My favourite part of the research process for Thornwood House was immersing myself in the setting. I lived in rural Queensland for a couple of years, and in that time had many opportunities to travel around and soak up the local scenery and get a feel for the people and their fascinating pasts.
I spent a lot of time reading up on local history, in particular what life was like in the Fassifern region of Queensland during the 1940s, and how a small country town was impacted by the war. I pored over old newspapers and maps, unearthed photographs, delved into my own family history, and explored the landmarks that would appear in my story, such as Boonah’s historic Lutheran graveyard.
There’s an old original settlers’ hut in the story, which is based on a forgotten shack my friend & I found along a backwoods road near Queen Mary Falls. The shack was sitting in a paddock pretty much as it appears in the book – ironbark roofing shingles, buckled plank walls, a single room with a tiny glassless window, a ramshackle verandah, dozens of cobwebs… and wonderfully spooky inside! I can’t think about that old shack without seeing my characters come to life inside it.
While living in Queensland I became fascinated by the history of the Ugarapul people in the Fassifern region. Although most of this research didn’t make it into the finished book, it sparked my curiosity about local indigenous cultures and inspired me to learn more. My next project will take me into traditional bush herbal medicines, which has given me a whole new respect for all the humble little flowers and ferns I see every day.
I also read heaps of war correspondence, as well as wartime memoirs and diary entries. I was delighted when Mum presented me with a bundle of airgraph letters that had been sent to my grandmother during the Second World War. History becomes all the more real when you can see and touch and smell tangible evidence of it.