Hello! Happy first Sunday of Advent! This week passed in an absolute blur for me, but I’m looking forward to the next week and seeing in December – I have this week off work and I’m looking forward to some reading and movie watching and maybe some baking if it isn’t too hot!
Speaking of books and Christmas, tonight I am excited to have my next guest popping by to chat about all things festive – it’s lovely Aussie author Maya Linnell. I loved chatting Christmas with Maya here on the blog in 2018, so I was delighted when she agreed to come back again! Read on below for our Christmassy Q&A.
Hi Maya! Welcome back! Last time you joined me on the blog to talk about Christmas you were preparing for the release of your first novel, Wildflower Ridge. This year your second book baby, Bottlebrush Creek entered the world. The books follow the stories of the McIntyre sisters. Can you please tell us a little bit about your books, and what inspired you to write them?
Thanks so much for having me, Bron! Yes, it feels like time has flown past and I’m now thrilled to have two books out in the world. Both are rural fiction titles with Allen & Unwin, set in western Victoria, and centring around the McIntyre family. Wildflower Ridge (released June 2019) focusses on Penny McIntyre and her journey home to the family farm after living in Melbourne, with baking, family dynamics, romance and succession planning in the mix. Bottlebrush Creek (released June 2020) is all about Angie McIntyre, the youngest of the four sisters, and how she tackles a fixer-upper project with her partner Rob. There’s troublesome tradies, cute calves, dahlias and a mother-in-law that lives right next door. I had so much fun writing them both, and love incorporating things that are special to me, like cooking, family, country living and farm animals. I’m always inspired by my surrounds, as we live in a beautiful part of rural Victoria, and the themes are close to my heart, especially the owner builder angle in Bottlebrush Creek.
I love a good festive scene in a book, and the Christmas you wrote for Bottlebrush Creek is an absolute cracker. I can’t talk about my absolute favourite part of it, because spoilers! But I am curious to know whether you prefer a traditional Christmas lunch, or do you like to put a more relaxed twist on it like Angie and Rob?
That’s so kind of you Bron, the Bottlebrush Christmas scene was one of my favourites to write, and I must admit I got the warm fuzzies as I wrote the part about the Christmas pudding. Family recipes are just so special, aren’t they? I’ve been making my mother-in-law’s Christmas pudding for many years, and I’ve also taken over the pudding making from my 92-year-old grandmother on my side of the family (I think I’ll need a double batch to feed all the Linnells gathering together this Christmas).
I love to follow a few treasured traditions for Christmas, like making gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, sweet treats for our neighbours and eating Christmas pudding, but I’m flexible with the food we serve on Christmas Day. Most years we have ham and cheese croissants for brekky and then special treats that we wouldn’t normally buy year-round – like mango, prawns, mussels, squid, calamari – for lunch. Some years I’ve cooked a proper roast turkey for dinner, others we’ve enjoyed with my family or my husband’s family. There will always be champagne too, and I’ve already got my favourite sparkling – from the Tasmania brand Jansz – chilling in the fridge.
Pavlovas are a December staple too, perfect for taking to all the Christmas functions, although I’m not sure there will be quite as many functions this year! I recommend Nigella’s chocolate pav (which I’m taking to a friend’s for dessert tonight) and her lemon pavlova. Mmmm mmm!
Do you like to read seasonal books, and do you have a favourite Christmas story or book?
Previously I’ve kept Christmas festivities to a strict ‘December-only’ schedule but this year I broke my own rule and started reading Sandy Barker’s new novel ‘The Christmas Swap’ in late November. I’m loving the light-hearted escapism and it’s such a fun, easy Christmassy read (keep an eye out for my interview with Sandy on the Romance Writers Australia blog on Dec 21!). I’ve also been eying off William McInnes’ new novel Making Merry, which looks like a fun exploration of Aussie Christmas traditions.
As a child, I always loved Christmas books and movie in all shapes and sizes, especially the Mercer Mayer book ‘Merry Christmas Mum & Dad’ and the beautifully illustrated version of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ I had as a little girl, which I’ve enjoyed reading to my kids over the years.
Is there a particular book you’d love to find under your Christmas tree this year?
Hehe – I always have a list a mile long TBR for my Christmas books, but this year I’m hoping Santa will bring me Tricia Stringer’s story ‘The Family Inheritance’ and Kyle Perry’s ‘The Bluffs.’ I love all of Tricia’s books and I’ve heard great things about Kyle’s debut too.
Do you have a favourite book you’ve read this year that you’ll be recommending (or giving as a Christmas present!) to everyone you know?
I find it so hard to pick favourites, but I recently finished Trent Dalton’s new novel ‘All Our Shimmering Skies’ and the world of Molly Hook has stayed with me for weeks, so that’s in the shopping cart, and Victoria Purman’s new historical ‘The Women’s Pages’ is another fab story that I know will be well-loved.
Can you share a favourite Christmas tradition or memory, or recipe?
We’ve been making rum balls and Nuts & Bolts as neighbourhood Christmas gifts for many, many years, and I think we eat just as many as we give away. For the rum balls, you just crumble up a store-bought fruit cake, moisten it with rum (or OJ if you’re making them for kids) until you can roll into a ball and they hold their shape. Spoon a little melted white chocolate on top and add some sliced up red and green snakes for the holly and voilá. The nuts and bolts are just as easy, with a packet of Nutri-grain, a packet of French onion soup mix, a little veggie oil, curry powder, paprika, peanuts and pretzels, cooked on low in the slow cooker for several hours (don’t forget to stir every hour or so).
I’m a huge fan of cooking from scratch, but these treats are a once-a-year delight!
Finally, I’ve seen on Instagram that you recently finished structural edits on your next novel (YAY!). Can you tell us a bit about it?
Yes!! There’s always so much work that goes into a book before it hits the shelves, and I find the structural edits are the hardest part, so it was a huge relief to get them out the door. Magpie’s Bend will be out next June, and we’ll follow along as Lara McIntyre tries to save the Bridgefield General Store with the help of her family and a newspaper journalist called Toby. It’s been a great story to write and I’m thrilled to know readers are looking forward to catching up with the McIntyre family again.
Thanks so much for your time!
Always lovely talking books (and Christmas) with you Bron! Thanks for having me x
Big thanks to Maya for joining me on the blog tonight! I always love catching up with Maya and seeing what’s happening in her kitchen and garden, as well as behind the scenes peeks at her writing, on her Instagram account! I’m looking forward to getting my hands (eyes) on Magpie’s Bend next year!
Author Bio: Maya Linnell
Maya Linnell was recently shortlisted as the ARRA 2019 Favourite Debut Author and Favourite Australian Romance Author for her rural romance debut Wildflower Ridge. Bottlebrush Creek is her second novel, and both stories gather inspiration from her rural upbringing and the small communities she has always lived in and loved.
A former country journalist and PR writer, Maya now prefers the world of fiction over fact and blogs for Romance Writers Australia. She loves baking up a storm, tending to her rambling garden, and raising three little bookworms. Maya lives on a small property in country Victoria with her family, her menagerie of farm animals and the odd snake or two. Follow her on her blog, Instagram or Facebook @maya.linnell.writes
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.
Between managing a bustling beauty salon, hectic volunteer commitments and the lion’s share of parenting two-year-old Claudia, Angie McIntyre barely has time to turn around. And with each passing month, she feels her relationship with fly-in, fly-out boyfriend Rob Jones slipping through her fingers. When Rob faces retrenchment, and the most fabulous fixer-upper comes onto the market, Angie knows it will be the perfect project to draw their little family together.
The weatherboard cottage is as charming as it is derelict, with established fruit trees, enough room for Angie’s dream garden and wide, open spaces for young Claudia. Having handled an unexpected pregnancy with relative ease, Angie and Rob think they’re up for the challenge of renovating. There’s just one catch; the 200-acre property is right next door to Rob’s parents in south-west Victoria.
It doesn’t take long for rising tensions to set a wedge between the hard-working couple. Instead of drawing them closer together, Angie and Rob have to find out the hard way whether their grand design will be the very thing that tears them apart.