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  • Writer's pictureMaya Linnell

FABULOUS FICTION with Stella Quinn & guest Maya Linnell

As originally published on Romance Writers Australia Blog - June 22, 2022

Welcome to Fabulous Fiction, which celebrates books so good, you just want to hug them when you’re done reading.

From country show baking to raising orphaned lambs, bestselling author Maya Linnell writes about the life she lives and loves. A keen bookworm, wannabe flower farmer and former rural journalist, Maya also hosts a monthly online show called Library Lovers, for the digital app Libby OverDrive. She lives in rural Victoria with a menagerie of animals, sweeping gardens, three young bookworms and the odd tiger snake or three.

For those of us in the RWA community, we have been on the sidelines cheering on as Maya’s author career has unfolded. We’ve watched her have scone bake-offs, hit bestseller lists, and cheered her on as her rural stories have captured the hearts of readers all over Australia.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Paperbark Hill from Maya’s publisher, Allen and Unwin, and it is the reason I have been bleary-eyed in the mornings this week, as I have been staying up way past my bed time reading about Diana and Ned and All Those Kids.

The glossy cover with that gorgeous hut (I’m calling it: this photo could become as iconic as Craig’s Hut) was incentive enough to dive right in, and my heart was won in the early chapters by Ned’s little girl, Willow, who is disappointed by a change in plan but can see her dad is suffering: “with a steady hand, she put a line through the itinerary she’d so carefully written and illustrated and tucked the book back into the glovebox.” This line set the tone of the book for me … two adults struggling with the emotions of the past discover they have so many reasons to look forward to new, happier, whole-hearted emotions in their future, and those six kids and teenagers they’re wrangling are not only the reason they need to try, but also the inspiration. Let’s find out some more about Maya and her fabulous fiction …

STELLA: Tell us a little about your book, Maya

Diana McIntyre and her four boys have had a tough eighteen months but with the love and support of her family, she believes their lives are finally back on track. Diana’s dream of starting a flower farm has been the perfect diversion, with an elderly dahlia expert showing her the ropes. She won’t have to do this alone.

Locum pharmacist and single dad Ned Gardiner hasn’t called Victoria home for years. However his father’s death forces Ned to return to the family farm, a place that holds few happy memories for him. Dealing with his estranged mother and sorting his father’s affairs, he plans on leaving as soon as possible, but what will it take for Ned to put down roots?

With six children between them, can this pair juggle families, farms and the possibility of a blossoming romance?

STELLA: Did you research or fact check anything interesting while you were writing it?

MAYA: There were so many neat things that needed researching in this story, from the official uniform of Northern Territory park rangers and weaning habits of kittens to naming protocols of dahlia breeders, cabin specs for Antarctic ice breakers and advice for family members battling grief and addiction. I love how each story takes me down new and unexpected rabbit holes!

STELLA: How much say did you have in the cover? The title?

MAYA: I still haven’t stopped smiling about the cover of Paperbark Hill. With the last two books, I saw early cover roughs and was asked for input on the cover models, which was exciting. And then in January, my publisher Annette from Allen & Unwin, and amazing cover designer Nada Backovic surprised me with the choice of two cover models and two backgrounds, including a photo of MY garden taken from my Instagram page. I was gobsmacked and utterly delighted. Of course, I chose the garden option and then snapped a zillion more photos, so they had an even better angle with even more flowers. And the title is always an interesting one. Up until December, the manuscript was called Rosella Hill, but my publishers thought it needed tweaking, so after a week of workshopping a new title, we settled on Paperbark Hill.

STELLA: Did the writing of this story come easily or was every word chipped from your breastbone (as the author of Tarka the Otter is reported to have said)?

MAYA: Ha! Every previous book seems easy in comparison to the one I’m working on. I’ve just finished the first draft of my 2023 novel, and it seems like such a horrid mess in comparison to the polished and copy-edited version of Paperbark Hill I last read. Luckily, my husband gently reminds me that I’ve been scathing about every first draft I’ve ever written, (including Paperbark Hill), and the magic happens in the second draft stage when I pull the loose threads together and weed out the excess plots. Even with four published books under my belt, I still need reminding to trust in the process!

STELLA: Okay, normally I ask authors if they upped their social media game with the release of their book – but this is Maya we’re talking to! Her social media game is stratospheric! Instead I’ll ask: how do you keep coming up with ideas for such fun posts? [Who tied you up and threw you across the train tracks??] Is confidence a prerequisite for having a good social media presence, or can introverts crack it too?

MAYA: Oh, that’s lovely of you Stella, thanks. I go through stages when I have lots of ideas for content and a backlog of gorgeous photos just begging for a place on my IG grid, and then other weeks I’ll be scratching my head for new ideas or photos. I try to make my social media account a fun place to be, so sometimes the silly reels are good to break things up. And yes, my husband was very nervous about filming me ‘tied’ to the railway tracks (see video here), but I promised I’d vouch for his innocence if the police rolled up mid-filming! Confidence helps, as does not being afraid to laugh at yourself.

STELLA: I know you’ll have events planned for your launch (covid willing) … what’s an event you’re looking forward to, and bonus points for a fun author promo disaster story J

MAYA: After two years of making plans only to cancel them, I was cautious with this year’s book tour and only arranged a handful of events for Paperbark Hill. I’m super excited for my first Melbourne event at Casey Cardinia Libraries in Narre Warren, with librarian Janine Kimberley. Janine’s such an enthusiastic ambassador for new authors and championed my novels right from the start, so it will be lovely speaking in conversation on June 27.

STELLA: Melbournites takes note!

STELLA: Why will readers love your book?

MAYA: Hopefully, they’ll love the final chapter in the McIntyre sisters’ stories because it wraps up the four novels, and contains the key things readers tell me they like best in my novels – baking, gardening, family, furry friends and country charm! There’s an extra emphasis on dahlias in this novel, given that it’s set on a micro-flower farm (and my slight dahlia addiction).

STELLA: What’s the best thing a reader could do for you to help your book reach new readers?

MAYA: Spread the word high and low! Word of mouth is one of the best ways you can help an emerging author – tell your librarian, your book store owner, your neighbour, your book club, your workmates, your family and even your enemies about Paperbark Hill. It costs absolutely nothing and makes a big difference!

STELLA: Do you have a favourite genre to read? To write?

MAYA: I write rural fiction because it’s the life I live, therefore the characters, scenes and setting come relatively easily. And I love to read widely, from romance and comedy to commercial fiction, thrillers, historicals and occasionally the odd non-fiction title.

STELLA: Do you have “must haves” in a book for you to love reading it?

MAYA: I need to see the characters working towards their happy ending, and I like justice served for the bad guys. My favourite books are those that teach me something new, make me laugh or push me to question my perceptions.

STELLA: Have you ever caught the bingewatching bug and lost your reading or writing mojo?

MAYA: Nope. With a book-a-year contract, three kids, blogging, baking, book reviewing, two acres of garden and a menagerie of farm animals, TV is way at the bottom of the priority list.

STELLA: I’d be so much more productive if I didn’t get sucked into television shows. But the remote is Just Right There …

STELLA: Okay, now for the nitty-gritty:

What’s your preferred drop?

Good quality sparkling wine for celebrations, and in last year’s lockdowns, I discovered whiskey sours (delightful even though they contain raw egg white)!'

Guilty pleasure?

In the winter, I love nothing better than pudding. Making pudding, eating pudding, thinking about pudding. I’m not fussy whether it’s apple and rhubarb crumble, lemon delicious, custard and jelly, or a good old self-saucing pudding, I’m there for it. My new favourite combo is orange and chocolate self-saucing pudding. Like a warm, oozy Jaffas, but even better… I’ve made it three times in the last three weeks and nobody’s complaining.

Tiktok … a fun and useful program, or just another darned thing to master?

I spent about two days trying to work it out and gave up! I’m more of an Insta gal.

Pet Peeve?

Littering. We live near a main road and I can’t believe how many people ditch rubbish out their car windows. There’s also a beach bordering our property, so we’re constantly hauling home stinky bait bags, beer bottles, chip packets, broken fishing rods and other debris that’s left behind or thrown from fishing boats.

[Stella: one of my sisters is a No Single Use Plastics vigilante, and she became that way after a job where she travelled into the Southern Ocean and recorded microplastic levels in (supposedly) pristine water, so I totally get the beach litter peeve. She’s made us all take the straw vow, and now, for example, when we’ve eaten the last slice of bread from the plastic bread packet, we have to find a way to use that plastic again, such as fill it with prawn heads and whack it in the freezer until next bin day.]

A romance book that gave you all the feels:

Lucy Diamond’s Anything Could Happen. A funny, fast-paced and sweet story that left me smiling.

Starting sentences with “And” and “But” … yes or no or who cares?

Yes! I never regret bending the rules with this one.

Best thing about being a writer?

Lovely letters and glowing reviews from readers who adored my books.

Worst thing about being a writer?

Worrying that the next book will never live up to the glowing reviews nor receive the same lovely letters as above.

[Stella: totally agree with the above!!!]

Top three favourite places to read?

In bed, before I go to sleep

On the couch, by the fire with a piping hot cup of tea and homemade bikkie

In the bath with a glass of wine and snacks

Pineapple on pizza, yes or no?

Heck yes! Though my current favourite pizza topping (also referenced in Paperbark Hill) is mushroom & fennel seed on a white sauce.

[Stella: I may need a new question in this section: eggs in a scone recipe, yes or no? Diana’s kids bake scones in Paperbark Hill, to a recipe which has won Diana awards at local shows, but as they are prepping the ingredients, one of the boys, Elliott, says. “I’ll crack the eggs” … Whaaat? I dropped the book to the doona and hightailed it to my ancient scrapbook filled with recipes I’ve gathered over the years (Flour, yes. Butter and milk, uhuh. A scrap of salt and maybe (definitely!) some dates … but is there some secret method of which I am unaware???]

Holiday: beach or bush?

Beach – or for this country gal, the city is quite the novelty.

Proudest writer moment?

Making bestseller lists alongside Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts.

Three fun facts about you:

* In Year 11, I was chosen as a guest TV news presenter, representing my high school to co-host the news on WIN TV for an evening. Still have the VCR recording (but no player to watch it!)

* I didn’t like country music until I lived in America for a year, then I came back so excited about modern country singers like Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Randy Travis that I started a weekly radio program called ‘Boots & All’

* I’m a sentimental sucker who cries at marathon finishing lines, when looking back over photos of my babies and while writing sad or poignant scenes.

Keep in touch with Maya:

Find Maya

Instagram and Facebook@maya.linnell.writes

Want to read the book?

About your blogger, Stella Quinn: When Stella Quinn isn’t sitting in the sun scribbling in a notebook, she can be found walking her dog, roaming her neighbourhood in search of the perfect latte, or thrashing her children at scrabble. She grew up in England, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Australia, and spent five (long!) years at boarding school in country Queensland. Stella writes contemporary romance novels that are warm-hearted and filled with characters you want to be best friends with. She loves rural small-town settings, island settings, and everyday heroes. Imagine if Sea Change and Virgin River had a series of fictitious bookbabies … they’re the books Stella writes. She’s currently (in 2022) trying to build a shed for her orchids, but keeps getting distracted by things like nutgrass infestations and how adorable her dog looks when he’s begging her to chuck a ball for him to fetch.

The Vet from Snowy River came out in June 2021 and is available here: A Town Like Clarence is coming out in July 2022 and can be preordered here: The Vet sequel (unnamed as yet, but it will be Hannah’s story) comes out in May 2023 and there’ll be a fourth, which (currently) is just a twinkle in Stella’s eye, coming out in 2024. Stella Quinn’s awards in the fabulous world of romance include winning the Valerie Parv Award in 2018, winning the Sapphire Award in 2019 and 2020, winning the Emerald Award in 2017 and coming second in the Sapphire in 2018. Stella was shortlisted in the Australian Society of Authors/HQ Fiction Commercial Fiction Award in 2020, and in the 2020 Ruby Award for best contemporary romance for Stowaway. With her writing group (who published a Christmas anthology of novellas) she was shortlisted by ARRA for best small-town contemporary romance in 2019. The Vet is a finalist in five categories in the ARRA 2021.

Follow Stella Quinn: Website


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