• NZ Booklovers

Interview: Lily Woodhouse talks about her book Jarulan by the River


Lily Woodhouse is the pseudonym for award-winning writer Stephanie Johnson, who has turned her hand to the sweeping family saga. She divides her time between Australia and New Zealand. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her novel, Jarulan by the River.


Tell us a little about Jarulan by the River.

The novel is set on a grand, crumbling estate in the Northern Rivers district in New South Wales. It is a family saga, beginning in 1917 and finishing around about now. The second part of the book is set in the 1930’s and begins in New Zealand, when the landowner’s young widow comes here to find Eddie, who is a remittance man in the Bay of Plenty. He is the rightful heir of Jarulan. However it is not Eddie who returns with Rufina, but Irving, his Maori son

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What inspired you to write this book?

Inspiration came from a couple of sources. One was a story I was told years ago by an old bloke about how a man was unwillingly taken as a lover by a wealthy woman during the Depression. Another inspiration was Chevy Chase, a grand old house in Armidale. I based Jarulan on the house, even though Chevy Chase is a couple of hundred kilometers to the south.


What research was involved?

A little research went in to farming practices in that part of Australia. I was also interested in the experiences of Germans during the first and second world wars, and how Maori fared during the period of the White Australia Policy.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I had written about half of the novel and then put it aside to write another book. I remember it as being a fairly painful experience and I was also terrified I would not be able to find ‘Jarulan’ again. But I think the novel benefited from the long gap in its creation.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Cole Porter’s ‘All Through The Night’ and ‘Shaky Isles’ made famous by Prince Tui Teka


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

James Rolleston as Irving and Cate Blanchette as Rufina


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

A dreamlike sense of utter recklessness.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Drank champagne and stood on my head. Or did I? I honestly can’t remember, it was so long ago.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

‘The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue. I have loved all her books. This one is perhaps a little darker than the others, but she is an exponent of high-end popular historical fiction. It is set in Ireland in the nineteenth century and centres on a Florence Nightingale-trained nurse who goes to investigate a child who has supposedly not eaten anything for months other than manna from heaven. It’s about belief, superstition and survival.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m working on a novel set at the foot of the Blue Mountains in NSW in 1950. The central character is a woman returning to her family farm after twenty years in Wellington.


Karen McKenzie

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