|credit Joanna Crittenden|
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be a writer?
I was born in a small coastal town in Tasmania, and was raised by my English grandmother and two great-aunts who’d gone out to Australia just before the war. They were very Victorian and believed children should be seen and not heard, and so I learned to read before I went to school. They taught me how to write small stories and little poems, and even how to do crosswords, so the written word was something that became second nature to me.
I left Australia to finish my education in an English boarding school – an experience I still have nightmares about – and then went to secretarial college. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, I just had the feeling that something extraordinary was waiting for me. It was many years later, following marriage, children, bankruptcy and divorce, that I finally sat down and wrote the story of the three women in my life who’d inspired me. At the end of this huge tome I realised that I loved writing and telling stories, and that with hard work, I might actually be rather good at it. So I proceeded to write another, joined a writer’s group, and five novels later got my first two-book deal from Hodder & Stoughton. During my career I have changed my pen name three times and have written three different genres.
Where did the title Echoes from Afar come from and can you give us a brief summary of the book?
I like to have a title for the book I want to write before I begin, so I was trawling the internet, poetry books, the Bible – always a good source – and quotation dictionaries. I wanted something that spoke of secrets that would eventually touch a future generation, and in the end I made up my own title of Echoes from Afar.
When a spiteful rumour destroys her nursing career, Annabelle Blake goes to live in Paris with her Aunt Aline, a lively bohemian artist whose lodgers are art students, poets and musicians. Annabelle is soon swept up in the exhilarating world of 1930’s Paris, and meets Etienne and Henri, one a poet, the other an artist. But as ever more young people are drawn to the fight against Fascism in Spain, Annabelle must confront the reality of war and make what could be a life-changing decision.
A lifetime later, gifted artist, Eugenie, falls in love with Paris the minute she arrives. Like her mother, Annabelle before her, the artistic delights of the city are a bright new world; however Eugenie will soon find that in its shadows are hidden the secrets of her family’s past – secrets that will change her life forever.
Why did you decide to set the book in Paris and during the Spanish Civil War? A number of your books have been set in Australia so why change the setting now?
I’d written 12 novels set in Australia, and although they’ve been hugely successful all over the world, I wanted a change of scenery, and a new challenge. It was when I was in Paris at a book fair to promote my latest release in France, that I got the idea, and if you look further down this page, you will see how that came about.
What research did you do for this book and did it throw up any surprises?
I didn’t know much about the Spanish Civil War at all, so I set to and read everything I could find. I was fascinated by the fact that Fascism spread even to the poorest streets in London where there were terrible riots against Moseley and his Black Shirts, and people were trampled by police horses. History becomes much easier to understand in hindsight, and as I delved deeper, it became clear that the Civil War in Spain was merely a precursor to World War 11.
Did you have the entire story outlined before you began writing or did the characters led you in a different direction? I was very surprised by the twist and wondered had it been planned from the start?
The story of Echoes from Afar came to me as my husband and I were walking back to our hotel along the banks of the Seine. It was a perfect Parisian night, with the lights shimmering on the water and the Eiffel Tower glittering in the distance. But my attention was drawn to a row of elegant houses that overlooked the Pont Neuf bridge, and I imagined I saw a man sitting behind one of those windows. He was in a wheelchair, gazing longingly at the bridge, and in that magical moment that writers spend their lives searching for, he caught my gaze and began to tell me who he was, why he performed this vigil every day and why he was in a wheelchair. By the time we’d reached the hotel I had the entire story, and as I wrote down everything he’d told me, Echoes from Afar was born. As for the twist, I like a twist in the tale, it keeps the readers guessing, and me on my toes, so it was very much planned right from the start.
Which setting did you prefer writing that of Paris or Spain. I think I preferred Spain as the action and descriptions were so intense and took the book to a whole other level?
Setting the book in London, Paris and Spain gave me a broad backdrop against which my characters lived out their lives. I enjoyed setting the book in Paris and Spain equally, but for different reasons. The Bohemian world of 1930s Paris was as fascinating and exciting as the city itself, and in Spain I could really get my teeth into Annabelle’s adventure and the hardships she encountered in a landscape not dissimilar to that of Outback Australia.
Who was your favourite character to write and why? I did love Anabelle and Henri. Etienne wasn't my favourite he seemed to be very jealous and maybe had a side to him that he didn't expose that often.
I love all my characters, even the villains – and Etienne could certainly be cast as that. He was a complex character to write, and therefore an interesting one, for he was jealous of Annabelle’s relationship with Henri, perhaps even secretly in love with her, but his heart ruled his head and he needed the excitement and danger of war to feel alive. As for Annabelle, she was a feisty girl determined to follow her dream regardless of where it might lead, and Henri? Henri broke my heart.
I would love to have read more of Aline and her time in Paris during its occupation in World War Two. Were you tempted to include more about this aspect or was jumping forward the 18 years the best thing to do and maybe keep Aline's experiences for a novella?
I was very tempted to go into more detail about Aline’s time during the occupation of France, but I had to be mindful of the fact that some of my foreign publishers prefer me to keep off the subject! I think I gave enough description to make it clear that Aline suffered at the hands of the occupiers, and was still feeling the effects years later when Eugenie arrived in Paris. As for a novella, I’ve tried writing them before and end up with a 500 page full novel.
Echoes from Afar was the first book I have read by you and I adored it. For myself and other new readers what book from your back catalogue would you suggest I read next and why?
I’m delighted you adored Echoes, it certainly touched my heart and I’m very proud of it. If you’d like to read more of my books, then go to my website www.tamaramckinley.co.uk where you will find them listed. I would recommend you read Matilda’s Last Waltz. It was my first Australian book to be published, and it changed my life completely, firmly establishing me as a world-wide best-selling author. It is now sadly out of print, but can be purchased as an e-book through Amazon.
Churinga sheep station in the Australian Outback is a parting gift from Jenny’s husband – a legacy she only learns about after his tragic death. Alone and grieving, she makes her way there to find a harsh, unforgiving place but with its own quiet beauty.
It also has its secrets, and Jenny’s new neighbours seem reluctant to talk about Matilda Thomas, Churinga’s former owner. But the longer Jenny spends on the station, the more she becomes aware of her predecessor’s lingering presence. And then she finds Matilda’s diaries and finds herself drawn into a tale more shocking than she could possible have imagined – and the deeper she delves into the past, the more Jenny wonders whether inheriting Churinga is a blessing or a curse…
I also write under the name, Ellie Dean, and am currently working on the eleventh book in Beach View Boarding House series – a saga set on the south coast of England during WW2.
Finally can you tell us what you are currently working on?
My next project as Tamara McKinley is still just a series of pictures in my head, with no title and only the bare bones of the full story. If you go to my website www.tamaramckinley.co.uk all the details will be there once I’m ready to reveal them. Like many authors, I prefer to keep things to myself, because talking about it and trying to explain seems to dispel the magic chemistry of creating.