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Guest blogger: Maya Linnell

1 December 2019

One of my favourite things about writing fiction is the freedom to add in whichever sub-plots take my fancy. As a keen baker, whose kitchen benches are regularly cluttered with brimming cake tins, wire racks full of cooling biscuits and an assortment of slices, it was a delight to weave a baking thread through my debut novel, Wildflower Ridge. And unlike journalism, I didn’t have to let the facts get in the way of a good story!

I don’t remember the baking theme being a deliberate inclusion, but somehow magic floated onto the page when my main character, Penny McIntyre, discovered her late mother’s recipe book. The career woman at the start of the story had no room for baking in her miniscule city apartment, shirking sugar as if it were strychnine. But when her world turns upside down and Penny has to return to the family farm, baking becomes the conduit to her rural roots.

Wildflower Ridge is set in western Victoria, with a backdrop of rolling green paddocks, redgum trees and the picturesque Grampians Mountain Range. As well as discovering her mother’s recipe book, Penny is coerced into baking therapy classes. I hadn’t heard of baking therapy until I met one of my favourite authors, Marian Keyes, in 2017. As well as being an amazing writer, Marian is a tireless campaigner for mental health and a staunch advocate for baking yourself happy. The best-selling Irish author told a sold-out audience at Geelong Library how the simple process of measuring, weighing and whisking helped her through depression. A cup of flour here, a couple of eggs there and a big scoop of purpose helped ease her anxious mind and offered tangible results. My imagination lit up like a switchboard on the 300 km drive home as I considered ways to thread this concept into my second draft. Before I knew it, baking had become one of the strongest themes in my rural romance, right alongside farm safety, sibling dynamics, country living and succession planning.

Like the treasured recipe book Penny flicks through, with puffs of flour arising each time she turns a page, I have fond memories of the recipe book of my childhood. My mum wasn’t a huge baker, unlike the fictional Annabel McIntyre in Wildflower Ridge, but our recipe book was crammed with recipes. There were magazine clippings for complicated dishes nobody dared attempt, recipes named after the generous sharer like ‘Karen’s Cobb Dip’ and recipes my grandmothers had sent me from New Zealand and Adelaide. These special recipes, written in distinctive cursive, had been sent with love, and were always baked with an extra scoop of tenderness. And then there were the recipes I’d cadged from friends whose lunchboxes made me green with envy. My favourite of these is a recipe I painstakingly copied at a sleepover, writing each ingredient in different coloured ink until my friend’s mother stepped in. I remember at the time being grateful for her assistance and speedy penmanship, but now I realise the woman probably wanted to fast-track the process so she could have her kitchen back to herself! Mrs Num’s Nutties are still one of my go-to recipes, thirty years later, and my own recipe books are overflowing with contributions that spark joy each time I pull out my apron and wooden spoon.

When my novel hit the shelves in June this year, I couldn’t help but bake away my nerves as I waited for the early reviews. To my delight, Wildflower Ridge received a warm welcome, and I was blown away by the many readers who were inspired to bake for the first time in years.

And then there was the other side of the coin. My father listened to Wildflower Ridge on audio book. Unfortunately for him, the plot was right on shearing time when he was fasting for a minor operation, with Penny baking around the clock to feed a team of hungry shearers. His stomach growled even louder at the mention of sausage rolls, lamingtons and scones, and he didn’t have quite the same appreciation for all those detailed scenes!

Do you also believe food is the language of love? I’d love to hear your suggestions on other books with baking themes. And if you’ve already read Wildflower Ridge, I can highly recommend Sandie Docker’s books, starting with the Kookaburra Creek Cafe, Kerry Greenwood’s series with the baker-turned-sleuth Corinna Chapman, or Joanne Fluke’s series featuring Hannah Swensen, the cookie store owner who shares her recipes at the end of each novel. Drop me a line via my website or follow my Instagram for a regular serve of country living, baking, books and gardening.

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. Her debut novel Wildflower Ridge was published by Allen & Unwin in June 2019 and gathers inspiration from her rural upbringing and the small communities she has always lived in and loved. Maya lives in country Victoria with her husband and three children.

You can find Maya here: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Wildflower Ridge

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.

Published by Allen & Unwin, Wildflower Ridge is rural fiction straight from the heart.

‘A moving tale of endings, beginnings and love. A page turner.’ Fleur McDonald, bestselling author

One Comment
  1. Maya Linnell permalink
    1 December 2019 3:30 pm

    Thanks very much for having me as your guest, romance readers! I hope Wildflower Ridge encourages a few of you dust off your wooden spoons and scone cutters xx

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