A conversation with Julian Leatherdale
Julian Leatherdale’s novel Palace of Tears, published by Allen & Unwin, is a saga of two families bonded by a secret past of passion and betrayal. Set around a magnificent Edwardian-era spa hotel in the Blue Mountains, the story draws inspiration from the history of the Hydro Majestic Hotel, a mecca for the rich and famous, renowned for its banquets, balls and parties.
Julian, why did you choose to set Palace of Tears in the Blue Mountains?
I have lived here since 1991, raised a family and even worked locally for a well-known hotel school in Leura. Setting a novel in a place I know so well set me the challenge as a writer to look at the familiar with new eyes including its sublime and savage beauty – no easy task. And, because my story weaves in and out of time, through both world wars as well as the 1920s and 1950s, I had the perfect excuse to research some local history, another way of reimagining the place where I live.
What was it about the Hydro Majestic Hotel that attracted you?
Well, I wanted a touch of Gothic mystery for my saga and the Hydro fitted the bill perfectly. With its odd dome and crenelated wings, it always seemed to me like some madman’s castle, perched on a cliff and shrouded in fog and snow. And the more I looked into its history, the more it appealed: all that great food and fashion, glittering balls and parties, and guest appearances by the rich and famous including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Nellie Melba. How could I resist?
What kind of research did you do?
Well, the obvious place to start was Local Studies at Springwood. There are some wonderful photos in the collection which sparked my imagination including my favourite of the Hydro’s founder, Mark Foy, dressed up for a party in his wife’s hat and gown. Trove digital newspapers gave me other great leads. A murder thriller shot by Raymond Longford at the Hydro (and Carrington) in 1921 is now lost but I reimagine its erotic Spider Dance scene thanks to publicity stills and interviews in the national film archives.
How much is history and how much is fiction?
It is largely fiction – a proper plot-twisting, emotional rollercoaster work of fiction – but hopefully with accurate historic details within that fictional world. My hotelier character Adam Fox shares little in common with Mark Foy, for example, except for his ambitious vision to build a health retreat, modelled on the famous spas of Europe, in a tiny township in the Australian bush. The locals call it ‘Fox’s Folly’ expecting it to burn down in a bushfire.
What was your writing background before this novel?
My first real job after university was in publishing as a staff writer, researcher and picture editor for a 16-volume series Australians At War. It was hard work and great fun. In the 1990s, I researched and co-wrote two ABC-Film Australia TV documentaries The Forgotten Force and Return To Sandakan. I am still proud of these two films. I continued to write fiction in my spare time while working, trying my hand at TV animation and drama, and children’s novels. I thankfully came to the attention of a very experienced literary agent who encouraged me to write an adult novel which she then showed to Allen & Unwin.
What do you hope your readers will get out of your novel?
Above all, I hope they are entertained, intrigued and even moved by my story and characters. There are several plot twists for those who enjoy that kind of thing. Part of the story involves a little known aspect of Australia’s past that I think will be a surprise to most readers and which I still find deeply shocking.
Have you seen the new Hydro yet?
Yes, I have and it is wonderful, an exciting new chapter in the Hydro’s history.
Palace of Tears is now available from Megalong Books RRP $29.99
Click here to order your copy.