Katharine’s future husband, Hugo Throssell, was once obsessed with a theatre actor named Henrietta Watson whom he watched perform while he was still in school. On a dare, he wrote to her years later while working as a stockman on Ashburton Downs and then, when in London after being evacuated from Gallipoli in 1915, he looked her up. She was charmed to hear from ‘Ashburton Jim’, VC winner, and there was the beginnings of a romance between Hugo and Henrietta, cut short for some reason. On the war hero speaking circuit, Hugo liked to tell the story of Henrietta and eventually wrote it up as a story he called ‘Intimate Strangers’.
Rather than being jealous, Katharine decided to take the title for her novel exploring the strains of a marriage in middle-age. She wrote the first half of her Intimate Strangers just before the Great Depression, and that half is full of the beaches of Rockingham and a sense of the Roaring Twenties in Perth. In the second half, the Depression hits and the mood changes.
She denied it was autobiographical and insisted it was based on a couple she knew. I tracked that couple down and wrote of the similarities and differences in chapter 24 of The Red Witch, ‘The Mirage is Breaking Up’. Even if Rose and Les Atkinson were models, the autobiographical aspects are impossible to ignore and there are new revelations in my book. It all matters so much because she originally had her returned war hero character commit suicide – only for her war hero husband in real life do the same. She changed the ending, unconvincingly many think.
Intimate Strangers is finally available again as an ebook thanks to the Untapped project – you can borrow it through your public library (Borrowbox or Overdrive) or buy it – https://www.amazon.com/Intimate-Strangers…/dp/B09MZX9R8Y