• Maya Linnell

Gina Wilkinson talks travel, renovations and debut fiction

Gina’s debut novel takes us to the heart of Baghdad in the 1980s, showing us the divisions between residents and the harsh realities for women living under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.

Guided by her own experiences living and working in Baghdad, the author introduces us to Huda and Rania, childhood friends who were driven apart by political upheaval, and Ally, the wife of an Australian diplomat.

Their lives are intertwined through Huda’s work, with government heavies leveraging her role at the consulate and forcing her to spy on Ally. This carefully-crafted and well-written novel was as moving as it was eye-opening. I was regularly aghast at the injustices and unfairness for the women living in these times and thankful that the friendships and beauty of the arts-scene and culture balanced out the darker aspects. I was so invested in the story that I switched from paperback to audiobook halfway through, so I could stay in Huda’s world whilst painting my kitchen. The audio version was also excellent, and it was ideal to hear the correct pronunciation of different names.


When the Apricots Bloom was released by Hachette in late December, and is available in paperback, eBook and audiobook. Thanks to Hachette for the review and giveaway copies.

Five fast minutes with Gina Wilkinson


Do you have a good luck charm or a special token that sits on your desk/in your office?

I have two: a small Ganesh that I picked up while living in Sri Lanka – he’s the god of scribes, and uses one of his tusks as a quill. I was also gifted a blue-eyed Nazar amulet in Turkey to ward off evil.


Favourite exercise to counteract all the hours sitting at the keyboard?

A 5km walk by the Melbourne’s Maribyrnong river – or when I manage to get away to Victoria’s south coast, I go for a daily session of body boarding.


What’s your go-to weekday dinner dish?

Pesto and broccoli pasta


Which career would you choose if money wasn’t a factor and writing wasn’t an option?

I’d run a small plant nursery, with a courtyard coffee bar


Favourite book from your childhood?

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George


Worst writing/book related injury?

Neck strain, combined with eye strain and wrist strain – or is that just called getting older😊


Which jelly bean do you eat first, and which do you leave until last?

Black first (or preferably traded for another colour!) and green last.


Have you done anything special with any of your advances?

I’m renovating/restoring an 1880s house so my most recent advance vanished into the endless pit of reno bills in the blink of an eye.


Spot where you seem to get the best bursts of writing inspiration?

On the couch, with a tv on in the background tuned to a mindless show that requires no brainpower.


Which book and ‘essential’ item would you pack if you won a week in the Whitsunday Islands?

Dark chocolate and any of Ann Patchett’s novel (preferably several of I have the luxury of a full week)


Aussie novel you’re most looking forward to in 2021?

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville


Best one-line sentence from one of your book reviews?

"I felt the warmth of the sun and tasted the sweetness of the lime tea, while the intricately woven relationships & expert pacing had me at the edge of my seat, turning the pages as fast as possible all the while wanting to savour every sentence, and even going back to reread a particularly beautiful passage.”

When the Apricots Bloom


What would you do if the secret police demanded you spy on a friend in order to protect your family? At night, in Huda’s fragrant garden, a breeze sweeps in from the desert encircling the historic city of Baghdad, rustling the leaves of her apricot trees and carrying warning of visitors at her gate. Huda, a secretary at the Australian embassy, has been ordered by the regime’s ruthless mukhabarat secret police to befriend Ally Wilson, the deputy ambassador’s wife. Huda has no wish to be an informant, but fears for her teenaged son, who may be forced to join a deadly militia. Nor does she know that Ally has dangerous secrets of her own. Huda’s former friend, Rania, enjoyed a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a sheikh. Now her family’s wealth is gone, and Rania too is battling to keep her child safe and a roof over their heads. As the women’s lives intersect, their hidden pasts spill into the present. Risking betrayal at every turn, all three must trust in a fragile, newfound loyalty, even as they discover how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect their families.

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Gina Wilkinson is an award-winning former journalist, foreign correspondent and documentary-maker who's reported from some of the world's most intriguing and perilous places for the BBC, the ABC, and other renowned public broadcasters. She spent more than a year living in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein at a time when Iraq was virtually sealed off from the outside world, and later discovered that one of her closest Iraqi friends was working as a secret police informant, reporting on her every move. Gina now works in international development, supporting efforts to end poverty in the developing world. She lives in Melbourne. When the Apricots Bloom is her first novel.


Find Gina online

On Instagram @author_gina_wilkinson or via my website www.ginawilkinson.net


WIN-WIN-WIN!

For your chance to win a copy of this fabulous book, simply read the interview and answer the questions on the WIN page. Entries open Feb 6. Winner will be drawn Sunday Feb 14 at 6pm. Newsletter subscribers and Aussie addresses only please.