Jane Green’s Sister Stardust (Hanover Square Press) was inspired by her long-held affinity for the ethos of the 1960s—and her fascination with the enigmatic Talitha Getty, a Dutch model, actress, and wife to philanthropist John Paul Getty, Jr.

Talitha Getty’s iconic bohemian style and illustrious social circle (which included the likes of Mick Jagger and Yves Saint Laurent), became the stuff of legend. But it was what the camera didn’t capture that most intrigued Green—and led her to write about a life that was tragically cut short.

The author chatted with PW about her research, her creation of an original protagonist, Claire, who serves as a kindred spirit to Talitha, and what she learned from her first foray into writing historical fiction.

How did you first discover Talitha Getty, and what drew you to her?

I must have been a teenager when I first saw the famous Patrick Lichfield photograph of Talitha and Paul Getty on the rooftop of their Marrakech palace. She is sprawled out in a magnificent wedding caftan, with Paul standing in the distance behind her, in a long djellaba. I was instantly mesmerized; there was something about her beauty and style, combined with a sadness in her eyes. Only during the research did I discover that they were so stoned during this shoot, Vogue almost didn’t run it! I have spent my entire life wondering about her, but there is so little known, other than her tragic death at the age of 30 from a heroin overdose. I knew she was married to Paul, the son of the richest man in the world. Paul later shot to fame in 1976, after Talitha had died, when his son “Little Paul” was kidnapped in Rome and had his ear cut off. I knew she was friends with people like Yves Saint Laurent, Rudolph Nureyev, and Mick Jagger, but little else. When my very clever editor suggested I try historical fiction, hers was the only story I wanted to tell, or at least, the story of a girl who gets caught up in Talitha’s spell.

Tell me about your research process. How did you go about balancing the fictional content with the biographical material?

With enormous care! Sister Stardust is truly a love letter not only to Talitha, but to Marrakech, and to the ‘60s. There are still people around who were there, who loved her, and I wanted to be tremendously careful with how I wrote about real people. I dropped in real conversation, things that were recorded as being said, and mixed it up with a healthy dose of my imagination. The backbone of the Marrakech part of the book is factual. The Rolling Stones were there. Mick Jagger did leave the tape of Wild Horses. Talitha would trawl the souks in the morning and look for entertainers to come to the rooftop of their palace and entertain their guests. Eddie, Lissy, and Dave Boland were very much inspired by Brian Jones, Keith Richards, and Anita Pallenberg, and I read as much as I could about that particular love triangle, knowing that because this is fiction, and because I wasn’t actually there, I had the latitude to let my imagination run wild.

As you were learning more about Talitha Getty, what surprised you the most?

I hadn’t known that she spent the first years of her life in a Japanese internment camp. Her parents had moved to Java, the Dutch East Indies, for her father to paint, and when the Japanese invaded, all the Dutch were thrown into prison camps. It was deeply traumatic for her, and she covered up that trauma with this exuberant, huge, fun personality, but unresolved trauma doesn’t go away by itself, and the last couple of years of her life were hard. I also hadn’t understood how free love and sex were. Of course, I thought I knew what happened in the ‘60s, but so many of the bacchanalian feasts at the Gettys’ descended into wild orgiastic parties. It was fascinating to write about it from today’s perspective.

What was the experience of writing historical fiction like for you? Do you plan to write more?

I loved every minute. The research process was all-enveloping. For close to a year I lived, breathed, ate, and slept the ‘60s, the Rolling Stones, and Talitha Getty’s world. By the time I started writing, I felt like I was there, and having the facts at my fingertips made the writing so very much easier. I also loved learning through the research. I hadn’t understood, for example, why the swinging ‘60s happened: how London had been grey and dull recovering from the war, but England won the World Cup in 1966; the birth control pill was available to all in 1967; and finally, for the first time Britain had their own contemporary music. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones doused the country in color, energy, and vibrancy; I loved learning about all of it. I’m definitely planning more historical fiction. Right now, I’m working on a novella that is set in the late seventies.

Tell me about your protagonist, Claire. Did you base her on anyone from Talitha Getty’s life, or is she purely a product of your imagination?

My sweet protagonist, Cece, is entirely my creation, which was a pleasure, to drop a fictitious character into a real setting with real people. I grew up listening to stories of my parents and their friends, all of whom lived in London and went to clubs like the Ad Lib and the Scotch of St. James, and I mined them for information. My mother read the book and said it made her so incredibly nostalgic, which—particularly coming from my mother—is high praise indeed.

The novel immerses readers in the music, fashion, and art of the era. Do you have a particular affinity with the 1960s? How did you channel it so authentically?

I was born in 1968 and have long felt that I was born about 18 years too late. The early sixties, the mods, and Twiggy don’t speak to me in quite the same way as the late ‘60s and ‘70s, but there is something about the style, the freedom, the exploration, that makes me long to have been there as a young adult. Of course, I grew up with the music, and hearing it today sweeps me back to a time that in many ways was more innocent. I created a Spotify playlist to go along with the book, and it’s all I’ve been listening to.

You’re already such an accomplished author. In what ways did this novel challenge you that your previous books did not?

The discipline of research reminded me how much I love learning, and how important it is to keep doing so. Cold-calling and reaching out to friends of Talitha, or people who were there, was a challenge. The older I’ve gotten, the more introverted I have become, and reaching out to strangers is pretty much my idea of hell. Happily, a couple of those people have become friends, which is an unexpected delight. I was always cognizant that I was writing about real people, and had to capture who they were, even the hard parts. Bill Willis, for example, was an American decorator who renovated and designed their Marrakech palace. Originally from Tennessee, he could be charming and wonderful, but vicious when drunk. But even the characters who behaved badly found a place in my heart. I loved them all, and am enormously proud of this novel, in a way that is slightly different. It’s not that I’m not proud of my previous novels, but I feel that I got this one right, which has been corroborated by some of the people who were there. There is no better feeling than that.