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The Worm Hole Podcast Episode 84: Amanda Geard (The Moon Gate)

Charlie Place and Amanda Geard (The Moon Gate) discuss Tasmania in WW2 and in general, Australia’s famed poet Banjo Paterson and his fellow Bush Ballad writers, British Blackshirts and the Mitfords, and the Moorgate Tube Crash in London. On a lighter note, Amanda also tells us much about the writing of her book, including a lot of what she left out in order to reduce her book from the lengthy draft it was to the mere 500 hardback pages it is.

Amanda was the guest in episode 63 in which we spoke about The Midnight House
Waltzing Matilda
The Man From Snowy River
The Mitfords – Letters Between Six Sisters
The Moorgate Tube Crash
I spoke to Kate Thompson about the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster in episode 76

Release details: recorded 27th June 2023; published 9th October 2023

Where to find Amanda online: Website || Twitter || Facebook || Instagram

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram

You can contact the show at

Go back to the list of episodes


01:50 The inspiration – Banjo Paterson’s Bush ballads and mining in Tasmania
03:17 Keeping up with all the characters and planning the timelines
08:43 How there is so much of Amanda in this book
10:51 Mining on the West Coast of Tasmania, and Amanda’s dad
13:41 Banjo Paterson and Australian poetry
17:49 Tasmania in WW2, including Prime Minister Robert Menzies
26:01 Women Blackshirts in Britain (including Diana Mitford) and the awfulness of Edeline
30:47 The Moon Gate’s lengthy first draft
33:12 Moon Gates and rebirth
35:45 The focus on grief
37:23 Including the Moorgate Tube Crash
40:44 Amanda’s Balinn returns!
42:45 The epilogue and what was left out
44:45 Rose and what might have been
47:20 The House of the book, Towerhurst and Australia’s Federation houses, and huon pine trees
52:46 What Amanda found when renovating an old Irish house
55:07 More on Amanda’s current manuscript, a story looking at occupied Norway


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast episode 84. Bringing on an author and talking with them about one, occasionally more, of their books in detail. I’m Charlie Place and today I am joined by Amanda Geard, who is here again after gracing us with her presence in episode 63. We’ll be talking today about her super newest novel The Moon Gate, in which we follow three sets of characters through three time periods. Let’s try this premise on for size: in 1939, wealthy Londoner, Grace, is sent by her mother Edeline to Tasmania to see out the war. She’s sent along with the housekeeper’s daughter who hates her. In 1974 to 1975, Australians Willow and Ben receive a grand Tasmanian house from a mystery benefactor and Ben begins to look into who that benefactor might have been. And in 2004, Willow’s daughter Libby has come to London to find out more about her father in the days before he died, which was during a trip to London to find out about the house. There’s a lot going on here, the hardback is almost 500 pages, but it is worth every word, and as I’ve told Instagram, this book puts Amanda’s debut to shame. So, I’m going to end this intro to end all intros now. Hi Amanda!

Amanda: Hi Charlie, that was an amazing intro. I think that you’ve plotted the plot of the book much better than I ever have, so, brilliant, thank you.

Charlie: You’ve done better with the tongue twisters that I did just then. So it’s lovely to have you back; can I ask what was the initial inspiration for this book?

Amanda: Oh, from so many places; I felt like I gathered inspiration and wrote it in my million notebooks that are scattered everywhere. But the sudden image that comes to mind: I was sat in my office (I work from home as a geologist), I was procrastinating and reading some Banjo Paterson poetry – he’s a very famous ballad writer from Australia who died in the 1940s. He wrote Waltzing Matilda and The Man From Snowy River. And anyway, I was just reading it and this ballad, these first words of this ballad, came to me. It made it into the book, this:

‘Along the Kenmare River came the long and distant shiver
of the steamer as she motioned from the bottom of the bay.
As I watched her pass before me
I was taken by a story
the memory of a life in a place far away’

I don’t even know where they came from, and all I knew was there was a character thinking these words and they were sat on a hill behind my house – which I fictionalised – and they were thinking about a time before when they were in Tasmania. So that’s sort of where it started, really mysterious and nothing to really grab on to there, but it became the core of the story.

Charlie: Okay, so it’s Banjo Paterson himself who’s kind of the star. Well, I’m going to ask about him in a bit, because as soon as you start talking about poetry, it becomes apparent that it’s such a big part of your book. So the characters and the narrative – there are so many characters and you’ve got these three narratives, and you’ve got them from different perspectives etcetera. How did you keep up with it all?

Amanda: Oh, well, I plot quite methodically, so I’m a big fan of Excel. Someone was asking me this, and it’s sometimes hard to remember how you come up with these plots, but I realised that I come up with them sort of as you read them, so I’m not thinking of the three individual story lines and then weaving them together. Everything bounces off each and every story line. So that’s kind of where it builds, and I actually had a lot more characters and another timeline, and lots more background [laughs]. So I just seem to think this way and every item or every character I think of seems to have a past and a future, so it’s a matter for me of picking what is important and trying to keep the narrative tight enough that I’m not going off on too many tangents.

Charlie: So you’re saying you had more characters than there are now in the book?

Amanda: I did, and I had a few more POVs; I had quite a few scenes there from Daniel’s point of view and a few from Pud’s so I had a lot more. Marcus – Uncle Marcus – had a few more scenes of his own so that narrowed down as I rewrote and rewrote, and there were a lot of rewrites on this one compared to my first book The Midnight House.

Charlie: Gosh, okay, so it was already a longer novel at the start. Did you have all the twists worked out at the start?

Amanda: The bigger twist at the end came to me after, as I’d already started writing, and I’d mentioned it to a few people and they weren’t sure, and I tried it both ways and I really liked the twist. But on the whole the book was plotted. But what I actually did – because I had second book syndrome, I felt the pressure of it – I had planned the three timeline novel as I had done with The Midnight House, but as I started writing the modern timeline it was feeling really complicated and I actually cut it out, and then wrote the two timelines. But I had the third timeline in my head and I sent that off as a complete book, and my editor thought it was okay but they missed the modern timeline – it adds a little bit of lightness and something more relatable, I think. So I actually wove it back in and I set it in London instead of Tasmania, so obviously things changed a lot; I did plan the whole thing but it did change a lot as I wrote. It was a real moving feast this one, as opposed to the first one, which I found I sat down and wrote and it broadly stayed in the form that I’d planned.

Charlie: Wow, okay, well you worked it all out in the end, because it all works out. I mean, you’re saying about the last twist, I’m actually struggling to work out exactly which the last twist is because there’s just so many of them. I think you mean the the one about Rose and Grace…

Amanda: Oh, I’m thinking about the one about Ben.

Charlie: Oh right, okay. There’s just so, so many of them, but I like how there was a good balance between ones that I could predict, and then ones that just came out of nowhere and I was like, ‘why didn’t I see that?’ But you hid them so well, it was really, really, good. You say you had one time period that you’ve added at the end, after some drafts, do you now have a favourite time period from your book and a favourite character?

Amanda: Ooo, that’s very tough. I actually wrote the modern timeline, which is set in London, when I went back to visit Mum in Tasmania; and that was an interesting experience; I was tweaking the past timelines mostly set in Tasmania. I got Covid, and I was really sick, and I actually don’t remember writing quite a big chunk of that modern timeline, I wrote it when I was ill. So that’s quite interesting for me, and I look back at it and it feels very fresh [laughs]. And I used to live in London in a house boat and there is a house boat that features in the novel, and I really enjoyed revisiting that time of my life which was something a bit different, you know, living in a house boat and hopping on your bike and riding into the city with a capital ‘C’, and putting on your suit and going into your job. And I wanted to capture a little bit of that as well. So I suppose I really love the modern timeline. I haven’t thought about my favourite character, but maybe it’s Grace because I love her trajectory through the novel. And in fact, in the first draft she was much more Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden; much more petulant and younger, a little younger, and the timeline had stretched a bit. So I smoothed her out a bit at the beginning so she was a little more likeable, and it was more that she was finding herself through the ballad writing throughout the 1940s. And I think she’s a character I would be quite proud of if I knew her as a person.

Charlie: I can’t say I’ve got a favourite character, actually. I think maybe at a pinch Ben, because I just like what his story does, yes.

Amanda: Okay, you like the way that his story moves through the novel, basically?

Charlie: Yes, yeah.

Amanda: That’s very interesting. I liked writing Ben’s more of a male point of view as well. I really enjoyed that because I didn’t have that in The Midnight House, so that was something that was a bit different for me and a bit new and something I’d like to do more of.

Charlie: I’m going to have to look on my bullet point here because I’ve got a list: you have mentioned the narrow boat.

Amanda: Yes.

Charlie: I have noted that there’s a ton of you in this book. There’s Tasmania, obviously; there’s Kerry in Ireland.

Amanda: Yes.

Charlie: There’s the narrow boat – you’ve lived on one; there’s mining – you’re a geologist; there’s a red setter, and an old house – I sound like a stalker right now, I realise; I’m not [both laugh]. Might this turn out to be your most ‘you’ book yet, or ever?

Amanda: Gosh, I wonder. Well the next one’s going to be… I’m planning it to be set in Northern Norway where I used to live, so let’s see if I can weave a little more, even more, into the next one. But I think I, maybe accidentally, did put a lot of my own experiences into The Moon Gate, maybe partly because it was set – there was so much set – in Tasmania where I grew up and spent my [life] through to my mid 20s. Maybe it was almost just something that I absorbed, so much of my own experiences, and poured them into the novel. So it was funny because when I started to write the 2004 timeline set in Tasmania, in the first draft, I actually struggled a little bit because it felt too familiar?… in a way because I’d grown up there but not lived there at that time, so moving that to London – you know, ‘write what you know’ – I felt really comfortable writing a character who was, at that stage in her life, living in London and sort of feeling like the Australian who was going through the right of passage, and discovering all these parts of London that they’d read about as a kid. And to a kid in Tasmania it feels very… not exotic, but very exciting, to go somewhere like London, where you’ve seen it on the Telly [laughs], and you’ve played Monopoly and you’ve done all these things where it’s part of your life but it’s so far away. That was a very long way to answer your question, but yes, a lot of me did go in it and I think the Banjo Paterson poetry… Dad used to read that to me a lot as a kid, and Uncle Marcus’s favourite ballads would chime with the ballads that were my dad’s favourite and things like that. So I think it all naturally just wove its way in as I was writing.

Charlie: You mentioned your dad. I think these questions are going to go together – can you talk about the West Coast Tasmania mining, and I think this comes into your childhood as well, also just your father, tell us about him.

Amanda: So Dad worked in the poppy industry in Tasmania, which was a big industry that produced lots of the drugs we need – morphine based drugs and things. He was an ex-scientist, but in his heart he was a geologist, and he was always very keen on geology and mining history in Tasmania. The state was… well I would argue the state was kind of built on this mining history and a lot of the prospecting went on in the 1800s through the early 1900s. So we used to [laughs]… my friends would be off to the movies or off to parties; we’d often go down to the West Coast with the tent and sort of wander through the bush there, and go to all these old mine sites and digs and pan for gold and all kinds of things. And you know what you’re like when [you’re] a teenager, you’re a bit petulant about this stuff and complain a bit at the time, but every year you look back and think, ‘god, that was pretty interesting’. And I actually went to uni to study International Relations, and I did Geology as a bit of a filler, and the first lesson I thought ‘no, I love this’ and changed; I guess that was Dad’s influence as well. And when I think about it, he did a trip to London when I was a kid, and he came back with all kinds of London stuff and a puppet show, and in the back of the puppet show there was a house boat, and I always wanted to live in a house boat. So [there were] so many things from childhood that wove into all that. So, yes, it was through him that I learnt quite a bit about the West Coast. And then I studied Geology in Tasmania and we used to do field trips there, but I had already been to a lot of these mines and this kind of rough country that you could go prospecting in, and I wanted to weave a bit of that history in. And it’s funny because it used to be that [on] the West Coast of Tasmania you could buy a shack or a little house for $20,000 or something, and now it’s having a renaissance [laughs] and some of the old mine sites have become mountain bike parks and tracks and it’s become very hip to be there. Dad passed away in 2017, so I wonder… it had started then but now I think he’d be quite amused by how much the West Coast is changing.

Charlie: I think quite proud of you, you seem to have been very inspired by him, definitely.

Amanda: Yeah, I think that definitely wove its way into The Moon Gate, which is actually very lovely; and unconsciously it did so. And I actually dedicated it to him and sent a copy to Mum so she could see that, so it was quite a special moment.

Charlie: That’s lovely. Banjo Paterson then; I think I noted down when I was reading, ‘poetry is a big thing in this book, does Amanda like poetry?’ and then we get through it and I’m thinking ‘okay, yes, she likes Banjo Paterson’. Can you talk about your interest in his work and also the use of poetry in the book in general?

Amanda: Hmm… well, I’m a big fan of poetry that rhymes [laughs]. I’m a bit too much of a Luddite when it comes to the more literary poetry, so I should read more of that. But it’s more a specific thing, I think, with Banjo Paterson, in that a lot of Australian kids learn Banjo Paterson, learn a lot of his poetry as they’re growing up. And I was lucky in that Dad would read that to me before bed. All of Banjo’s poetry tells a story, and it sort of harks back to the times of droving and wide and open plains on Mainland Tasmania, which is very different to Mainland Australia, which is very different to Tasmania, as I touch on in the book. So I guess as a kid growing up in Tasmania, it also highlighted a lot of the Australian history that I couldn’t envisage, because it was lush and green outside my window, it wasn’t sort of sunburnt and orange and very, very, open orange sunsets and these [are] things that [Banjo] captures, and also that drover culture. So, yeah, it’s always captured my imagination. And he has a lot of humour in the ballads, a lot of the ballads, which I love, and they all have a great cadence so people can learn them off by heart – they can sing them – and I think it’s a lovely way to pass down stories from that time.

Charlie: I used to like rhyming poetry a lot when was younger, and I think it’s actually just since I started blogging that I’ve slowly worked out how to process ‘literary poetry’, I suppose you could say. It’s a completely different thing to everything that came before it, certainly it’s very different. So for the, I suppose, non-Australian, poetry readers among us, can you tell us about the bush ballads in general?

Amanda: Yeah, I suppose the bush ballads… they had a lot of influence from Irish ballads and sort of the Scottish ‘ballad school’, because a lot of settlers in Australia were from those cultures, so they kind of brought this lovely idea of writing these ballads rather than just writing a short story. Which actually, in this big beast of a book I have on Banjo Paterson, he does have a lot of short stories in there, and he was a journalist who wrote a lot of articles as well. But there was something beautiful about the way that they could tell a story with a certain cadence that lifted people’s hearts as they heard it. Now don’t quote me on the dates and things, but basically through the late 1880s there was a school of these writers – Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, probably the best two known about of those and they had a great rivalry. And their poetry, or their ballads, would be published in big publications like the Bulletin in Australia. And so people were always looking forward to them and swapping them and a lot of the words found their way into common vernacular. And, I don’t know if I should say this, but maybe the Shakespeare of the Australian culture [laughs] where you have some of these words and these phrases weaving their way into culture. And then I suppose they have become really synonymous with Australian culture, and you have Waltzing Matilda becoming a song that kids are always singing at school, and after a while they soon learned that it was Banjo Paterson that wrote it and [that] it was a ballad initially. So, yes, as I said, in the book his death is referenced; I think he passed away in 1942, and that must have been a pretty sad time for literary Australia, because he had such a huge influence through the years, and I would say that all Australian kids now still learn a few of the ballads.

Charlie: That’s awesome. When I came across your mention of Waltzing Matilda I thought, ‘oh yeah, I know that one’, so some of it has gone a bit further afield. But on the subject of things we don’t know so much: Australia, and particularly Tasmania and World War II; I believe you’ve actually put it in the book how you yourself at school didn’t really learn much about Australia in the war – you learned about Britain – and I know certainly us in Britain, we learned about Britain, a bit about Germany and France. Can you tell us about… if we narrow it down to Tasmania
in World War II, general things we should know, things like that.

Amanda: It was so interesting researching Tasmania, and also really humbling realising how little I knew about the home front in Tasmania during the war, because obviously the Pacific Theatre didn’t come anywhere near Tasmania; obviously Darwin was bombed – in late 1941, I think. We know now that Tasmania wasn’t invaded, there weren’t any boots on the ground that we know of, but trying to capture that sense of fear was really difficult because, say when I was researching The Blitz for The Midnight House, there’s so much information and there’s lots of diaries you can get your hands on, and lots of first-person accounts, but for Tasmania there’s very little; but I was really lucky because Mum’s friend in Launceston is an historian; so she actually sent me a few documents of her own records from her grandfather and some interviews, and I just picked up so many little amazing nuggets, they were like the kernels of research and I could go off and start looking bits and pieces. I think I mentioned [about how there] were blackout rules in Launceston – they dug some trenches in the streets. There were sightings of Japanese planes over the east coast of Tasmania. Tasmania is an island state, it’s about 300 by 350 kilometres – sort of a triangle shape. So on the East Coast they were definitely seen, or at least there were rumours of Japanese planes, and there were the odd rumours of submarines as well. These rumours would have been spread on the Bush Telegraph as we call it [laughs] in Tasmania, and there would have been a great sense of fear. And people couldn’t go hour by hour without talking about the war and what was going on in Europe. And then as it obviously spread into the Pacific Theatre, and there were groups that were playing bingo to raise funds… so there would be a Tasmanian sponsored Spitfire, and there were so many things going on that I discovered from these documents – and then the other arm of it was the Second 40th Battalion, which was the Tasmanian Battalion of lads that ended up in Timor. And I found a few first person accounts of the lads that joined up, most of them lied about their age, you know, lots of things that are similar to the stories we read from Britain – lying about their age and this sense of adventure and all of that. So I combined those two things, and Daniel of course joins up in that Battalion. And Grace and Rose are on the West Coast; it’s very remote there but they’re still getting whispers of the war, they’re reading the newspapers and there’s still a sense of fear. Then there’s a copper mine on the West Coast of Tasmania still running that was the largest in Australia at the start of the war, and copper was in hot demand, there was a great shortage because it’s used in everything during during the war – all the wires, a lot of the weapons – and I had this thought that if I was the Axis I’d be quite interested in that mine, so I incorporated this idea that the Germans had turned up in a submarine to have a bit of a look, and there’s a huge harbour nearby; you can take a convict tour down there on the West Coast on that harbour. Anyway, I wrote that in and I mentioned it to a friend when I was back in Tasmania last year; he had been on this tour in the harbour and they’d stopped at a place called Sarah Island where you can get this fantastic view of the mountain range which includes Frenchman’s Cap, and it’s really unique because it looks like a Frenchman wearing a cap. And they were chatting about it, and an older man on the tour said he knew the silhouette of the mountain because he’d been there before in 1942 in a Japanese submarine. So they had definitely been in the harbour and down the West Coast; now what they were looking for I don’t know, I haven’t been able to find out, but it just blew me away. So during school we learned so much about the European Theatre – obviously there is so much to learn, I can understand that, but I do think it’s fascinating finding out about World War II on the home front in the place you grew up, you know, on the other side of the world.

Charlie: Certainly, yeah, that is quite the coincidence of you finding a person who can tell you about what went on; that’s quite cool. I have to ask about a specific person; again I’ve had to write it down so I can get this right. so Robert ‘Mingus’ I believe it’s said but spelled ‘Menzies’, Prime Minister of Australia during the time – and this is in your book – had said before declaring war that there was, here comes the quote, ‘a really spiritual quality in the willingness of Germans to devote themselves to the service and well-being of the state’. Oh my goodness, that’s quite something. Can you tell us about him and his views, and did they change etcetera?

Amanda: Yeah, I wanted to put that in there for a couple of reasons: the first was that did his views change? Well yes, and he didn’t last that long, Australia cycled through a few Prime Ministers during World War II; but also to capture that sense that in hindsight we would think, well even before Poland was invaded on the 3rd of September 1939, everybody should have known this German threat and understood how serious and severe it was, but actually when you look at comments like that from Prime Minister Robert Menzies – and also another aspect of the book that I wanted to weave in, which was the Blackshirts in Britain – I wanted to try and capture this idea that nowadays we would write characters set [back] then, and of course it’s much easier to write characters that ‘knew’, in adverted commas, what was coming and were really on the right side, but in reality there were so many grey areas because people were reading propaganda; how could they have been aware of what was to come? So when it comes to him – and then Edeline, who is obviously part of the Blackshirts, and they were trying to get the women involved in Britain because they decided that it was the woman who would go home and be able to influence her family, so they really had this push to get women involved and give them uniforms and authority in in this sort of fascist group – in some spots where I could in the novel, I wanted to recognise that idea that even world leaders in the Allied countries prior to the declaration of war had been looking at Germany and thinking, ‘well look, aren’t they doing well at leading and and look at the Olympics, didn’t that go well’, and all these things that we now think are crazy. If you look back at actual quotes from the time, yeah they’re quite shocking to look back [on] in hindsight. But of course people didn’t know what was to come.

Charlie: I liked how you included the Blackshirts, and what you said about bringing the women into it, and that they take the information and everything back home – that’s what they did; but you saying about this other side of people, thinking about Germany in a different way, even the royal family in Britain, we had Wallace Simpson and Edward VIII who went to Germany and thought it was great, and people saw the culture and economy and things that were doing well in. And then of course it all went to pot and we found out what was going on. It was interesting to have that in your book.

Amanda: Yeah, and I’ve read quite a lot about the Mitford sisters for the research, and there was a lot more of this Blackshirts and Edeline backstory, that [was cut from] the book. But I read – what is it called? Letters Between The Sisters or something – and it’s just a published book of the letters between the Mitford sisters. And you had Diana Mitford who married Oswald Mosley, and she was obviously fascist through and through – right through to her to her death, I think, in Paris whenever that was… the ’90s. And you had Unity Mitford who was a fascist through and through who ended up staying in Germany. And then you had a couple of the sisters who were sort of on the fence, and you had a couple of the sisters, I think one of whom fought in Spain or was there during the war in Spain, who were vehemently anti-fascist. And you had these letters going back and forth where they were discussing, quite levelly, their views, some of them, and sometimes they wouldn’t speak to each other of course, and then sometimes they would try and make a bridge. And because they’re all dated and they captured that moment of what people were thinking before 1939, and you know what came after, I found that also really interesting trying to develop Edeline’s character – she’s awful and all of that, but she had a big backstory as to why she was pushed towards the Blackshirts and being neglected herself at home. And yeah, this sense that they really tried to attract women who were probably upper class and well educated but who were lacking some sort of drive for themselves. So it’s horrifying and terrible and very interesting to research if you can get back to the core documents or the original documents from the time.

Charlie: Talking of Edeline, you do a really good job of… what is it exactly she says, I think I probably wiped it from my mind because it was just so awful… and then she gets her comeuppance in the end, going to prison. I mean goodness, the hatred from Edeline towards Grace is just horrible. How important was she to the novel and getting people to where you wanted them to be?

Amanda: She had a much bigger role in the bloated first draft (but I think the core of her role stayed in as I cut down the the novel and streamlined it) in that wanted her to mould Rose into this awful character that every so often we might see the slightest chink of light [in]. And she very much wanted to make Rose in her own image. And in the original version she’d had Rose with someone she had really loved, and I had a whole character there; and in fact he was Olive’s brother. So there was a real intertwining there, and there was a lot more angst going on between them all. So he disappeared from the next draft, and she had Rose and Rose was something for herself – even though of course she had to pretend she wasn’t her daughter – but it was something that she finally had after a lonely childhood, and her final brother had abandoned her. So her role was [to] mould Rose and I found it quite difficult to write this cold mother for Grace because I felt very sorry about that for her; and right at that moment, on her birthday, when her mother sits on the bed and says ‘well you’re very difficult to love’, that keeps coming back to Grace; it’s very heartbreaking, and I think small moments like that in life can really stick with you. And that’s really stuck with Grace and she at one point – I haven’t read it for a while so I’m trying to remember here [laughs] – at one point she said to Marcus ‘am I difficult to love?’ and I think that’s really heartbreaking to think of a young woman saying that to someone, believing that she’s inherently impossible to love, because her mother’s made her feel that way. Yeah, so she sort of ends up as a a lonely person, Edeline, and I don’t know if she truly regretted [it] by the end when she ended up in Paris – that was inspired from Diana Mitford, who ended up there in Paris out of England, after her involvement with the blackshirts, and they all lost their passports and all this stuff; so that all happened to Edeline, and she ends up alone in Paris, and you hope that she’s regretting the way she behaved during the war, but also [regrets] her relationship with her daughter. But I’m not sure she does which is really sad in itself.

Charlie: Yeah, I think I’d agree with you, I think unfortunately she is beyond repair. And I don’t know much about Diana Mitford, but you said ‘still in the 90s, she was still a fascist’, yeah, I can see Edeline being like that. How long was this original draft of yours?

Amanda: So the book, it’s a big’un, and so it is 120,000 words, but the draft was 170 [laughs].

Charlie: Right, okay!

Amanda: So it was a big one [laughs]. But I did that as well with The Midnight House, I massively over-wrote it. The Midnight House was shorter but the first draft would have been a big’un as well. I’ve just started the third book and I’m already I’m thinking ‘gosh, would you just stop with the overwriting’, so I’m already doing it. I like to then cut, and I don’t mind cutting as much as needs to be cut, because I think a lot of the threads still remain just sort of under the surface, pulling things together; so I think even though it’s not the most time-effective and efficient way of writing [laughs] it does work for these kind of books where you really want layers to peel away. There’s some lovely chapters – well not lovely but sort of sad chapters – I cut from Daniel’s point of view in Burma, on the railway. He’d managed to keep hold of some of Grace’s ballads and he’d tucked them in there; they all had to sleep on these bamboo platforms – well they wouldn’t get much sleep – but anyway, I read that they often tucked letters and things they’d managed to keep hold of in-between the bamboo. So he woke up one morning and realised it was his birthday and he’d pulled out a letter to read as a treat – or a ballad. So things like that that were nice but they weren’t necessary for the story. I could certainly put [them] on the website or something as a little extra, because they shine a light on another facet of a character.

Charlie: Oh, lovely, and actually you said ‘wasn’t necessary’ – I think I did look it up and it’s 495 pages in the hardback, and I thought it’s a long novel but you don’t have anything that’s not needed in there. It’s that length for good reason.

Amanda: Well, thank you, that’s good to hear because I like a big book, I like to read big books, and get really immersed in them. My husband is a great editor so I’ll give him a big manuscript and he is really good at saying ‘no, no, that’s not relevant, that observation or that link’. It can be hard when you’re very close to it to recognise, you think, ‘no that’s a nice tangent’, but if it’s just a tangent, it just often takes away from the drive of the story.

Charlie: Certainly, yeah, you’ve got to be strict with it and think about it from different viewpoints, and yeah, having multiple people is great. I am going to ask you, I think because I want to touch on your talking about Daniel and Grace – can you tell us about this concept of a moon gate and rebirth?

Amanda: Yes, I can. I actually started with this concept of a moon shaped… thing [laughs] inside, so I had a door – well there is the round door leading up to the tower in Towerhurst – I had that and it looked really nice in my head; and actually it was my editor who said, ‘that’s a lovely thought and image, and this idea of rebirth… it would be lovely in the garden too’, and I thought, yes. So it actually came in later, which sounds crazy, but it was missing, this idea that Grace walked through the moon gate – which is a circular folly in this garden that isn’t really a garden, it’s the rainforest in Tasmania – and she walks almost from her old life, through the moon gate, up to the waterfall, where she begins to shed her skin and find her new life, find herself. So that’s how it came about; and I immediately imagined it and it was almost like I knew it was already in the garden but I hadn’t put it there yet. So [that’s] almost a back to front tale of the moon gate. But I’ve always loved that image of this sort of round door, and they have them a lot in Oriental gardens and a lot in Chinese houses; you see them in old houses. And I wanted to do a moon gate tour of Ireland but I haven’t found many yet [laughs], so I’m starting a list if anyone out there knows of any.

Charlie: Oh that sounds wonderful, so you’ll do your own retreat then, you mean?

Amanda: Yeah [laughs] exactly, and walk through as many moon gates as possible to see if I can go back in age or something!

Charlie: Just as long as you don’t go through a certain amount and then you get back to where you started…

Amanda: I know, you’ve got to be really careful with that, yeah [both laugh].

Charlie: Yeah, but no, you said shedding of skin there, I’m thinking hmm… was it Ben who wrote a who wrote something on selkies or something?

Yes. I’d been talking to someone down here in Kerry about selkies, and reading about them – it had nothing to do with the book – and then when he turned up at the MacGillycuddy’s home place, there in Tasmania, it came to me, this idea of the selkie walking in off the beach. Another thing that I guess, yes, as you said before in the interview, kind of wove in from my life and just appeared in the book.

Charlie: More to add to the list, definitely then. So yeah: Daniel and Grace, and we’ve got Libby and Krish, and Libby and Sam, and we’ve got Willow and Ben, and carry on, and carry on. You’ve got a lot about loss of parents, loss of lovers, boyfriends, fiancés – quite a lot of people have lost someone in your book. Was grief important to explore as well?

Amanda: Yeah, very important, and I think hard to capture on the page, you know, when you’ve been through grief. It feels trite to try and capture it on the page, because of course the characters you’ve made up, but feelings are real, [and] we have, and readers have, been through grief. There may be elements in the way that the characters remember their loved ones, or certain things they see that trigger memories that are happy or sad or devastating; and there’s only so much you can capture on the page without going down a rabbit hole yourself. But I did want to capture that idea that grief, it just goes on and on and on, doesn’t it? It may be that it’s been a long time for Willow by the time it’s 2005 and Ben passed away 30 years before, but she would never have let go of that grief, and also for her that sense of guilt; and Libby herself goes through the same thing but she’s much younger, well in 2005, and I wanted at least one of them to have a feeling of accepting the grief, because it can control your life otherwise, and for Willow that certainly had been part of the case for her.

Charlie: Yeah. Maybe it was more important to me because he was my favourite character, I don’t know, but I wanted to ask, on Ben, on his death, you used the Moorgate Tube Crash.

Amanda: Yes.

Charlie: Was there a significance to you using this?

Amanda: Well, I had actually plotted to have Ben die in Tasmania, and there was another terrible tragedy in Tasmania in 1975, the Batman bridge in Hobart, which crosses the Deviot River [editor’s note: it crosses the Tamar River and joins the Deviot Road], a ship ran into one of the pylons and severed the bridge, and cars went into the scene and there were a lot of deaths and it was a terrible tragedy. And Ben was going to be there at that time, and I’d written quite a bit of it, but I actually wanted him to end up in London, for various reasons – this is what happens, you start writing and things go A bit AWOL. So, initially, I was looking up tragedies for the date – can you believe that, [it] sounds very terribly un-deep – but as I started to read about the Moorgate… it was just so devastating to research; with any of these tragedies, do you make something up so that you’re not using a tragedy as part of a storyline in a way that people might be upset about? But I actually had been in London all that time, and I’d lived a couple of years there, albeit it on the other side of London, and I gone through Moorgate and I’d never seen a plaque, and I heard of it perhaps but I didn’t know anything about it. And there was only a plaque recently, actually, put up outside Moorgate. and I thought that there was no harm in bringing the tragedy to light, and adding one extra name to that very sad list of people who passed away. And I have heard from quite a few people, actually, emails saying they had been working in London at the time and how that made them think about it, and the lines around the block that were lining up to give blood, and that everything stopped and it was just this horrendous tragedy that just stopped the city. And the research really touched me as it would, and that’s sort of how it came about. So it was a very roundabout way, but it was almost hard to stop researching, and there’s been couple of journalists who’ve done quite a lot of work into it and yes really, really… well even now I feel emotional talking about it, it’s just terrible to read about it; so in a way I was glad in the end to incorporate it into the book.

Charlie: Well just doing a bit of research on, I think, Wikipedia, there was enough there that, yeah, I kind of get what you must have been reading, because there’s some diagrams and things that… yeah, it’s not nice. But I liked – ‘like’, that’s the word… – like that you included it because I know I hadn’t heard of it, and it’s definitely something that we should remember. I know I was talking to Kate Thompson a few months ago, and she had the tube crash at Bethnal Green; so there’s these things that happen in London that a lot of people don’t know about, and speaking as a British person who lives not all that far from London, you’ve included it there and we can know about it. I think that’s important.

Amanda: Yeah, great, thank you, that’s good to hear. It is good to hear.

Charlie: Something that isn’t factual, it is fictional; you can change my pronunciation if if I say it wrong because I think you’ve made it up – Ballinn.

Amanda: Yes, Ballinn – yes, I’ve made it up, you can say it however you like because I’ve made it up [laughs].

Charlie: Well if I remember rightly, you’ve got it in The Midnight House.

Amanda: Yes.

Charlie: And then I noticed it here again – it doesn’t play a big role in this book, but it’s there. Tell us about it – what’s about this fictional village that you wanted to incorporate it twice?

Amanda: Oh, I think it’s partly laziness, because once you’ve made up a village and the characters and the way it looks, you’re like, ‘oh I think I’ll use that again, it’s my village, I created it’ [laughs]. But I created it from a bit of a morphing of a few of the villages around me – Kenmare, which is more of a town; Sneem, which is a little village down the road; and Waterville – and I sort of morphed them all together, or merged them, I should say, and all the bits that I love from those villages ended up in Ballinn. And I’ve actually started writing the third book – the Irish setting’s just outside Ballinn as well. So I’m thinking it might be something that pops up in the books, if and when I go forward with them. So I think, for me, it’s my quintessential Irish village, so I’m going to utilise it and add characters where I need, but it’s got all the things I love about my nearby Irish villages, which is a few pubs and [a] charity shop – which I can never get enough of – and a cafe that always changes hands every year or two. And then there’s always a guarder station or a police station, there might be a guard or a policeman in there maybe once every two weeks. My local villages are very much like that, but I wanted to have it as a fictional village so I could do whatever I wanted with it for The Midnight House, and then I thought why not incorporate it there in The Moon Gate; and of course Ellie from The Midnight House makes a small cameo and it’s just a nice a nice link to have, actually.

Charlie: I get that, totally. So, the epilogue.

Amanda: Yes [laughs – editor’s note: Amanda knows Charlie really liked the epilogue of The Midnight House, see episode 63].

Charlie: Waiting right until the end to tell us the benefactor.

Amanda: Yes.

Charlie: And then to explain how Uncle Marcus really felt – because there was always a chance he was going to be the father of Rose’s baby that we thought she might have had. Tell us about this epilogue.

Amanda: So this epilogue was a few chapters before the end, originally, and I had a slightly different epilogue in which… oh this was very devastating – Ben had had a private investigator who had been looking into his own family history. When he goes off to London – and of course Willow’s not at Towerhurst – he had given the private investigator the address of Towerhurst, to keep this investigation secret from Willow, and the postman turns up with the letter from the private investigator and puts it under the mat, and it blows away. So there’s this sense that the private investigator discovered the truth of Ben’s parentage, and of course he would never have gone on the journey he did had he got that letter. So there was a very sad epilogue. So actually in the end [I] wanted something a bit more uplifting in that Uncle Marcus is turning out to be the benefactor, and the way that he feels, and his hope for the future, leaves this sense that things weren’t done very well; but he tried his best. So everyone’s not having a great party, in the epilogue, but there is a sense of hope there.

Charlie: I liked seeing Uncle Marcus pop up again, because, of course, Daniel was a bigger influence overall, obviously – he’s the boyfriend, and then husband of Grace – but Marcus was certainly the first person who helped Grace grow, so that was nice. And I fully expected it to be Olive.

Amanda: Oh that’s interesting. Okay. I wonder, if I read it fresh, who I thought it would have been – I don’t know. But, yes, Olive – that’s very interesting.

Charlie: So how would things have been if Rose was still around, how would things be different?

Amanda: That’s very interesting; I don’t know what do you think? Of course Rose would have gone back to London… it’s possible that Grace wouldn’t have gone, well in fact, she wouldn’t have gone back to London, so she and Daniel might have remained when Daniel came back, they might have remained in Tasmania. I imagined that, had Rose survived, she and Edeline would have spent their lives together; I don’t think she would have ever learned the truth, but I think she would have ended up going to Paris with her and being a sort of companion there. That’s what I think, hard to say… and then of course you wouldn’t have the discovery – yes – and what would happen to Towerhurst? Oh this is a very good question, I’ll have to take a rain check on it and have a think. There’d have to be a twist as well, there’d have to be an extra baby or or something.

Charlie: That’s true. Rose is very much a sponge, isn’t she? I think you show that – as awful as it sounds to say – she hasn’t really got her own thoughts or personality, because she hasn’t really been allowed to.

Amanda: That’s it, and in a way at the beginning it seems like Grace is the weak one, but of course it’s really Rose because she absorbs – partly – what she has [had] given to her, but also partly what she thinks will help her advance. So quite a ruthless character; and at times I tried to give her more shades of gray, and then at times I made her more black and white. It was very hard to know how much redemption you could give her, or how hard you could make her, and she was really tricky, actually – now I think about it.

Charlie: I’m not surprised; I know certainly when you had her do a lot of work – I mean as we find out she has been pregnant before – but I thought then ‘she’s pregnant’ – which I I expect you probably planned! But I’m glad I asked the question, because I think you said that she wouldn’t have necessarily learned about her heritage. That would have been quite, quite, different, certainly.

Amanda: Yeah, I think so, I just can’t see Edeline sharing the truth after all these years; but maybe when Molly had died, perhaps there was a sense there – not that there would have been a loyalty, as such, to Molly but that might have been a trigger for Edeline to tell Rose the truth. I’m not sure; it’s a good question.

Charlie: I’ve left this here because I’ve got a question that actually runs off from it, but also, I think Towerhurst itself, I didn’t find it to be as important in this book as potentially Blackwater Hall was in The Midnight House. Can you tell us about Towerhurst itself and how important it was to the novel, compared to other things, potentially?

Amanda: Yeah, so Towerhurst is a federation house; so that’s this style of house in Australia built mid 1800s through to 1920, or something like that, sort of centred around Federation in 1901; but they say that term very loosely. They’re generally weatherboard, timber-built, and they might have a a red corrugated roof, and they often have fret work and a big sprawling veranda. And they’re all over Launceston – we pronounce in Tasmania ‘Lon-sest-tun’ not ‘Launce-ston. They’re all over the city’s older streets; there are a few of them, a few small ones on the West Coast of Tasmania, one of which is called Penghana, and it’s the old mine director’s house at Mount Lyell. Penghana doesn’t have a tower, but I kind of based the house on Penghana and picked it up off the hill and brought it to the West Coast a little further, so that you could almost see and hear the sea. So I plopped it there and the tower on it, because I wanted this sense that you could climb up this staircase and look out from the tower, and see the sea; and [it’s in] that moment when Grace realises she’s a long way from anywhere. So I built the house like that in my mind, and it went from there. And I love the idea of an abandoned house on the West Coast; the thing is that on the West Coast things rot really quickly [laughs] so if you leave a house empty for too long they really get in a very bad shape; and in fact when – for example in 1985 – Libby visits as a child with her mother, the possums have been inside and there’s the wallpapers peeling off the walls, and things, and that was probably even an optimistic look at how the house might have looked being empty all that time. So I wanted this house to be this… almost pivot point, this catalyst, so that it’s a legacy in 1975; it creates an anchor for the characters in the past, to pivot around – actually, ‘pivot’ is probably a good way to put it. So you’ve got Rose and Grace coming to the house, you’ve got Grace kind of finding herself at the house and through the moon gate, and then you’ve got this exciting thing which we all dream about, of someone leaving us a big old house somewhere [laughs] that of course happens to Willow and Ben. And the only thing that I really was a bit disappointed not to be able to do was to have the house in 2005; and actually, I had written Libby in Tasmania in 2005, maybe her first 20,000 words, and she went to the house and it was being run by Jess as a B&B – Jess and Denny – so I had her visit there in another world [laughs], and another reality, but that never happened. So the house… the only way we see it in the modern day is kind of through Jess, and through the website, and it’s now a retreat and all of that. In a way it doesn’t have the grandeur, of course, of Blackwater Hall; and there are some really amazing country houses in Tasmania but you don’t don’t kind of see estates everywhere like you would in England. So maybe it is a smaller part of the story than Blackwater Hall but that felt about right for Tasmania, that it was a big old Federation house but nothing too grand and nothing that couldn’t have been passed on through generations; because it’s – in terms of modern settlement anyway – a very young community there.

Charlie: Oh yeah, I mean the house has got to fit the setting hasn’t it At least that is realistic. But you say about the house not being lived in, the possums moving in – I’m seeing now you have many mentions and I’m probably going to get the pronunciation wrong, of Huon pine, and it’s everywhere in in the book. So I suppose – you correct me if I’m wrong – you’re kind of using this as a real product that keeps things going – longevity and things?

Amanda: Yeah that’s a great, great way of putting it, because I actually think it’s kind of a nice symbol [laughs], but I didn’t think about it at the time I just wove it in because it is such an important product from the West Coast of Tasmania. And now of course Huon pine’s now protected, so they are still finding new suppliers but it it has to have fallen already. So you can go there and buy a piece of Huon pine – it has this most incredible scent to it, so if you scratch it… a really resinous scent, and it’s chock-full of this eugenol, which stops it from rotting. So I mentioned Sarah Island, and it’s an island out in the middle of Macquarie Harbour there in the West Coast and they had a convict settlement there where the worst of the worst convicts went, and they built ships from Huon pine and actually you can see… there’s an old launch ramp that’s underwater from 1815, and it’s still there in immaculate conditions, so you could pull it up and sort of shave it and you’d have this eugenol-rich Huon pine – it’s incredible, it is incredible material.

Charlie: Wow, yeah. So I think another part of the reason why I wanted to leave the house until the end is because I was re-listening to our episode, which was last year, around this time, I think, and you had mentioned your renovated house that you renovated, and it had a few secrets, and I didn’t ask a question that I was thinking, ‘I should have asked that’. So I’m going to ask, you you say it had a few secrets, not as mysterious as Blackwater Hall, but still. What were those Secrets?

Amanda: Did I tell you about the message we found in the rafters?

Charlie: No. No, because I didn’t ask! [Both laugh.]

Amanda: So the house had actually been virtually gutted, because it had been derelict, and then some new owners bought it and they did some of the renovations, and a great job they did was the roof; all of the old pitch pine had come down and then they’d put it back up – they’d re-felted it and put [in] Valencia slate, the original Valencia slate, it was a big job – but at some point someone must have found, or put back in, or they never found it, this little piece of timber, and on it in pencil was written ‘Tim O’Shea: when this comes down pray for me, 1911’. We found this amazing, and [it] felt like this message from the past – and it wasn’t, obviously, it wasn’t really a secret, but it felt like a message, or it was a message – and we went to the next door neighbours who used to own the house, their family owned it for nearly a hundred years, and they knew the family of Tim O’Shea, so they ended up returning the piece of of wood to them. So that was a really lovely moment, and was it a secret – well there might have been secrets involved – but there was at least least messages from the past, and I always think that’s amazing. And actually that prompted us to put some in little time capsules; we had to do everything, so these little time capsules were hidden in the new joinery of the windows we were building, and underneath the new fireplaces we put in, and so there’s all kinds of little time capsules of coins and newspapers and photos and things – maybe it’s renovated again in a hundred years, and hopefully someone will find them.

Charlie: Gosh, okay, so our grandchildren’s era will have to look out for breaking news, Ireland, yeah, that’s lovely. But I’m glad the secret is a nice one… it is quite nice. So the question
that has to be asked, then, is tell us about this book you are writing.

Amanda: Ah, well, early days, early days, and you’ve heard how my plans can turn to chaos and everything gets rewritten, and timelines removed and added, but at the moment I have planned a book which is set between northern Norway on an island – I used to live on an island in Arctic Norway – so it’s, again, a fictional archipelago but during the war, so just as Norway is occupied by the Germans, and that’s going to be twinned with Kerry, with a place, a big old pile but not Blackwater Hall, just outside Ballinn. and we have Rosamund Swan – her name will probably change but Rosamund Swan – who is 16, and she’s about to head off and tell the boy of her dreams that she loves him. And she’s a confident young woman in 1957, and she heads out – she says goodbye to her mum, who she loves dearly – and she goes out, and if she had just turned around, she would have seen a stranger turn up at Helebore house, her home, and the look on her father’s face as he opened the door. But she didn’t see that, and in the morning she wakes up having had a wonderful evening, and her mother has vanished. So that’s the sort of setup, and her mother is Norwegian, and we head off to this island in the Arctic where the Germans have just occupied the nearby city and islands, and we see tales of love and courage and all of the usual things, and we don’t know who Anna is or what happened to her, or how she ended up in Ireland. So that’s the very broad gist of it. I’m really looking forward to writing this setting in occupied Norway because it’s so fascinating – again something I hadn’t learned about or learned much about when I lived there – and I recently went to Narvik and went to the war museum, and I’ve been devouring books. And, yeah, [it’s] another fascinating part of the war I didn’t know much, or don’t know much about yet, even – a lot to learn. But when it comes to the setting I know a lot about the nature and the environment so, yes, let’s see if when we’re talking about that next time, hopefully, [we’ll] see what that’s morphed into.

Charlie: Yeah, that’s definitely happening – you’re coming back, it’s no question, I won’t even ask you, I’ll just say ‘you’re coming back’. But that’s very promising, and I don’t know how you’re going to top The Moon Gate – I don’t know how, but I know you’ve absolutely got it in you. So we have talked for a long time, I think we better stop: Amanda thank you very much for this book, absolutely, also coming on the podcast – we’ll see you in about a year or thereabouts.

Amanda: Yeah.

Charlie: Thank you for being here!

Amanda: Thank you so much, Charlie, thank you.

[Recorded later] Charlie: I hope you enjoyed this episode, do join me next time, and if you have a moment to spare please do leave a rating and/or review for this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Podcast Addict. Thank you very much! The Worm Hole Podcast episode 84 was recorded on the 27th of June and published on the 9th of October 2023. Music and production by Charlie Place.


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