Congratulations on your latest book, The War Widow, now available from HarperCollins Canada ($22.99), which, according to your acknowledgements, took two years of researching and writing plus many more years of thinking about it.
Thank you. I feel that I’ve had this book in me for years, having grown up on stories from the Second World War and the post-war period. I’m fascinated by film noir, hard-boiled fiction and the true life stories of ordinary citizens who survived the hardships and upheaval of the mid-20th century. Considering my strong interest in the ’40s, in some ways it is remarkable that I haven’t written a novel set in the period before.
Q. What made you push aside your various non-fiction projects and bring The War Widow from idea to 350-page plus book?
A. The timing felt right to dive back into fiction, after a few years of focusing on study and non-fiction books and documentaries. I’d been giving some thought to who my next central series character would be, and when I knew, I dove into the 1940s period research and began to build the story.
Q. When did the idea of this book first appear? What was the turning point from idea to the actual story?
A. Parts of the story appeared before others, and it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, my central character of Billie Walker who appeared first. She was a strong vision, as was the post-war historical time frame and social and political dynamics, before I knew the specifics.
Q. What type of writer are you – do you plan everything or simply write and see how it goes? Explain. Is that style the same for all books you have written?
A. It’s often said that there are two kinds of writers, those who plot meticulously, and those who fly by-the seat of their pants. ‘Plotters’ and ‘pantsers’. The reality is often somewhere in between.
I plot and research at length, but I also find that the characters take me on a journey during the writing process, and that is one of the reasons I do what I do. I love the process of discovery that writing provides. Twenty-one years into my publishing career, I’ve found the resulting book is never exactly what I planned. I suspect I’d be bored of writing if it was.
Q. You have written 13 books, including this one, many of which are crime stories. What do you like about this genre?
A. The crime genre allows us to explore taboo subjects, and difficult topics of ethics, human rights, violence against women and human frailty. It is an imperfect world, and more real in many ways than other genres. I adore hard boiled, for example, and The War Widow makes a nod to that tradition albeit with some twists, but it was a genre that first broke from conventional confines to represent regular citizens, tough lives, and the street, essentially focusing on those voices that were previously overlooked in stories that centred only on the upper classes.
One of my primary projects over the past 21 years has been centring the stories of women and girls, providing a different perspective and voices, and the crime genre is ripe for that sort of change, particularly the hard-boiled detective tradition.
Q. According to your website, www.taramoss.com, you are quite serious about your research – touring the FBI Academy at Quantico, acquiring your race car license and even receiving your private investigator credentials. How has this sort of in-depth research helped you in writing your books? Why is it important to you for do this type of research? Is there any other reason why you do this?
A. I adore research, and have become known for the lengths I’ll go to for each of my novels, having seen autopsies, spent time in court rooms, shot guns with the LAPD, toured Quantico and been choked unconscious and set on fire for crime research.
I sometimes refer to myself as a ‘method writer’ or ‘forensic tourist’. As The War Widow is my first historical novel, I had to get as close to the action as possible once more, but I also needed to take it a step further by digging into archives, reading biographies and books from the time to get the details of 1940s Sydney spot on. Every location in the book exists in real life, with the exception of the club The Dancers, which is a nod to (late Amercian crime writer) Raymond Chandler.
Research brings a period or scene to life, and the beauty is in the detail. I also feel a responsibility to portray characters, their cultures, their occupations, their situations with as much accuracy and care as possible.
Note: I asked about Dead Man Switch, which I thought was the first Billie Walker book, with The War Widow being the second. Tara explained: “The War Widow came out in Austrailia/New Zealand under the title of Dead Man Switch. It is the first Billie Walker novel, and I am writing the second one now. It’s my lockdown project.
Q. You have also written non-fiction books including The Fictional Woman and Speaking Out. How does non-fiction writing and fiction writing differ? How is it the same? Do you prefer one over the other? Explain.
A. I am unusual, I suppose, in that I am not married to a particular genre. When I have a story to tell, I don’t mind what genre it is, it’s the story that matters. Non-fiction is good at expressing particular truths, and fiction is better at other forms of expression and exploration. They each have their strong points.
Q. You have had a varied and successful career, highlights including modelling, documentary host and interviewer. You are also an advocate for human rights and the rights of women, children and people with disabilities, have been a UNICEF Australia Goodwill Ambassador since 2007 and UNICEF’s National Ambassador for Child Survival since 2013. Congratulations on this success as well and for using your voice to improve lives. How did you get involved with UNICEF? What do you love about this organization? Why do you focus on women, children and the disabled? Why are these segments of the population important to promote and support?
A. I’ve been involved with UNICEF since 2007. They do important work to provide essential health care and advocacy for millions of kids around the world.
I try to focus on advocating for issues that I can also be helpful speaking to. Human rights matter, and human rights issues impact groups differently. Over the years I’ve found I’m most effective speaking out on issues I connect with personally on some level.
As a person with a disability who uses a walking stick and other mobility aids, but has an ‘invisible’ disability, I can obviously speak to some of the issues faced by the disability community, particularly others who are in a similar situation. Visibility matters to break down stigma and myth. I am also passionate about the rights of women and girls, and I speak to those issues in my novels as well as my non-fiction, documentaries and public talks and essays.
Q. What can average people do to help?
A. Be aware of the experiences and needs of people around you, and if you can, give back to the community and to those in need, through volunteer work, spreading the word, or fundraising. It all helps.
Q. You have dual Australian and Canadian citizenship and are currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia (B.C.), with your family. How long did you live in Australia for and what made you come back now? Were you originally from Vancouver?
A. I was born on Vancouver Island and Canada is always in my heart, though I’ve lived in Europe, in New York, in Sydney and more recently back in Vancouver. I love travel and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stick to just one place, and neither will my characters. I have family in New South Wales and B.C., so we tend to divide our time between those two places.
Q. Seeing how we are still in quarantine and self isolation, how do you plan to promote The War Widow?
A. I won’t lie, this is a difficult time for authors, bookshops and publishers. As an author, I enjoy meeting readers on tour and introducing the book to them. I will miss being able to do that in person, but I plan to do online readings, live events and other virtual tour activities. Thankfully many local bookshops deliver, and The War Widow is available on ebook, Kindle, Apple Books and audio book. I appreciate all the support and wonderful reviews that have been flooding in.
Q. Why do you think people should read it? What do you think they will like about it?
A. The War Widow is an immersive and empowering lockdown read with a hard-boiled vibe, and I think the post-Second World War backdrop, the exploration of women’s roles, injustice and human rights all resonate with many issues today. Overall, though, it’s just a great story to be taken away by, and reminds you of the strength of the human spirit.
Q. Are you currently working on anything at the moment?
A. I am writing my second Billie Walker novel, the follow up to The War Widow. I also just launched the fourth book in my Pandora English YA paranormal series, The Cobra Queen, and I’m working on a crime podcast.
Q. With all the stories you have covered and all the things you have written about, do you have a dream book you would like to write or a project you still would like to do? Explain.
A. There are so many more books to write, and documentaries and podcasts to produce and to host. It’s endless, really. The world is a fascinating place.
Q. You are also a PhD candidate. What do you enjoy about learning? Why is education important? What would you still like to learn? Experience?
A. Again, this is endless. There aren’t enough days in one lifetime to learn enough. I am constantly hungry for more.
Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. Thank you for taking the time, and for supporting authors.
Read my review of The War Widow here.