Country shows, baking and scarecrows with Maya Linnell
Have you ever been to a country show and marvelled at the tables of mouth-watering baked goods, luscious flowers, fresh produce, and the kind of fancywork that inspires you to learn crochet? Or perhaps you’ve gone for the poultry and petting zoos, enjoyed a dagwood dog with sauce or freshly-spun fairy floss, and returned home with happy kids and an armful of showbags? Or maybe you’ve plucked up the courage to enter something on the day and scored yourself a ribbon. Either way, country shows are a feast for the eyes and senses, and a gold mine for an opportunistic writer.
My love of country shows started early, entering handwriting and floral arrangements in the local show as a little girl. When my children were old enough to enjoy the fanfare, it became a much-anticipated feature on our family calendar and over the years, we’ve contributed scones and sourdough, scarecrows and sewing, flowers and photos. These experiences formed the backdrop for my new novel, Kookaburra Cottage. My green-thumbed main character, April Lacey, is a regular blue-ribbon winner in the produce section, but there’s a good reason she steers clear of the baking categories. Our leading man, British winemaker Connor Jamison, is just as clueless in the kitchen, renowned in his family for burning water, but when the local show faces a downturn in entries, pride must take a back seat!
Kookaburra Cottage is set in the fictional South Australian town of Penwarra (loosely modelled on Penola and Coonawarra). As with all my books, I love using real experiences, settings, and people to flavour the plot, so we crossed the Vic/SA border and headed to Penola’s annual show last spring, admired the entries, and noted the similarities and differences in the small shows we’ve enjoyed over the years.
Writing this subplot allowed me to draw upon my happiest show memories, cringe-worthy moments when entries have flopped and acknowledge the mammoth volunteer effort it takes to put on a show each year. It also highlights the reality of country shows struggling to stay afloat.
If you’re a regular country show goer, I hope my new novel brings back fond memories, or if you’ve never been to one of these joyous events, then please enjoy your trip to the fictional town of Penwarra and feel the excitement (and nerves) as the characters prepare for their big day!
Limestone Coast horticulturalist April Lacey is determined to lead her family’s winery into the future. She dreams of opening a bed and breakfast at Lacewing Estate, but soon discovers the crumbling historic building and her father’s reluctance to join the food tourism revolution are just the beginning of her uphill battle.
English winemaker Connor Jamison has travelled to South Australia’s iconic wine region to learn from the experts and carve a name for himself in the industry. However, it quickly becomes clear that no matter how many miles Connor puts between himself and the accident that flipped his world, the past keeps nipping at his heels.
Can April’s fresh ideas save Lacewing Estate from folding or will they be a fool’s folly? And will Connor’s fierce loyalty come back to haunt him?
United by cooking classes, music and an unexpected involvement in the Penwarra Country Show, April and Connor seem like the perfect match, but with old flames, new challenges and careers conspiring to keep them apart, can this pair forge their own path together?
*As originally published on the Australian Romance Readers blog June 4, 2023