Monique Mulligan is a talented West Australian writer who has just had her second novel, Wildflower, published by Pilyara Press. It’s a challenging novel and well worth the read. I reviewed it recently and you can read my full review at Review: Wildflower.
Hi Monique, welcome to Mic Loves Books and thanks for talking to me today.
Can you tell us a little about your career to date?
Right now, I fit writing around my marketing job at a performing arts venue in Perth. I also run the venue’s Stories on Stage program, which I founded in 2012. There hasn’t been much time to write lately because I’ve been working full-time and I’m still juggling a book launch and tour, but I’m hoping that will change over the coming months.
My debut contemporary fiction novel Wherever You Go was published by Pilyara Press in 2020, and my second novel Wildflower was released in March 2022. I’ve also had three children’s books published, as well as essays and short stories in several anthologies.
I’ve also worked as a journalist, news editor and publisher, playgroup facilitator, children’s curriculum writer, teaching assistant, public servant and a family day care mum!
The new novel is Wildflower, can you tell us how it started and what inspired it?
Wildflower began as a short story for a competition (spoiler: it didn’t win) that was inspired by the acacia flower, more commonly known in Australia as the wattle.
One afternoon, looking at a photo I’d taken while bushwalking in Western Australia, these words came to me: Acacia Miller blew in and out of our lives on a warm summer wind. I had no idea who Acacia was, or who the narrator (Jane) was, but from that one sentence a story emerged.
I realised I wanted to explore questions that had been on my mind for years, questions that arose from experiences of being a mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend, neighbour, and journalist. Questions like “What happens to kids who grow up in violent homes?” and “What happens to kids when their parents divorce?” How do these situations affect them at the time and later in their lives? The only real (and short) answer is “It depends”. These heart-questions turned Wildflower from a short story into a novel (I talk about that more here).
There are two characters in the story who aren’t named until very late. Can you tell us (if it is possible without spoilers) why you chose to keep them anonymous for so long?
The easiest way to answer without spoilers is this: I wanted readers to see that the women in this part of the story, the 1999 timeline, could be anyone. A neighbour, a friend, a work colleague, someone sitting across from you on a train. We only ever know the surface of someone’s story.
Did you have a favourite character, or a favourite character to write?
Although most of Wildflower is from Jane’s point of view and I love her character, Acacia has my heart. Readers will know why. She’s feisty yet fragile, protective but needs protection. And although I found her easy to write, she’s still an enigma, just as she was for Jane.
How much of your childhood could you see in Jane and Acacia?
In some ways, a lot. When I look at the story, I see the time and place as having the greatest similarity to my childhood, rather than the experiences the characters have. Wildflower is set in the same time and place of my childhood and there are a lot of nostalgic and societal references that many readers of the same vintage will nod at. In its earliest forms, Wildflower was only set in 1979, and – every time I wrote, I was whisked back to my childhood.
But neither Jane or Acacia is based on me (or any one person I know), although Jane and I share some characteristics. Like her, I was an avid reader at school and one of the smart kids who liked big words, but I wasn’t bullied like her. And while she fears her parents getting divorced, mine did.
Wildflower is undoubtedly a very important story, what made you write it from Jane’s point of view?
I wanted to explore how children are affected by domestic violence and telling it (mainly) from a child’s point of view seemed the best way to do that. It was really important to me to show that children take in more than we, as parents, sometimes think (even when we think we are protecting them).
I toyed briefly with giving Jane’s mother Barb a point of view but decided against it because I felt Jane’s voice was enough.
Are you working on something new you can tell us about?
The next few months will be all about book promotion, catching up with family (my extended family and oldest son live in the eastern states, and I haven’t seen them for a long time), and self-care. I realised the other day that writing Wildflower had been emotionally taxing so I need time out before I start something new.
I do have a manuscript I started a couple of years ago, and I’m thinking that’s what I’ll turn to next. It’s completely different to my first two books! I don’t think I like being typecast (pun not originally intended, but then I went with it).
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Reading, writing, cooking (sometimes all at once), taking photos of Boogle (my muse) and wildflowers, going for long walks in nature.
If you had to choose one message you wanted readers to take away from Wildflower, what would it be?
I hope Wildflower does two things. Firstly, I hope readers connect with the story on an empathetic and compassionate level, both for the characters and for people in their own lives, including themselves, and that it shines a light on examples of strength and resilience and bravery all around them. And secondly, I hope it prompts a time of reflection on how far we have come in terms of removing the blanket of silence over domestic violence … and how far we have yet to go.
Good luck with the release and events for Wildflower, congratulations on another amazing novel and thanks for being with us.