Culture Street

Anna Romer grew up in a family of book-lovers and yarn-tellers, which inspired her lifelong love affair with stories. A graphic artist by trade, she also spent many years travelling the globe stockpiling story material from the Australian outback, then Asia, New Zealand, Europe and America. Her first novel Thornwood House, reflects her fascination with forgotten diaries and letters, dark family secrets, rambling old houses, and love in its many guises – as well as her passion for the uniquely beautiful Australian landscape. Anna lives on a remote bush property in northern New South Wales.

Thornwood House is your first novel. How long did it take you to complete your novel?

I’d been playing around with the idea for Thornwood House for many years, so when I finally sat down to write it, the characters and plot were already quite developed – but pulling it all into shape was another matter! All up, it took about three years to complete.

How would you describe your novel?

Thornwood House is a mystery story with elements of romance, sweeping between the present day and the 1940s. It’s told through three viewpoints, and uses the device of old letters and a diary to unravel the mystery.

What inspired the setting for Thornwood House?

A visit to my sister in north Queensland made a huge impact on me, and I began to ponder how the aggressive heat and lush out-of-control vegetation would be an interesting backdrop for a story about family secrets and unsolved murder. Many years later I lived in south-east Queensland for a couple of years, surrounded by volcanic hills and a fascinating local history; it’s a breathtaking part of the country, and it merged perfectly with my earlier ideas.

Did you have to do much research into life in 1946?

Yes, and I was constantly in tears! I read a lot of old letters, memoirs, and diary entries from the war years, as well as talking to people, reading historical accounts, and studying old photos. The highlight was when Mum gave me some letters that had been written to my grandmother during the war; they provided historical insight as well as a personal connection to that time, which made the past seem all the more real to me.

Why do you think readers are drawn to dark family secrets from the past?

History often presents a facade, recording big events while overlooking the private lives of the everyday people involved. I guess that’s why so many readers love biographies, because they provide a personal insight into historical events or lifestyles – and personal stories are always easier to understand and relate to on an emotional level.

Whenever I discovered a secret embedded in my own family’s past, it was always a bit of a shock – not because the secret was so terrible, but because of the very personal glimpse it provided into that person’s life. I found myself seeing those members of my family in a new, more appreciative light, and feeling a deepened respect and compassion for them – rather than just viewing them as a familiar face looking out of a dusty old photo in the family album. This enriched perspective always seemed to inspire subtle changes in the way I viewed myself, too.

What is next for you?

My next novel is another romantic mystery. A city girl returns to her rural childhood home to confront the truth about her sister’s apparently accidental death. Here she discovers the diary of a woman accused of murder in 1899, and the diary’s disturbing conclusion forces her to question her own innocence.

 

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