Welcome to the haunted tearoom,” says Tara Moss, showing WHO into a living area that could double as a quirky antiques shop. Brimming with curios and lined with sepia portraits of mournful-eyed Edwardian newlyweds, the sprawling space is the heart of Moss’s home in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
Outside, an unseasonable summery breeze whips around the 1.2ha property, but Moss warns that at any moment, an eerie mist could descend like a veil of night. “One day, not long after we’d moved in, the mist arrived like whoosh, from the blue sky,” says the author, who bought the house with her husband, fellow writer Berndt Sellheim, a year ago. “It was like there were tumbleweeds of clouds moving across the street — it was magical.”
Making the move from a slick apartment in Sydney’s CBD to the “kooky” former tea-house in the bush sparked a change in direction for the bestselling crime writer. Her latest novel, The Blood Countess (Pan Macmillan, $26.99), harks back to her childhood fascination with Bela Lugosi, The Addams Family and all things supernatural.
“Now, after 11 years of only writing crime novels and doing all that research and forensics, I’m interested in going back to those things that first inspired me,” says Moss, 37, whose floor-length grey cardigan — worn over a royal blue minidress — trails like a cape as she glides over to her gramophone and winds it up, freeing a tinny old melody.
Despite her passion for “adopting” dusty relics from the past — such as the 150-year-old deer heads and 1870s travelling chest adorning the tearoom — these days, she is most excited about the future. “It’s wonderful and we’re darn well ready!” whoops the five-months-pregnant Moss, who wore a scarlet Alex Perry gown to wed Sellheim in an intimate ceremony in Margaret River, WA, last December. After meeting online in 2007, the couple were friends for a year before they began dating. “It’s a joy.”
Following a “hideous” first trimester — “I could only eat stodgy food. I got very worried: you can’t exist on potato alone” — the former model is “full of energy” and thinking about decking out the nursery. “It will be colourful, but a little macabre,” she says, chuckling. “My agent, Selwa Anthony, gave us our first bit of baby clothing and it’s fantastic. It’s a black onesie with spiderwebs all over it, and I said, ‘Oh, I love you, you get me!’ I’m sure people will think we’re odd when we’re getting around with our child in a spiderweb outfit, but everybody does it their way and that may well be our way.”
It will be the right way, says Moss’s friend, author Melinda Hutchings. “I imagine Tara and Berndt’s child will be brought up surrounded by books and poetry by the fireplace, an adorable menagerie, a magical garden for a playground,” she says. “Their child will be completely loved.”
Adds Sellheim, 37: “We’re both ridiculously happy about becoming parents. What new parents aren’t? There is a sense in both our lives at the moment of things coalescing ... through it all, we’re finding an increasing connection with each other.”“We couldn’t have been more fortunate in finding this place that we can live in, and this life that we have,” says Moss, who grew up penning scary stories on Vancouver Island, the younger of Bob and the late Janni’s two children. “We’ll juggle parenthood as best we can — people have been doing
it for centuries.”
She’s been choked unconscious and set on fire — in the name of research — but Moss acknowledges that it might be time to rein in the daredevil within. For one, she’s putting her plan to earn her wings on hold: “I have a dream that when we’re 50, Berndt and I will have our pilot’s licences and a plane full of kids and we’ll traverse the world.”"Like Brangelina, perhaps? Her throaty laugh echoes in the haunted tearoom: “They’re rich and famous, and we’re just a couple of daggy writers living in the mountains.”