Guest Blog: Ann Whitehead – Author of Waratah House

Ann Whitehead Author of Waratah House

Ann Whitehead Author of Waratah House

Thanks Fleur for inviting me to participate in your blog. My fourth novel for adults is about to be released so this is a great time for me to talk about it.

The inspiration for Waratah House actually began fifteen years ago with an aimless drive that took me to the southern highlands. I noticed cars turning into a driveway leading to an imposing mansion that had an ‘Open Today’ sign out front. Curiosity took me in and I rambled around an extensive though neglected garden. An elderly women walking alongside a girl of about 11 informed me that a builder had recently bought the old home and was looking for finance to restore and renovate.

It had been built by an English settler around 1832 and had since been a governor’s mansion, a boys’ school and an aged care residence. It was now empty. ‘Except for her,’ I said jokingly while pointing to a window, believing I was seeing another visitor although the house wouldn’t be open for another hour. The elderly woman shook her head and frowned. ‘That upstairs window,’ I told her, pointing again. I could see a woman quite clearly. Possibly in her fifties. Dark hair pulled back in a bun. Pale face, black dress. I was too far away to make out her features. ‘You must have a mark on your sunglasses. There’s no one there,’ was the reply. I suggested that the girl might be able to see better than her. What girl? The elderly woman was alone. And when I looked back at the window, it was empty.

Waratah House by Ann Whitehead

Waratah House by Ann Whitehead

I did find the lost girl. A few words with her worried mother, who wanted to know if I’d seen her daughter, Marina, gave me her name. Yet I never did solve the puzzle of the woman at the window.

That was the inspiration for a time slip young adult novel. I was then writing for children. But the story I had then wouldn’t work for me so I put it away. It became lost in time, and to characters from a different novel demanding my attention. Moving house eighteen months ago, I found an old notebook containing a few photos of the mansion and the jottings I’d made on that day. I’d just finished The House Across the Road and was looking for a new idea. Coincidence or meant to be?

The age and beginnings of the house inspired the time frame for the novel, and a quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.on a calendar sowed the seeds of the story.

‘If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.’


The story:

The year is 1880. Eleven year old Marina is travelling to a new life in Australia. She falls ill before the ship leaves port and when the illness spreads throughout the lower decks, the immigrants on board blame her for the many deaths and vow she is accursed. Marina’s parents also fall victim to the disease, so James and Sarah Smithson promise to take care of her – James voluntarily, Sarah because he insists, though their only son has died and like the others, Sarah blames Marina.

So begins the story of a bitterness affecting the lives of three generations. But there’s also joy and sorrow, love and hatred, and friendships both true and false that change the course of lives. It’s the story of Marina’s naivety, her daughter Emily’s strength and belief in self; but also the how and why of Sarah.


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