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Friday, August 9, 2013

Taking tea with Té Téa Cooper (and a Giveaway)

It's a cold, wet wintry morning here at the bottom of the world.  I have lit the fire and the crumpets are toasting nicely ready for my next tea guest, fellow historical writer, Téa Cooper. I do hasten to say Téa also writes contemporaries, drawing on her life in the small country town which goes by the improbable name of Wollombi (FOR DETAILS ON THE GAME OF 'WHERE'S WOLLOMBI' SEE BELOW).

Ms. Cooper do sit down… do you take tea? If so what is your preference?

Why yes! I am very fond of tea…I’m beginning to feel a bit like Alice. (AS: I did once play the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland)

I’m rather a creature of habit. It’s all a question of time…What day of the month is it? Are you sure the Mad Hatter isn’t going to appear? (AS:...and I also played the Gryphon in another production of Alice in Wonderland...) 

Right tea! Yes. Love the stuff. English Breakfast, builders’ style, two mugs first thing in the morning. Afternoon … one cup of Earl Grey (sorry I know you hate the stuff) taken black with a slice of lemon, and preferably the odd cucumber sandwich or two. Do you have sandwiches?

AS:  The cook is providing crumpets and honey today...

You have two historical romances set in Australia, LILY’S LEAP and MATILDA’S FREEDOM (more on that book later). I believe the original inspiration for at least one of these stories has a ghostly background. I love a good ghost story, so please tell us about the ghosts of your local museum?

Ah my muse – Wollombi Museum!
The Wollombi Museum
Let me tell you the story of poor Partrick Bruin…It was a dark and stormy night (isn’t it always?) and Patrick, in his infinite wisdom, decided to bail up the local JP one Mr Thomas Crawford. What poor Patrick had forgotten was that while in his cups he had let slip his plans. Mr Crawford and his servants were armed and ready. When they crossed Black Creek, just outside Cessnock, Patrick leapt out to do his dastardly business and they got him in the shoulder, arm and chest. They chucked him in the cart and dumped him off in Wollombi Lock Up at the Court House. When the local sergeant took him a cup of tea in the morning they found him dead in the cell with two pounds two shillings in his pocket.

 Being a good upstanding citizen and JP Mr Crawford sent the proceeds to the Colonial Coroner. Rumour has it that Patrick was pretty annoyed and is still looking for his money….
The Museum is now housed in the old Courthouse and Patrick’s cell, chains and bed are still there. 

Once a month I go and do Museum duty. The first thing of course is to unlock the building and turn on the lights but you have to take it very slowly and make sure you let Patrick know you haven’t got any money in your pocket! I have finally convinced him I’ve never got any money but he still keeps trying it on. I think that’s why he told me about Lily’s Leap!

You also write contemporary stories, set in Australia.  The problem I’ve always had in looking at Australian settings for books is that Australia is a young country at the bottom of the world. How would you sell our wonderful and exciting country as a setting for fabulous stories to the outside world? What is that we have that is unique?

On another dark and stormy night – Christmas Eve to be exact – I was born at Hampton Court, not actually in the Palace but in one of the ‘lesser buildings’ on the river and grew up and went to school just around the corner. All the wonderful English historical heritage sort of seeped into my skin and needless to say I went on to study it at University but Australia fascinated me simply because it had no Hampton Courts, thatched cottages and Roman ruins. I ended up in Australia by accident. I went to India and just kept going. I couldn’t believe what I found.

I’m not answering the question at all am I. Seriously rabbiting on. (AS: Is that a reference to my acting career as a white rabbit?)

Bottom line is I fell in love with the place. Sydney first – the Harbour and the beaches, that’s where the inspiration for my two contemporaries TREE CHANGE and PASSIONFRUIT & POETRY came from. Then I found the Hunter Valley (THE PROTEA BOYS fits in here!) and Wollombi and discovered Australia did have a fascinating history. It was just unlike anything I had ever imagined before.

And Australia is so BIG! I remember someone telling me a long time ago (probably an urban myth but never mind!) if everyone in England went to the coast at high tide, at the same time, they’d have just enough room to stand packed shoulder to shoulder. In Australia, in my back yard even, there are places I can stand and be fairly certain no-one has ever walked there before and then I can turn around and find Aboriginal rock paintings thousands of years old. And besides the sky is higher in Australia!

Your latest book, MATILDA’S FREEDOM, involves a romance between an aristocrat and a convict girl.  We understand about the convict history of our country but perhaps the wider world is a little vague about it. Can you give us a quick potted history on the convict history of Australia and why a romance such as that between Christopher and Matilda should be so fraught with difficulty?

I don’t think I’d describe Christopher as an aristocrat actually. His family would like to have people believe they are….spoiler alert! I’d like to pass!!

Australia wasn’t only a dumping ground for convicts and the few red coated officials who ran the place, all sorts of other people made up society and by the mid nineteenth century the British class system was well and truly entrenched. There were the entrepreneurs who came to Australia intent on making a quick quid, there were the black sheep whose families couldn’t wait to see the back of them, there was the indigenous population who played a significant role in society, and of course there were the original convicts who having served their sentences found all kinds of opportunities. Then gold was discovered and the whole world discovered Australia…and that’s another of the things I love about Australia – the diversity.

Thanks for the lovely tea and chat…is it time for a G & T now? My preference is Bombay Sapphire! (AS: It's ALWAYS time for a gin and tonic!)


An unconventional woman turns a society family upside down in this Australia-set historical… 

Matilda has lost everything, so it feels like a miracle when Christopher Matcham turns up, offering her security, a place to stay, and a position as companion to his teen-aged sisters. Though Christopher likes her fresh outlook and unusual ideas, his family view her as a threat. Christopher has responsibilities – and those include a good marriage that will improve the family’s connections and finances. After all, love is just for the lower classes.

Téa Cooper lives in a stone cottage on one hundred acres of bushland, just outside the time-warp village of Wollombi, NSW Australia. When she isn't writing, Téa can be found haunting the local museum or chatting to the locals, who provide her with a never-ending source of inspiration.Matilda’s Freedom is Téa's second Australian historical romance. Her first Lily’s Leap is available now and she is currently working on her third set on a schooner somewhere between Hobart Town and Sydney.Téa’s three contemporary romances Tree Change, The Protea Boys and Passionfruit & Poetry are available on Amazon.To keep up with all of Téa's news visit her website where you will find links to her blog and social media pages.

(The copyright on the photos are author pic and Wollombi today ©2012HarrisonPhotography and the museum ones and my backyard  ©2013amandaclymo)
Tea's backyard!

Please drop by and feel free to leave a general comment or you can join in a game of WHERE'S WOLLOMBI...a bit like Where's Waldo/Wally only with a town...and the more alliterative you can be... eg Wollombi wanders west of Wollongong...

Next week we are taking a break from tea as Ms. Stuart will be attending the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Fremantle, Western Australia where she will be reporting on proceedings (and bailing up likely looking writers for future tea dates...)