It my pleasure to welcome debut author Kirsty Manning to Mrs B’s Book Reviews for a Q & A session. This follows a review to come of Kirsty’s breathtaking first novel The Midsummer Garden on the blog. Kirsty is kindly offering one copy of her novel The Midsummer Garden to a lucky recipient. Scroll down to the close of this post for further details on how to win this prize.
About the author…
Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty’s journalism and photography specialising in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online.
In 2005, Kirsty and her husband, with two toddlers and a baby in tow, built a house in an old chestnut grove in the Macedon Ranges. Together, they planted an orchard and veggie patch, created large herbal ‘walks’ brimming with sage and rosemary, wove borders from chestnuts branches and constructed far too many stone walls by hand.
Kirsty loves cooking with her kids and has several large heirloom copper pots that do not fit anywhere easily, but are perfect for making (and occasionally burning) jams, chutneys and soups. With husband Alex Wilcox, Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne.
Q. The Midsummer Garden, your debut novel released earlier this year. Can you give us an outline of your book?
A. The Midsummer Garden brings to life the stories of two women across the ages, both tasked with preparing a wedding banquet.
The novel is set in two timeframes: medieval and contemporary. Artemisia, is a herbalist who holds a lowly position in the kitchen of a medieval French château. Pip Arnet is a young Australian marine biologist, struggling to find balance between ambition and identity, love and sacrifice.
When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a stirring, abundant celebration of love lost and found.
Q. What came first – the plot, characters, historical period or setting when you first set out to write The Midsummer Garden?
A. The setting. All my books start with a place. I’m that person who goes on holidays and wants to move wherever I go … and I’m always wondering who lived here … what happened?
The coastline of Tasmania is such a pristine location and we holiday there frequently. We fish, swim and forage for pippies and clams. It was the perfect place to open a novel.
The story begins on a windswept coastline of Tasmania and travels to Tuscany, Paris, the countryside France and the Basque region in Spain. It’s a classic coming-of-age tale with a touch of romance.
Q. Why did you decide to write a historical fiction novel with a dual timeline?
A. A.S. Byatt’s Possession is one of my favourite books. I love the way the mystery and love stories threaded and knotted their way through the plot. More recently, I’ve enjoyed Geraldine Brooks and Dominic Smith who are both masters of the genre.
I just find myself losing myself in dual timeframe books for hours on end. I thought, why not have a go at something I love to read?
Q. Which timeline was the most challenging to write?
A. It took me a while to find my medieval voice. It was all a bit ‘ye olde worlde’ when I started. I worked it a lot to feel light and natural! Funnily enough, people write to me a lot to tell me how they love the medieval section! Just goes to show you just have to concentrate on doing the work, not how it will be received.
Pip was challenging in a different way, because for a Western, contemporary, educated woman the obstacles are largely internal. She’s not physically constrained within any walls, like Artemisia, so I had to think carefully about how to present the challenges and contrast those with the medieval, so both stories were equally engaging.
Q. There is a marine biologist and a medieval herbalist in your novel. What research did you need to undertake to bring these characters to life?
A. I studied medieval recipes and even did some test cooks. I looked at medieval garden plans, tapestries and artwork along with ancient instructional texts for the running of households and banquets. There was a lot of herblore to learn, and rituals for medieval weddings.
For the contemporary section, I interviewed PhD students, marine biologists and a chef that worked in Spain!
Q. Cooking features significantly in The Midsummer Garden. Is this a pursuit you personally enjoy?
A. Yes. I love cooking simple, slow dishes for family and friends. Nothing too fussy as I prefer to relax, have a wine and chat than to be stressing out about the details, so the less pots the better! I’ll do a wet roast of lamb or chicken, and platters of vegetables and salads. I’m partial to baking a focaccia and a cake or tart.
My children and husband are all excellent cooks, so I prefer to even more when they cook!
We love tasting different foods when we travel and we are also partners in a wine bar/ restaurant in South Melbourne, called Bellota (http://bellota.com.au/).
Q. In order to mentally prepare for the setting of your novel, did you spend time at each of the locations featured in the book?
A. The book was based on past travel experiences. We’ve holidayed in Paris and Chalus (near the chateau that inspired the book), my husband did do vintage in Tuscany at Tenuta di Valgiano just outside Lucca. I didn’t travel specifically for this story (I wish!) – It was more a case of putting together little pieces that moved me. Most of it was written from memory …
I did take a specific research trip for next year’s book, however, as there were some specific factors I needed to check.
Q. Overall, how long did it take you to write The Midsummer Garden?
A. Probably two years if we count the three-month writing course where I developed the concept. But there was a lot of stop-starting for that first year. So I’d say twelve months in earnest.
Q. I just love the cover of your novel, were you involved in the design process? Is the final product what you envisioned for your book?
A. Thank you! I didn’t really have a set idea for the cover. I mused on having a garden, or some herbs on the cover. Instead, I used some key words like warmth, whimsy and tactile. Having said that, the cover serves a different purpose to the text and it’s really a marketing decision. The publisher wants people to pick up the book, so sometimes it is better just to leave it to the publisher. I trust them to know the market.
This cover came to me fully formed. I had nothing to say, except thank you! My favourite bit is the gold foil of the herb Artemisia weaving across the spine. It’s a special touch, a very special nod to my main character and Mother of Herbs.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a published author?
A. I did an online writing course to get the toolkit needed to write a novel. Writing really is a craft and the tutoring was invaluable.
I knew that to be a commercial author, I probably needed to look at a book a year for the first bit, so I set that parameter to see if I could manage that. I then used a writing mentor and editor (being a freelance journalist, I really needed to impose a deadline and someone to write to!).
My book was picked up by an agent, who sent my manuscript out on submission to quite a few publishers. I had a day of speed dating in Sydney, where I met each publisher and talked through ideas for the book. (Publishing people are an extraordinary bunch. So generous.)
Then the book went to auction, and before I knew it was down to the business of rewriting and editing with the incredible crew at Allen & Unwin.
There’s a lot of hands that have been over the book by the time it is published, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has given me feedback.
Q. Do you have any writing projects in the pipeline that you would like to share with us?
A. I’m just about to tuck myself away and do the editing for my second novel (title TBC). It’s a much bigger book in some ways.
Book Two is a tale about the shifting identities of countries and cities, and the barriers that lie between friends, family and enemies when they are forced to choose between duty, friendship and love.
It spans two timeframes, one being a war. Part of it is set in Asia. Readers who enjoyed The Midsummer Garden will enjoy the food, gardens and travel. Once again, this story started with an extraordinary setting.
My thanks are extended to Kirsty Manning for this Q & A. Connect with Kirsty here:
Giveaway time! Kirsty has a copy of The Midsummer Garden to give away to one lucky reader of Mrs B’s Book Reviews. All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post (or my linked Facebook Page post) below before 12pm August 3rd! Good luck! And if this Q & A enticed you to read The Midsummer Garden, here is the blurb:
From medieval France to contemporary Tasmania, two remarkable women discover their strengths, passions and loves.Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.
1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the Chateau. But who will she trust?
2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.
When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.