About Tea Cooper:
Tea Cooper is an established Australian author of contemporary and historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is the bestselling author of several novels, including The Horse Thief, The Cedar Cutter, The Currency Lass, The Naturalist’s Daughter and The Woman in the Green Dress.
To find out more, visit Tea on her website.
The Girl in the Painting is described as an atmospheric and richly detailed Australian historical mystery. Can you tell us more about it?
The Girl in the Painting tells the story of Miss Elizabeth Quinn. She and her brother Michael are something of an institution in Maitland Town, pillars of society, philanthropists, land owners; well respected and admired. When Elizabeth is discovered cowering in the corner of the exhibition gallery at the Technical College the whole town knows something strange has come to pass.
Jane Piper is determined to find out. Deposited on the door step of the local orphanage as a baby, she owes her life and education to the Quinns’ philanthropic ventures.
As the past and the present converge, Elizabeth’s grip on reality loosens and Jane is determined to unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late.
What inspired this story?
I’m fascinated, as lots of people are, by family history, and today records are much more comprehensive and accessible than they were in the past. Despite these records we base a lot of our self-image on what we are told, old photographs we are shown and stories told by relatives of our first five years of life.
I wanted to explore the possibility of finding out much later in life that you weren’t the person you believed yourself to be. That your life was based on a lie.
What was the research process like?
My research process is always a little random to start with. Although my characters are fictional I like to base the story around a series of historical facts. They determine my timelines but I’m not going to mention them because I’m avoiding spoilers!
I used Maitland for much of the setting because it’s such a fascinating town. In the ninteenth century it was the second largest town in NSW and it has marvellous buildings dating back to the that time, which have been beautifully restored. Maitland Technical College (now the Art Gallery) was designed by Walter Liberty Vernon, the Government Architect who was responsible for many of the buildings that make Sydney the city it is today—most especially the Art Gallery, which created a serendipitous link in the story. I spent a lot of time exploring Maitland, talking to local historians and checking out the gallery and coffee shops.
I also spent time in Hill End, talking to the local family historian and visiting the amazing interactive museum which brought the sights and sounds of the gritty goldfield life rushing back.
And then there’s a little my own family history—but again, spoilers!
Our readers love knowing about how an author works. What’s your writing day look like and how long does it take to finish a novel?
It takes me about a year to write and research a book. That being said I am usually working on three books at a time—one in edits, one I’m writing and researching and one which is at the ‘mad plans and clever tricks’ stage. I like to say that I write, or research, five days a week, but it doesn’t always work out like that.
I usually begin the day with a coffee, deal with the business side of things, and then settle down to write. I have a regular Friday meeting with the local historian who always greets me with ‘What have you got for me today?’ He is a wonderful source of information relating to the history of the Hunter. Then there are ‘research excursions’. The Girl in the Painting meant several days visiting Hill End and the surrounding area.
I think I can safely say that few days are the same! And that’s just the way I like it.
What is something that has inspired you as a writer?
I spent many, many years as a teacher, an alpaca farmer and sometime journalist, wanting to be a fiction writer. I thought I’d left it to late. Consequently, I am hugely inspired by any writer who is older than me! (Margaret Attwood particularly). I am also inspired by the lack of ageism I have encountered since I’ve been published. (Thank you, HarperCollins!) I hope to continue writing for many more years.