One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Where did the inspiration for your book come from?”
I’ve written about this question before because sometimes it’s not a simple one to answer. But in the case of Wildflower, it is.
It’s probably no surprise to read that Wildflower was inspired by a flower – the acacia flower, more commonly known in Australia as the wattle.
I took the above photo while bushwalking in Western Australia and loved it so much I set it as my desktop background. Whenever I sat down at the laptop, that pop of yellow drew my eye. One afternoon, when I sat down to write, these words came to me:
Acacia Miller blew in and out of our lives on a warm summer wind.
This sentence was the start of a short story called “Wildflower” I submitted to a writing competition back in 2015.
At that time, I had no idea who Acacia was or who the narrator was. But slowly, a story unfolded organically, of an intense friendship between two young girls (Jane and Acacia) underpinned by common knowledge events that no one was supposed to talk about. A story that explored the idea of minding your own business. I didn’t plot it, I just let the characters take me where the story had to go.
That short story didn’t make the shortlist (or the longlist) and, oh, I still remember the crushing sense of disappointment when the news came. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer, after all.
Eventually I overcame that crisis of self-doubt and drafted (and redrafted) what would be my debut novel, Wherever You Go. And I wrote other short stories that were published in anthologies – rom coms that were fun to write, yet were fleeting friends.
Over that time, “Wildflower” – and Acacia as a character – stayed with me. I can’t explain it, but I knew, even in its raw state, it had something, and my mind returned to the story often, even after I changed that desktop image.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that this story needed to be told.
Eventually, I pulled the short story from the Drawer of Shattered Dreams, and re-read it while Wherever You Go was resting. By the end, I still had that same feeling about the story, but I also knew that it needed work.
Where had I gone wrong in its telling? Or, more specifically, what did I need to learn to be a better writer?
So, in March 2016, I decided to go back to the judge of that competition – writer, editor and mentor Laurie Steed – and pay for a manuscript assessment. I asked him, “What could have made this story stand out? What could have made this story excellent in your editorial opinion?”
It’s probably one of the best investments I’ve made as a writer, because from his excellent and insightful feedback (which I still have in my notes) came a suggestion – why not turn this into a novella or a novel?
I hadn’t even considered that.
But I kept coming back to this – Acacia’s story had to be told.
Trust the story.
And so, I embarked on a much longer journey of turning a 3000-word story into a novel of nearly 90,000 words. It’s been a journey of love and tears, of cutting and shaping, of questioning and answering. Of telling myself to trust the story, even when I didn’t trust myself.
In the meantime, while drafts were resting, I published my debut novel. When it was time to write again, the pandemic had sapped my ability to write the follow-up story I believed readers wanted.
It didn’t happen. For months I played with words and scenes and plot lines … to no avail.
That’s when I realised Wildflower was calling once more. It was time.
I changed my desktop picture back to that gorgeous acacia flower and began revising once more. And a few months later, I submitted the manuscript to my publisher.
The first sentence is not the same, but many of the scenes from that original story remain, changed somewhat in scope and pace though still recognisable when seen side by side. The title has never changed.
In five weeks, Wildflower will be published by Pilyara Press. And from the stunning cover designed by Lorena Carrington to the words inside, the original inspiration, the acacia flower, is clear.
I can’t wait to share it with you.
Pre-order Wildflower here.
Perth readers – find out more about my book launch here.