By Tea Cooper, author of The Horse Thief.
How many people does it take to write a story? (No, this isn’t one of those lightbulb jokes.) The answer ought to be easy – one. The writer, the author. For me, that’s not the case.
I can spend days perusing old newspapers and peeping into people’s lives, through journals, letters and advertisements. The Cedar Cutter began with an obituary in an 1863 edition of The Maitland Mercury – I’m not going to say more because that would give the story away! A few what-ifs follow and my pen starts scribbling. Pen. Not keyboard, at the beginning…after all, I write historical stories.
And I have a secret weapon. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where time has stood still; a little town in the Hunter Valley called Wollombi. That’s where I chose to set The Cedar Cutter. It made the writing easy. I wander along the paths my characters walk, sit in the same pool of sunshine and shop at their General Store, then stand and gossip on the same flagstone footpath. Not a world I’ve created, a world that still exists despite the hustle and bustle beyond the town.
I do admit to tweaking a few timelines and bending the truth a tad but I’m not allowed to get away with much. Wollombi has its own historian, an active historical society, a museum and a never-ending supply of tidbits which weave their way into my stories. The ‘locals’ no longer ask, ‘What’s your next book about?’ Instead they say, ‘I think we should have this in the next book.’ The first time it happened the speaker clapped his hand over his mouth and apologised profusely. ‘I’m so sorry. It’s your story, not ours.’
Now I take this collaboration for granted and I love it. Like carefully packaged gifts, I receive a little snippet here and another there. My stories are becoming Wollombi’s stories. True, they’re fictional, populated by imagined characters but they live and breathe the past and the present.
In The Cedar Cutter, the heroine Roisin Olgilvie guards a secret made even more painful by the fact her son’s life hangs in the balance. Tired of looking over her shoulder, she runs to the town to protect her child the only way she can. When danger catches up with her, the town has her back. This time she’s not alone.
Like Roisin, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the ‘locals’ for their support and inspiration: that’s the beauty of a small town. As Elsie, keeper of the General Store in The Cedar Cutter says, ‘We look after our own.’
There’s more fact than fiction in that line.
The Cedar Cutter
From the bestselling author of The Horse Thief comes a historical story of love, intrigue and danger in the majestic cedar forests of the Hunter Valley.
Even if time heals all wounds, you still bear the scars...
Wollombi: 1855. When Roisin Ogilvie moves to Wollombi her thoughts are only of protecting her illegitimate son, Ruan, from the grasps of his powerful and dangerous father. Posing as an impoverished widow, she settles into a quiet existence as a local dressmaker. She doesn't expect to catch the attention of Irish champion cedar cutter Carrick O'Connor, or any other man for that matter.