the story.

Did you enjoy the experience of researching your latest book, The Prodigal Sister?

I did once I found my feet. The research was fascinating, especially into Huntington’s Disease and there is still so much to learn about it. I hope I’ve tackled its part in the story with empathy. Forensic science will always interest me – in another life I might have studied it (that being a life where I could grasp chemistry, physics and other tricky things).

Are the characters in The Prodigal Sister inspired by any real-life figures?

Nobody in particular comes to mind, though there were many women who just didn’t do ‘what they were told’.

Mr Chomley, the Police Commissioner was the only real person portrayed in the book.

If you found yourself in the setting of your book, Victoria in the 1900’s, what would you do?

Hah! I think I’d run back to the time machine and hit all the buttons for home!

I wouldn’t be much use, I don’t think. I’d love to be around horses (because I love them and have never been around them) or perhaps a writer – anonymous of course – for the newspapers. Maybe I’d teach … You’ve got me thinking now.

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

That there were women like Prudence trying to find their own way.

Often, I’m told that my lead female characters are before their time but I’m positive strong-minded clear-thinking women were behind many things that are, even now, still now attributed to their men. The novel A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville is about Elizabeth, Mrs John Macarthur, and explores the reading between the lines of her letters back to England. The power behind the throne was definitely hers, and if we look at other female historical figures more closely, we might see more of the behind-the-scenes truth.

How will you celebrate the release of The Prodigal Sister?

There’ll be a small launch on home soil in a local bookshop mid-December, and earlier in the month a short stint on mainland South Australia for a couple of library tours.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Normally, I’d be at the desk by 8.30 down the research hole and busy with words flowing from the keyboard onto the screen. Up and down for snacks and lunch and social media surfing and then I’m finished by about 4pm.

Well, I am sitting at the desk at 8.30am these days, but not a lot is happening. At the moment – it’s a total block. Awful time. In the last six years I haven’t ever not had a story. Still, there has been eleven full novels including one novella written (eight published, two to come and one private work) since 2016.

I can feel the nudge of something a-twirling though, so I’m looking forward to that breakthrough.

What books are on your to-be-read pile?

I’ve just finished Heather Rose’s Bruny – loved it; I’m onto The Curlew’s Eye by Karen Manton and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for my release day buddy Sarah Barrie’s Unforgiven to drop into my ereader.

Are you currently writing a new book?

Still stuck in author-block, however the next two years’ manuscripts are finished and both are with my publisher. One is set in Bendigo and on the river again: In the 1890s, Evie Emerson, a notable ladies hat maker escaping an overbearing suitor, and Raff Dolan, a wheelwright must learn the truth about their friend, the elusive Fitzmorgan O’Shea, a journalist uncovering police corruption. The path leads to murder, grief, self-discovery and the irrefutable worth of true friendship.

The other is set in the Flinders Ranges area of South Australia: In 1898, Marcella, widowed after an unsuccessful arranged marriage, undertakes a quest to learn who murdered her great uncle Luke thirty years earlier in the Hawker area. Barossa landowner Proby Cutler lives on family property and he’s also seeking answers to his grandfather Ewen’s demise in the Hawker region. Ewen and Luke were great mates – had something catastrophic happened between the friends and the unthinkable occurred? Marcella is certain it did, and Proby is certain it didn’t.

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

Thank you, Mrs B – it’s always a delight. Another tipple for you before we go?

Yes please Darry, cheers!


Headstrong Prudence North faces a dangerous blackmailer who threatens her family and her dreams of escaping domestic drudgery. An enthralling historical mystery from a bestselling Australian author.

1900, Melbourne, Victoria

Miss Prudence North is freshly returned from university in Scotland and determined to find her place among the male-dominated world of the new forensic sciences when a high-ranking policeman waylays her. He threatens to charge her father for illegal medical practices unless she helps him build a case against local landowner Jasper Darke by spying on him.

With her sister’s illness worsening, if their income disappears, Prudence will have to take on nursing and domestic duties and she’ll never have the freedom she craves. Prudence has no choice but to agree.

Immediately taken with the handsome Mr Darke, a seemingly good and honest man, Prudence can’t see what nefarious activities she’s meant to be reporting on. She’ll have to get closer…

But when a body turns up at her father’s surgery, the forensics reveal to Prudence there’s more going on about all this than meets the eye. It’s clear it’s up to her to uncover the truth – of this murder, of whatever’s going on at the surgery after hours and, especially, of the intriguing Jasper Darke. Her life, her family and her future rely on it.

The Prodigal Sister by Darry Fraser was published on 1st December 2021 by Mira – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.


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