Maya Linnell grew up in a small country town, climbing towering gum trees and reading her way through her family’s bookshelves before discovering a never-ending supply of novels at the local library. She found her feet in journalism, working at a rural newspaper before segueing into public relations and now fiction writing and blogging for Romance Writers Australia. Wildflower Ridge is her debut novel and gathers inspiration from her rural upbringing and the small communities she has always lived in and loved.
Today, she answers Booktopia’s Ten Terrifying Questions…
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was raised on the outskirts of Tantanoola, a tiny town close to the South Australian-Victorian border. With our closest neighbours a kilometre away, an old television that only offered two stations and a strict ‘play outside unless it’s pouring rain’ rule, my childhood was full of climbing trees, tadpole hunting, pretending to be Nicole Kidman from BMX Bandits, tearing around a paddock on a horse or motorbike and reading. Always lots of reading. Inside, outside, and even straddling the branches of my favourite gum tree. I loved school and attended a beautiful rural primary school with 80 children before heading onto Millicent High School. My journalism and post-cadet studies were done by correspondence through Country Press Australia and Deakin University.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve, I knew I wanted to write or get paid to read all day. I devoured anything I could get my hands on, giving equal attention to classics like Black Beauty and Gone with the Wind, as I did to authors like Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton. It wasn’t long before I was swept up with the popular 80s fiction novels, especially Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins and the Baby-Sitter’s Club. I had a poem published in some ridiculously expensive poetry anthology when I was in high school and felt the pain of the red pen when my first magazine submission was reshaped by a That’s Life editor so it read from my father’s perspective instead of my own. The $50 cheque greatly soothed my wounded teenage pride.
At age eighteen, I was interested in any job that ferried me away from the small country town I’d grown up in. A short stint in hospitality morphed into a year as an American au pair. When the Twin Tower attacks occurred just 40 minutes away from my base in Connecticut, I realised there were worse places to be than in a small South Australian country town. It also paved the way for my career in journalism. The email updates I sent home to my family morphed into a newspaper article and I knew, more than ever, that I wanted to write for a living. I hunted down a cadetship on my return home with the South Eastern Times Newspaper.
At 30 I was completely immersed in motherhood. I was a stay at home mum with a newborn, a toddler and plans for at least one more. At that stage, I wasn’t thinking about my career. I’d just gotten my mojo back after a shocking illness in 2008 that taught me to slow down, put away my to-do list and just be. I was still writing occasionally – an article I wrote for the PANDA website was perhaps the most important piece I’ve ever written – but at that point, I didn’t have any solid careers goals beyond raising my children and staying healthy.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I was very black and white as a teenager, and I remember thinking ‘if you were a good person, you made good choices, and good things came your way’. Conversely, I reckoned if someone had a terrible life, it was a direct reflection of bad decisions and poor choices they’d made. With an extra two decades under my belt, and especially as a parent, I can see the many shades of grey that shape a person’s life and like to think I’ve got a more rounded, empathetic and realistic view of the world.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Because I read so many books when I was young, I lost track of them all. But at age 30, when I was spending hours upon hours feeding my newborn daughter throughout the night, I listened to Anne of Green Gables on audiobook. The storyline was like the return of an old friend, the words and scenes so familiar. Even though I didn’t remember reading it as a young girl, my brain knew the story. It was a beautiful symmetry reading it aloud to my daughter last year, and watching her fall in love with young Anne, her eternal optimism and enthusiastic imagination. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ability to draw in readers, over a century later, is remarkable and sets the bar high for writers of all ages.
“Fur Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven
When I lived in Connecticut, one of the children I looked after was learning “Fur Elise” on the piano. I listened to that song being played so many times, with the acoustics of a beautiful big house, that it’s imprinted on my mind as an example of determination. I still get the shivers when I hear that piece.
“Indian Outlaw” by Tim McGraw
I’ve always had eclectic musical taste, but there was one genre I scorned in my younger years – country. I used to think it added injury on insult to actually come from the country and like country music. That was until I lived in America. As a 20-year-old, bars and nightclubs were off limits but there was one venue – a country music bar in Walcott – that was happy to turn a blind eye to minors. Another Aussie nanny dragged me along and my reluctance quickly transformed into gratitude. Here were all these people my age and a world of modern country music that was a far cry from Slim Dusty and Kenny Rogers. It rapidly became my favourite weekend destination. I discovered Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks, and Shania Twain, racing onto the dance floor as soon as “Indian Outlaw” came on. It made me reassess my opinion of country music and country living as a whole. When I returned to Australia, I sought out the CDs of all these artists, eventually hosting a country music radio program called Boots and All, where I played and interviewed modern country artists like Lee Kernaghan, Troy Cassar-Daley, and the Sunny Cowgirls. These songs shaped my twenties, reinvigorated my love of rural living and put me on the path to rural fiction writing. I couldn’t help but scatter several country music references throughout Wildflower Ridge.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Without even realising it, I’ve always written about major points in my life. I’ve got scrapbooks full of newspaper articles, magazine articles, online blog posts that tell the different pieces of my past. But as well as journaling my own life experiences, I always dreamed of one day seeing my book on a library shelf, of running my fingers down the spine of a novel that had my name printed on it. As much as I love sewing, gardening, and baking as hobbies, I’ve never considered a career in those fields.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
Wildflower Ridge is a rural romance set in western Victoria. Penny McIntyre loves her life as an ambitious city professional, with a marketing team at her fingertips and a promotion just within reach. So when she’s floored by a mystery illness and ordered back to the family farm for three months’ rest and recuperation, she is horrified to find her perfect life imploding.
Within days, Penny has to leave her much-loved job, her live-in boyfriend, and her beloved city apartment… to return to the small country town in which she grew up. Back to her dad and three sisters, one of whom has never forgiven her for abandoning her family. And to her ex-boyfriend, Tim Patterson, who was the biggest reason she ran in the first place.
When Penny’s father is injured in a farming accident and Tim campaigns to buy the property, she must choose between the city life she loves and the farming dream she buried long ago. Wildflower Ridge is rural fiction straight from the heart.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
That country living can be wonderful if you’re prepared to give it a chance.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Since joining Romance Writers Australia, I’ve been blown away by the kindness, generosity, and encouragement among the writing community, and I’ve made some wonderful friends. I don’t like picking favourites, but my utmost admiration goes to Rachael Johns, who continues to write wonderful books, finds the time to encourage aspiring authors like myself, and happily shares her trials and triumphs via social media, as well as wrangling three sons. Rachael’s novels spring to mind almost every time a friend asks me for a reading recommendation, and I’m thrilled when they tell me they can’t put her books down either.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Given this is my first book, I’m mindful of keeping my expectations in check, but I’d love to keep writing until I’ve run out of stories.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Do your research! There’s so much information available online and luckily for us, it’s easier than ever to get the low-down on your genre, your ideal readers, publishers and agents, and how-to advice from published authors. I picked up so many writing tips from podcasts, YouTube interviews, author events, and online courses that helped me on my path to publication. Of course, it’s up to you to sit down and write the book, but if you arm yourself with enough ‘how to’ information, you can streamline your journey.
Four sisters, one farm and a second chance at following your heart.
Penny McIntyre loves her life as an ambitious city professional, with a marketing team at her fingertips and a promotion just within reach. So when she's floored by a mystery illness, and ordered back to the family farm for three months' rest and recuperation, she is horrified to find her perfect life imploding. Within days, Penny has to leave her much-loved job, her live-in boyfriend, and her beloved city apartment… to return to the small country town in which she grew up. Back to her dad and three sisters, one of whom has never forgiven her for abandoning her family. And to her ex-boyfriend, Tim Patterson, who was the biggest reason she ran in the first place...