Culture Street

Books

Interview: Kaz Cooke

On November 9, 2017

Cooke, Kaz Z (Credit David Johns Photography)

Kaz Cooke is the number one go-to advisor for Australian girls and women. Her best-selling books include Girl Stuff, Women's Stuff, Up the Duff, Kidwrangling, and a series of ebooks on women's health issues from sex to mental health and menopause. Kaz's funny, friendly style is backed by research and professional consultants: she's been a best friend to at least two generations. (Her children's book The Terrible Underpants is not quite autobiographical.)

Most people would know you from your books Up the Duff, about pregnancy, and Girl Stuff, for teenage girls: – this is a whole new kind of book for you, isn't it?
Yep, this is a novel, which means I get to make things up. Coming from a journalism and facts background, I was terrified the Fiction Police would come and charge me with making stuff up!

But it’s based on a real woman – Ada Delroy, and true events from her life?
Yes, Ada is based on the life of a real woman – Ada Delroy, a comedian, dancer and singer, who was a household name in Australia: she toured the world in the 1890s. She knew Houdini, and performed in a costume made of 100 metres of silk at gigs for royal families and in tiny mining towns. She was funny, and cheeky, and brave, and lived large at a time when the idea of a woman having her own theatre troupe was an absolute scandal. She had times of being fabulously rich and famous, as well as times of being totally down and out. She had secrets that I had to find out about 100 years after she died.

How did you find out about Ada?
I found a photo of her, dripping with jewels, in an old theatre scrapbook at the State Library in Melbourne – and then spent two years researching her amazing life. I've found stuff about her in every state of Australia. In Hobart you can stand in the dressing room where she changed at the Theatre Royal. She owned land in Perth that's now worth tens of millions. She took Sydney by storm with a stolen dance, wowed Brisbane with a mesmerising clairvoyant act, got up to some shady shenanigans in Adelaide and was the heart-throb of Melbourne's theatre scene in its golden age.

Sounds like quite a story …
Yes, and because the story's told in Ada's voice: and, because she was a comedian, she's funny. She brings alive what it was like to be on the road with bonkers magicians and the rock star singers and vaudeville performers of her era. It's about tough times and being scared for your job – Ada saw film start to replace vaudeville performers. But in the end it's a surprisingly modern story, because it's about love, loyalty, making the best of things and having some fun along the way. And like all good stories, there's an unexpected twist – which I'm asking people not to reveal!

9780670077939Ada by Kaz Cooke is published by Penguin Books Australia and is available for purchase here.

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