Dear little Maya,
I see you there, in the dark old lounge room at Tantanoola, running your little finger along the bookshelf. Will it be Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon or Enid Blyton today? I’m watching you flop down on the saggy old couch to read, and I want to give you a heads up – one day, you’ll be the one telling the stories. That’s right, Maya. But before I get to the good bit, we’re going to take a little detour down the path that leads to that magical point.
Books have always been your thing, and they always will be your thing. In fact, you’ll read so many books as a child, you’ll turn it into a hustle and raise copious amounts of money for the MS Read-a-Thon. You’ll never win any special awards for sports, but by golly, you’ll get good at convincing your parent’s friends to pledge $1 per book. That is, until they work out you’re a little speed reader with a slightly competitive streak!
You’re going to have a great group of friends throughout school, ones that love reading too, and are happy to swap Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, Judy Blume and then Sweet Valley High Novels. When high school comes, you’ll find they aren’t as keen on the romance novels as you. They won’t love the John Grisham thrillers you adore either, but you’ll bond over the books you study in class – old texts by Shakespeare, John Steinbeck and George Orwell that seemed so stale back then, but in retrospect provided a great balance to the pop fiction you devoured.
Your girlfriends will also keep you writing – day in, day out – as a teenager. You will write thousands of notes to one another throughout high school, all folded up in intricate designs and beautifully decorated with butterflies and flowers. As pretty as they looked on the outside, you’ll later rediscover those notes and raise your eyebrows at some of the content. There will be undying declarations of love, teenage angst and murderous thoughts about your parents’ who did a darn good job of keeping you all on the right track. Don’t be too horrified to learn all those long-winded notes and your teenage diaries went into the fire when your parents sold that leaky old stone house. It was your doing, not theirs. Heaven forbid your children (who were toddlers at the time) or your parents (who probably read them long ago) ever read about your teenage antics and crushes!
Having a journalist as a father means there will always be talk about writing around the kitchen table, loads of encouragement to read widely and your opinion sought on possible answers to crossword questions. Spoiler alert – Dad knows the answers, but you’ll later thank him for the vocabulary expansion and love of words. As you get older, you’ll be regularly asked to proofread his articles before they are sent to motorcycle magazines across the globe, giving you an eye for typos and a pretty good understanding of bikes.
You could have followed his journalist route right out of high school. You had a family friend at a local paper who urged you to apply for the vacant position, who would have handed you the job if you’d wanted it, but the bright lights beckoned. It won’t be until you live on the other side of the world, that you’ll come to realise the power of sharing stories. September 11 will remain etched in everyone’s memory as the most significant and scariest terrorist attack in history, but for you, it will pave the way for your new career. Your letters back to Australia and updates from your Connecticut home, just 40 minutes from NYC Twin Towers attack, will be turned into a newspaper article and your thirst for the printed word will take on a new shape. A longing. And soon enough, a reality.
The journalism job you passed up two years earlier has gone, but a cadetship will open up at another newspaper not long after you arrive home. You’ll whoop with delight down the phone, much to the editor’s amusement, and you’ll set to work covering all manner of rural news. From sheep auctions and netball results to fatal accidents and a highly commended series on mental health; you’ll cover it all. It might be small, but that newspaper will be the best place to begin your writing career.
And then, when you hear about a national fiction writing competition for YouthWeek, you’ll write about that time you shovelled cow poo to fundraise for an overseas holiday, and you’ll win. That’s right, the true tale of 12-year-old entrepreneurial spirit will earn you a trip to Ayer’s Rock, a week of work experience at Girlfriend magazine, and teach you it’s okay to write what you know.
Now I don’t want to freak you out, but you’ll get sick after your first child is born. Yes, you’ll have babies. But yes, you’ll also get sick. Really sick. Dangerously sick. But you’ll get better again, and it’ll be novels by Marian Keyes that will drag you through that rough period and then books like Twilight and the Hunger Games that will remind you how much you love reading and rekindle your literary spirit. And even better, you’ll start writing again. Not much, but enough to remind you that you are a writer. And even though you are in the thick of being a mum, you’ve still got, and will always have, the ability to write.
I won’t go into the technical aspects of how you wrote a book or that fabulous process of getting published, but trust me; you’ll write a story about a country girl who runs away from her country upbringing, and in 2018 you’ll find a lovely publisher who shares your dream.
And then one day, when all your children are at school you, my darling, will get an extraordinary delivery. That book you’ve been working on for the last three years is now a novel called Wildflower Ridge. You’ll film yourself opening the package and holding your book for the very first time. You’ll feel like a bit of a twit and in the years to come probably curse yourself for sharing such a special moment on social media, but it will be one of the best feelings in the world. You’re going to bring that book to your nose, bury your face in the pages and sniff it. And it will smell almost as good as the scent of baby shampoo on the top of your newborn’s head – and your eyes will start welling up at the enormity of it all.
You’ll run your fingers across the pages, over your name printed so boldly on the front cover, down the spine and over that page with all the technical details, marvelling especially at the part that says Copyright ©Maya Linnell 2019. You’ve never paid much attention to that page in other people’s books, but in your own, it’s pretty darn special.
And here you are now, sitting at the keyboard writing this all down in case you forget this feeling, trying not to cry again because you don’t want to smudge the freshly printed pages or have red eyes for the school assembly.
This fantastic dream that you can only imagine as a young child is all ahead of you. And I can tell you; you’re going to do just fine.
Lots of love, your ridiculously proud, advance copy-holding, book-sniffing, happy-crying, now late for the school assembly, adult self.
Written March 15, 2019 – the afternoon the advance copy arrived.
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. Maya currently lives in rural Victoria with her husband and children.
Wildflower Ridge is published by Allen and Unwin. Purchase your copy here.
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