Monday, August 22, 2022

Q&A with Minnie Darke




Minnie Darke is the author of the new novel With Love from Wish & Co. Her other books include Star-Crossed. She lives in Tasmania, Australia.


Q: What inspired you to write With Love from Wish & Co., and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: This book was conceived by way of an idle fantasy. Maybe I was in the car, or the shower. I can’t remember, but they’re two of the places I most often find myself when idle fantasies strike. 


Anyway, it was a time in my life when I was struggling with the demands of my day job. My imagination, having obviously decided that it needed to start hunting around for a different sort of job for me to do, came up with the idea that I could become a professional gift buyer.


My imagination liked this idea. So, it supplied me with images of me buying gifts on behalf of wealthy men who didn’t have the time, insight, or skills to choose presents for their wives, their children, their siblings, their parents, their nieces, nephews, godchildren, friends.


My imagination also helpfully pointed out that I could wrap the gifts too, reminding me that I’m a dab hand with a length of gift-wrap and roll of sticky-tape. 


I knew the kind of men who would enjoy such a service, who would welcome a set and forget mechanism to ensure all the special people in their lives were well-catered for on birthdays, anniversaries and those other gift-giving occasions, such as religious festivals, that appear on our collective social calendar.


I’d heard such men say things like – I hate buying presents; it’s so hard to know what my wife/daughter/sister/son would really appreciate; is it okay just to put some cash in an envelope?; where on earth am I supposed to get the time to go wandering around town looking for presents. 


These were men, often, with plenty of money, who’d grown to regard cash as the solution to pretty much every problem. I witnessed one such chap, at the end of a long day of solo parenting, offering to pay somebody $1,000 to change his toddler’s nappy. 


Of course, I never did become a professional gift-buyer in real life, but one of the perks of being a novelist is that – on the page, at least – you can be whatever you want. You can change jobs with every new book: no need to find new premises, print new business cards or go into debt to buy all the latest fancy equipment for your trade. Although I didn’t become a professional gift-buyer, a story had been born. 


As for my characters? I suppose it’s a slightly mysterious process. I’m quite the “people watcher”; I find people endlessly fascinating. I suppose I observe them, listen to their stories, take note of their characteristics, and all of that goes into a big, imaginative melting pot that characters pop out of, seemingly fully formed.


I confess to being a terrible thief. A few of Marnie’s characteristics - such as being a little bit OCD, and being a fabulous wrapper of gifts - are pinched directly from my mother, to whom the book is dedicated.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Darke charms with this multigenerational love story underpinned by an exploration of the joys, challenges, and complexity of gift giving.” What do you think the novel says about the art of giving gifts?


A: Gift giving isn’t only a human thing; there are also animal communities in which gift-giving is important. It isn’t just a frivolous custom in a consumerist society - giving and receiving gifts is one of the mechanisms through which we create and maintain the bonds that help us live in a social environment.


When it comes to giving good gifts, With Love from Wish & Co advances the theory that the real gift is that of being truly “seen.” It’s when you really know someone, and see them for who they truly are that you’ll be able to give them gift that really touches them.


There’s that old saying “it’s the thought that counts,” but in With Love from Wish & Co Marnie’s clients don’t want to do the thinking, so they outsource the job to her. And she’s very good at it!


Q: How do you think Marnie is affected by her family history and legacy?


A: Marnie comes from a family with a history in commerce: one in which hard work, persistence, and financial smarts are valued. But her late father was the black sheep of that family, which meant Marnie became separated from her extended family, and from her birthright, in a way.


Her drive to do well in business is very strong, and it’s related to her desire to prove herself as a “real Fairchild,” like her forebears, especially her grandfather, Archie.


The mistake she makes - the one that kicks off the plot - happens because Marnie has the opportunity to purchase a heritage building once owned by her grandfather. Distracted and excited by the prospect, she mixes up two gifts bought on behalf of her best client.


Thoughout the novel, Marnie faces a lot of dilemmas that might be seen as “heart or head” choices, but it’s actually both her heart and her head driving her to try to buy her grandfather’s old shop front, and to prove that she’s got the Fairchild gift for business.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I knew some things about how the book ended …. but not all of them. My books tend to have multiple plot-lines and while I’m often clear about how the main plot line will resolve, the sub-plots have a habit of surprising me.


I wasn’t sure what would constitute a “happy ending” for Brian and Suzanne, but in the end, it came to seem as if there was really only one way that would make sense for Suzanne to behave. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a novella coming out with Audible early next year; it’s called Wild Apples. The island where I live, Tasmania, was once known as “the apple isle,” and its orchards once sent fruit all over the world.


Wild Apples is set in an apple-growing valley, and the main character is Jane, who’s stuck in the “sandwich caring” role that a lot of women find themselves in. She has a miserable, unwell mother and a teenage daughter who’s all kind of trouble.


Wild Apples is in the editing phase, but I’ve already started my next novel. If you want to know what that’s going to be about, I can give you a hint, because I buried an “Easter egg” in With Love from Wish & Co.


If you pay close attention to the character of Ivy - Luke’s newly-met teenage daughter - and notice what she’s up to, you might be able to take a guess at the setting and the theme for my new novel.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The heritage building that Marnie longs for in With Love from Wish & Co is inspired by a real building in Hobart, Tasmania.


The shopfront at 121 Harrington Street (a picture of which is in the back of the book) is one of the oldest weatherboard buildings in our city, and it has had a very chequered career. It was burned in an arson attack, and has in the past been very run down.


The lovely folks who own it, Penny and Haydn Pearce, were kind enough to let me turn the shopfront into Wish & Co for a day. We set up shop with copies of With Love from Wish & Co, sparkling wine and cupcakes, and my mother - to whom With Love from Wish & Co is dedicated - was in charge of wrapping the signed books for customers to give away, or savour for themselves. It was a very special event.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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