Close and Personal with Minnie Darke

Minnie Darke (aka Danielle Wood), the best-selling author of Star Crossed and The Lost Love Song is back with another heartwarming contemporary romance, With Love From Wish and Co. Read on for a Q&A where Minnie talks about her inspiration behind the novel, her writing process and more…

Where did the inspiration behind this story come from?

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 $1000 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.

What was your writing routine like for this book?

I’d love to tell you I have a calm, lovely routine for writing – one involving cups of herbal tea in wide, white bowls, and a tranquil work space, and words flowing effortlessly out of me during a set period of hours each day. But, let’s face it. That’s Facebook. Or Instagram. It’s not real life. I think about my characters while I fold socks; I problem-solve while walking laps of the Geilston Bay oval while my son does footy training; I snatch hours when I can; I work longer and more hysterically the closer a deadline gets. I’m not the kind of writer who divides her time between her apartment in New York and her villa in Tuscany. But, I am lucky enough to be the kind who divides her time between a cute little writing studio in the backyard, and the kitchen table.

What do you think are the most essential ingredients for compelling characters?

I think pretty much all humans are compelling characters if you get deeply enough under their skin, or if they end up in an interesting situation. I can’t remember who it was who said (something along the lines of) all characters in a story are the hero or heroine of their own story. ‘The villian’ of a story probably doesn’t see themselves as the villain. People do things for reasons that make sense to them, in order to get what they want (or think they want), and stories happen when those reasons and desires intersect, compete and clash.

Do your characters ever become so real that they speak to you?

I’m not sure they speak to me, but they certainly speak to themselves, and to each other, inside my head. I’m not sure I exist for them…

Which character in this story did you enjoy creating the most?

Oh, that’s like asking me if I have a favourite child! I enjoyed them all, for different reasons. I spent the most time with Marnie, the main character, and I enjoyed indulging her slightly OCD tendencies. Suzanne, the wife of Marnie’s best customer, is the kind of woman you could easily overlook, but of course – like everyone – she’s complex and interesting once you start to poke around. The best customer himself, Brian, was also great to write, because he was the one with the most to learn.

Do dreams ever play a role in the culmination of your ideas?

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I dream scenes of novels, but that’s quite rare. More often, though, I wake up from a dream with a better understanding of what I need to do next, or what I did ‘wrong’ the previous day. I often go to bed asking myself a question, hoping my brain will answer it in my sleep. I read a book recently called Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker. It turns out there’s some good evidence that it’s a good idea to take naps while we’re trying to learn, or trying to be creative.

What is the best piece of advice for editing a novel?

Editing, actually, is my happy place. I love being able to fiddle about with text – changing a word here, tweaking a phrase there, adjusting some punctuation, moving a sentence from one paragraph to another (and then back again; and then, back again). The fact remains, though, that you’ve got to have something to edit. That means you have to write. My best editing advice is to give yourself material to edit by writing it in the first place!

What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

The variety and the flexibility of the craft. When you’re a writer, there is nothing you cannot invent or experience or create. I love that sometimes I’m poking around in archival collections, pulling stories out of the relics of the past, and other times, I’m inventing a whole new world.

What’s next?

With Love from Wish & Co is out now, and a novella, Wild Apples, will be released as an audiobook only (Audible) early next year. I suppose you could say it’s set in a parallel-universe version of the Tasmanian town of Cygnet. Once, Cygnet was called ‘Lovett’, and it’s in Lovett that Wild Apples is set. As myself, Danielle Wood, I’m working on a novel about the history of Lake Pedder’s inundation by the Hydro Electric Commission in 1972. I was born that year, while the lake was flooding; it’s a story that’s always meant a lot to me.