Julie Bennett on The Lost Letters of Rose Carey

Article | Issue: May 2024

The Lost Letters of Rose Carey is a duel timeline historical romance which has been rated as a five star read by Good Reading readers.

We chatted with the author about her inspirations and the process of writing a second book.

 

The Lost Letters of Rose Carey by Julie BennettABOUT THE BOOK

BLUE MOUNTAINS, 2024: Working on a documentary at the historic Carrington Hotel, videographer Emma Quinn discovers a box of handwritten letters belonging to Rose Carey, water dancer and golden girl of the silent film era. Intrigued, Emma begins to read through them, slowly uncovering a deadly secret.

SYDNEY, 1923: Rose Carey has faced enough scandal to last a lifetime. After an accident and near-death experience, the threat of bankruptcy, and rumours of her romantic entanglements, Rose decides to take matters into her own hands and propose to her business manager, Walter. A respectable marriage will redeem her reputation and give her the good publicity she needs – problems solved. But she doesn’t account for the unexpected feelings brewing between her and Walter, or for the possibility that the accident wasn’t so accidental after all …

When she suffers another brush with death, Rose realises that someone close to her wants her out of the way. Who in her close-knit circle has the most to gain? Can she trust anyone, other than herself?

MEET JULIE BENNETT

 

Julie Bennett, Australian authorHow did the idea for your latest novel come about?

I love the Arts, particularly the performing arts and I knew from almost the beginning that I wanted to write about a performer, just as I had in my debut novel, The Understudy. I was also intrigued by the 1920s, so for inspiration I looked at who was doing interesting things in that time period – and that’s where I found Australian women in the early days of film: Lottie Lyell, the McDonagh sisters, Louise Lovely and of course Annette. I read up on them all and they were all remarkable, but Annette intrigued me the most. She wasn’t just an international movie star, she’d also been a champion swimmer, author, and a kind of early fitness guru.

I also wanted to tie the story to the present, to show that although we might live eons apart (well, 100 years) we share similar experiences, passions, and challenges.

 

Your novel is inspired by the life of Annette Kellerman – in what ways did her life help shape or inform any of the scenes or characters in this novel?

Annette was intriguing for so many reasons. She was daring and sassy, bold and brave. She was also not afraid of talking herself up. I love that she believed her own PR! She was also very busy, she had her hand in so many pies. Her busyness was one of the things that inspired me and helped inform Rose.

 

What was one of the most interesting things you learned about Annette Kellerman during your research?

Pretty much everything! But mostly the things she did to promote herself. It was bold of her, given the times. I think it’s also interesting that she wasn’t really a ‘flapper’ or a party girl, but actually quite ‘wholesome’, so in some ways she was different to Rose. She didn’t drink or host scandalous events. She was a vegetarian and what we might think of as a naturist.

 

How did the process of writing this book compare to that of your debut?

Chalk and cheese. There is so much you don’t know when you write your first novel and there is a lot of angst involved. You learn so much about yourself, your characters, and the process of writing – things you thought you already knew. I think I even said on a social media post something like, ‘Boy, you sure learn a lot about writing your first novel when you write your first novel!’

I took a much more planned approach to writing Lost Letters. I mapped the whole book – not every minute detail, but important things about the plot. I knew from the very beginning what would happen, and I kept writing to those points. It sounds like I plotted a lot, but I still don’t think of myself as a plotter. I built the bones I suppose and then I fleshed it out.

One thing I didn’t expect when taking this approach was that I would fall in love with my characters – I thought I’d feel more distant from them than I did from the characters in my first novel. But I love the characters in Lost Letters just as much – and, as weird as it probably sounds, I miss them.

 

What can you tell us about Rose and Emma and how you developed their characters over the course of the novel?

Emma just came to me. I felt like I had met her before – perhaps she is a composite of people I’ve met in my past. The sensitive, quiet ones. The worriers. The ones who don’t always know what to say or how to say it. The ones who are often misunderstood because they stand back a bit. She came to me fully formed. I don’t know how or why, she just did. I loved her from the very start.

Although Rose was inspired by Annette, she also came to me as her own person. She has a similar boldness about her, but I think a bit more self-awareness. As I was writing her, I knew I wanted to create a character readers could not just admire but also warm to; someone they could identify with.

 

The narrative jumps between Emma and Rose’s perspectives – why did you choose to tell the story like this?

I like to write dual narratives because I like to show that on a fundamental level, we have much in common, no matter what era we belong to. The problems confronting Emma and Rose are very different, but I hope I created empathy for both.

 

Rose’s story is set in 1920s Sydney – what kind of research did you undertake to capture this time and place?

Loads. I think I started by reading about people in early Australian film. I also read a marvellous book about The Astor in Macquarie Street, edited by Dr Jan Roberts. The Astor is an apartment building in Sydney. It opened a bit late in 1923 to include in my novel, but Dr. Roberts’ book included information about daily life at The Astor in the 1920s, which provided great insights.

Of course, I read everything I could lay my hands on about Annette, including a book she wrote on how to swim. But I also read loads of other books about film, theatre, history, architecture, you just devour stuff when you start to research. Trove and Papers Past (NZ) were invaluable, as they always are, and it was great to be able to view snippets of film and other memorabilia via the National Film and Sound Archive website. Tiny details take on great importance. I even joined a vintage Chevrolet Facebook group because I wanted to know about steering wheels in the 1920s . Everyone is so helpful, it’s such a blessing.

When I’m researching, I have my head in the internet for what seems like ages. Then I’ll go to places to see things for myself.

I went to the Sydney Town Hall, which features in the book. I was so fortunate to have the Assistant Curator walk me through this spectacular Australian building. You can just imagine ladies in their 1920s cocktail dresses dancing on those glorious floors.

I walked along Macquarie Street and Philip Lane behind it, and across the road into the Botanic Gardens and imagined what it was like back then. I just wanted to try to immerse myself in the times.

Seeing snippets of film helped visualise the times, but perhaps even more evocative was listening to things, for example the music of the era, interviews, the sound of traffic in the background of film from the 1920s, things like that.

For Emma’s story, I visited the Blue Mountains again and stayed a night in a traditional room at The Carrington Hotel in Katoomba. What a wonderful building and in my opinion, so authentically restored. It was very easy to imagine what it was like in its earlier days.

I love this part of the research, and I think lots of historical fiction writers probably do very similar things. I also sometimes go back to revisit various places as I work through edits, just to make sure I have captured the essence of the scene.

 

How did you develop the central mystery in this novel? And what role did the letters play in creating intrigue and suspense?

Well, I wrote the outline of the mystery first. Someone like Rose would have been a superstar in her day and unfortunately, superstars are often harassed and hounded.

The letters were key to developing intrigue and suspense. I hope readers can tell from them that something has gone very, very wrong. They contain a desperate plea for forgiveness and a longing for a wrong to be righted. I hope the letters make readers want to get to the heart of what has happened and why.

 

Can you share any of your writing habits or routines that help with your creative process?

This time, I put down a big picture plan, then I thought of things I could include and expanded on it. I certainly had lots of coloured post-it notes! In this case I had one colour for Rose’s story and another for Emma’s. Then I divided them into chapters and thought more about what sort of action might propel the story along.

When I was ready to write the actual chapters I had a pretty good idea where it would go, but it still sometimes felt like a mountain.

I aim to write chapters of about 3,000 words – that’s about the natural length for me. In the editing phase I chop them up a bit. I think it makes the book more digestible to have chapters of irregular lengths.

To write a 3,000 word chapter I let myself ‘get away with’ writing around 2,500 words at a time. I know that the first draft will be mostly about action and I have to leave room to put details in later – things like the colour of someone’s dress, the touch of someone’s skin, the smell of their perfume.

Like every other writer I have my good and bad times. Bad times are when you struggle to write a single word. On those days, I force myself to write something, even if it’s just 250 words.

So, my advice would be, if you want to write a novel, keep reading and keep writing. When you sit back down to write after a break, pick up where you left off. Don’t review anything more than a couple of pages to get back into the swing of it. Keep moving that story forward. There will be a time to make it better later.

Finally, I’d like to end by sending my biggest thanks to readers. Thank you for taking the time to read my novels and thank you for the messages of support you send me via my socials. I really appreciate every word of encouragement and couldn’t keep doing what I do without you.

 

The Understudy by Julie BennettREAD AN INTERVIEW WITH JULIE BENNETT ABOUT HER BOOK, THE UNDERSTUDY

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Bennett fell in love with words at a very young age and soon after leaving school began a career in libraries. In her late twenties she decided to follow her dream to write for a living and, after graduating university, became a journalist. In 2004 she launched a public relations company, which she still manages today. J

ulie lives with her wonderful husband, Bruce and their gorgeous kelpie cross cattle dog, Riley, within walking distance of the Sydney Opera House where she performed as a child extra back in 1973, the year it opened. The Lost Letters of Rose Carey is Julie’s second novel. Her debut The Understudy was published in 2022.

Visit Julie Bennett’s website

Author: Julie Bennett

Category: Fiction & related items

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia

ISBN: 9781760858551

RRP: $32.99

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