TEA COOPER’s new book, The Fossil Hunter, is a dual-timeline story. But as Tea tells us, the inspiration for both timelines are the same.
The faded print, Duria Antiquior – no great find, just a tattered copy – revived my long-buried childhood fascination with the sea dragons of Lyme Regis. With this image the first idea for my novel, The Fossil Hunter, flickered to life.
However, I had several problems. I certainly didn’t want to write a book of non-fiction. I enjoy writing historical fiction and I am fascinated by the Victorian era. It was a time of such technological advances and scientific discovery culminating in the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species which challenged so many long-held beliefs. Adding to that, I like to set my stories in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, in the old county of Northumberland, bordered by the Hawkesbury, Hunter and Macdonald rivers, far away from the seaside town of Lyme Regis in West Dorset, England.
Spurred by my discovery of Duria Antiquior I set out to investigate fossil beds in the Hunter Valley and after a great deal of poking around I discovered Bow Wow Gorge, not far from the township of Kurri Kurri. It is a small pocket of ancient history which is listed in the register of the National Estate and preserved under a private voluntary conservation agreement with National Parks and Wildlife. I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to visit and from the moment I set foot on the property I knew where my fictional story would take place and in the year of 1958.
Nevertheless, I wanted to acknowledge Mary Anning, the woman who found the first remains of a sea dragon, later christened the Ichthyosaurus anningae, in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis. Many books, and lately a movie (Ammonite), tell her well-known and rightly celebrated story. I decided to insert my fictional character – Anthea Winstanley – into the life of Lyme Regis during the early 19th century and bring her to Australia where, like so many other English people, she settles at Bow Wow Gorge.
A second timeline begins in London, in 1919, at The Natural History Museum in London, another of my childhood haunts. The highlight in my mind is without a doubt the giant diplodocus that in my childhood graced the entrance hall. A giant jigsaw replica of diplodocus carnegii was sent to London in the early 20th century from America by Andrew Carnegie, in 13 crates and reassembled like a giant jigsaw, on site.
Inevitably the other characters in The Fossil Hunter, Penelope Jane Martindale and an American, Samuel Groves, like Anthea, make their way to Bow Wow Gorge where they unravel a 70-year-old mystery.
The Fossil Hunter is a fictional story wrapped around some major historical events and Australian locations. To date, an array of fossils have been found at Bow Wow Gorge but none to rival Mary Anning’s sea dragons that captured my imagination as a child.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Téa is an established Australian author of historical fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling. She is published by HQ, a division of HarperCollins, in Australia and New Zealand and since 2020 by Harper Muse in North America.
For many years writing remained the stuff of fantasy. Her family, a herd of alpacas, a protea farm and a full time teaching job kept her occupied until one day she decided it was time to do or die. No more procrastination. The characters and plots that had lived in her head for so long were clamouring to escape.
In August 2011 Tea joined Romance Writers of Australia and her debut novel Tree Change was published in November 2012. She has written several Australian rural stories both contemporary and historical but more recently she has become enmeshed in twisty historical mysteries.
Tea is a member of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia, The Australian Society of Authors, and Sisters in Crime. She is currently working on her next historical mystery.