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BOOK REVIEW: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

Saturday, September 01, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father's quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed 'Spring 1886' and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

My Thoughts:

One of my favourite genres of fiction are books that weave together two separate narratives, one set in contemporary times and one set in the past. I also really love books about gardens and flowers and secrets and danger. So I had high hopes for Kayte Nunn’s new book, The Botanist’s Daughter, which promised so many elements I love.

The story begins in present-day Australia, when Anna finds a mysterious old notebook and an engraved metal box hidden inside the wall of her dead grandmother’s house. The box is locked, and Anna does not have the key.

The narrative then moves back in time to Cornwall, 1886, and the story of Elizabeth, a strong-willed heiress and the daughter of a botanist who has recently died. The metal box is hers, and contains boots that she hates. Chafing against the constraints of Victorian society, as exemplified by those tight, uncomfortable boots, Elizabeth decides to set out on her father’s last planned expedition, to Argentina and Chile …

It’s a marvellous beginning, and the story gallops on from there. Elizabeth discovers her father was searching for a rare flower with miraculous powers, and that many other dangerous men are also on its trail. Anna – who is a botanist herself - discovers that the box contains a sketchbook of exquisite botanical drawings, a photograph, and a bag of seeds. She is intrigued despite herself, and begins to try and unravel the mystery. But Anna has secrets of her own, and her quest threatens to bring them out of the shadows.

The Botanist’s Daughter is an utterly riveting story of two women, divided by a century in time, but united by their quest to discover a rare and dangerous flower said to have the power to heal as well as kill. Fast-moving and full of surprises, The Botanist's Daughter brings the exotic world of 19th-century Chile thrillingly to life while delivering a poignant and heart-warming story of romance and new beginnings in its contemporary thread. A must-read for lovers of Kimberly Freeman and Mary-Rose MacColl.

I was lucky enough to interview Kayte for the blog this week, you can read it here.

You might also be interested in my review of Kayte Nunn's earlier book, Rose's Vintage.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

INTERVEW: Kayte Nunn

Saturday, September 01, 2018


This week we welcome Kayte Nunn, author of The Botanist's Daughter and Rose's Vintage, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Card-carrying. I feel like I’ve always lived in my own head. Being sent to boarding school at the age of eleven meant that I spent a lot of time in a world of my own, pretending I was anywhere else but there. In the dorm at night we used to tell each other stories, often a continuing saga that was told night by night for weeks on end. I still daydream, but these days it is more about my characters and who they might be, what they might be doing and saying to me.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved words and books and reading, and had a secret dream to be a novelist, but thought that it was something other, far cleverer people than me did. As a child I wrote stories, and even made and illustrated a couple of children’s books, one of which I still have.

I studied English and publishing at uni and worked as an editor and writer of non-fiction before finally summoning the courage to write fiction, and I’m so pleased I did – writing fiction fills me up like nothing else can.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Singapore, as my father was in the British RAF and stationed there and then grew up mostly in England. I moved to Australia – for love – in my mid-20s and never left. My family and I recently moved from Sydney to the NSW Northern Rivers where we are about to build an eco-home on a few acres in the countryside. When I’m not writing, I love to bake – cakes, cookies, pies and tarts. I also try and run and hike to work off the effects of the baking! Oh, and I’ve always got a pile of books to read.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
A little over three years ago, I took my youngest daughter on a picnic in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney. It was to be one final mother-daughter day out before she started school. It was a hot, sultry day and we were looking for fairies – as you do with a four-and-a-half-year-old – when we found ourselves at the herb garden. At the centre is a beautiful cast bronze sundial with a relief of herbs around it. I put my hand on the warm metal and immediately saw an image of a young girl in an English walled garden, where there was a similar sundial. I walked around the rest of the day in a daze as I began to wonder what her story was.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
I do plan them, but bit by bit as they unravel. By the time I’m about 25% in, I have a clearer idea of where I’m headed. I have a white board, divided into segments (like acts of a play) where I work out what is happening and when in the story, to ensure that the underlying structure works, and that rising and falling action occurs when it should. I worked really hard on the structure of The Botanist’s Daughter, and it helped enormously when it came to the editing process.

Also, Kate, you very kindly gave me some extremely helpful advice when I first started this novel, about tackling a dual timeline, and I wrote one narrative first before starting the other. I wanted each story to be able to stand on its own, and I think this approach really helped.

For my next book, I actually had to write a blurb about it (which I love doing, as it’s something I used to do often for other books when I worked in publishing) as my publisher asked what else I was working on, and having that succinct synopsis really helped my focus.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Not so much dreams, but I love your practice of liminal thinking, the daydreamy state you have just before going to sleep or just after you’ve woken up – I find that time incredibly helpful when I’m imagining a story into life.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
When I was in the middle of writing the book I visited Kew Gardens and came upon the wonderful Marianne North Gallery. She was a 19th-century botanical artist and adventurer and I knew that that someone like Elizabeth in my book really had lived then.

I also happened to be talking about the idea for the book to my neighbour, who mentioned that Cornwall is known for its remarkable gardens. I had spent many childhood holidays there, so knew the area, and as I researched more about plant hunters in the 19th century, realised that it was the perfect place to set part of the story.

When I was researching 19th-century Chile, I came across a diary of a widowed sea captain’s wife who spent several months in Valparaiso in the 1850s. Her descriptions of the flora and fauna of the area, and everyday life there, were absolutely invaluable in helping me imagine the city and landscape at that time. Her fortitude in the face of losing her husband and being in a foreign country was also inspiring and I realised as I was finishing the book, that The Botanist’s Daughter is about courage – both large, obvious acts of courage as well as smaller, but no less remarkable ones.

Where do you write, and when?

I write in my living room, in cafés occasionally, in the car at soccer practice, by the side of swimming pools … anywhere I have a spare few hours. A large part of The Botanist’s Daughter was written in the prosaic surrounds of a shopping centre food court near where my daughter was doing gymnastics several times a week! Having worked in busy magazine offices, I can fairly effectively tune out the noise around me.

When I first started writing, I did it in addition to a busy freelance writing and editing load, but I’m lucky enough that now I write pretty much full time in school hours, with only the occasional freelance job when it arises. It’s meant a few changes for our family, and sacrifices, but it is starting to come good.

I set myself a daily word count and don’t quit until I reach it. I don’t write particularly fast – I fight for every word – but I’ve found that it results in a fairly tight first draft that doesn’t need too much jettisoned.

I’m still trying to work out how to combine writing with school holidays!

What is your favourite part of writing?

The feeling of having written!

Also, when my characters come alive and start to talk to me – I hear lines of their dialogue at random times of the day and have to scramble to get them down before they float away.
Writing the final lines of a first draft.

What do you do when you get blocked?

I go for a walk and think about my characters and what should happen next. Usually by the time I’ve been out for half an hour or so I can come back and sit down and write again. Also, when I’m feeling really inspired, I write outlines of where the story needs to go so that I know what to write next when I’m struggling.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I’ve been lucky so far that a new idea for a novel has come to me as I’ve needed it. But in the background I am reading, reading, reading, as well as watching documentaries, news stories and making notes of my ideas and thoughts.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
I find I need a calm mind, so I try to get any niggling chores and admin out of the way (though I make sure really time-consuming chores are done away from writing time), and I always hide my phone as it’s too tempting to check it when I get stuck. Other than that, it’s just me and a laptop and somewhere comfortable to sit.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Elizabeth Goudge, Daphne du Maurier, Jilly Cooper, Laurie Lee, Maria Semple, Celeste Ng, Isabelle Allende, Geraldine Brooks, Cormac McCarthy, Tim Winton… but there are so many more.

What do you consider to be good writing?
Language and stories that transport you to another world, that seem more real than the world around you and that you don’t want to leave when the book ends. I do like a book that affects me so much that it makes me cry.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
If you’re writing for publication: Do the work – learn the craft. Do short courses, read books on craft, read fiction critically – read books that you love and work out what it is about them that achieves that.

Go to writers’ festivals and listen to other writers talk about their work.

Be aware of what is currently selling well, but write what you love – the book you’d most like to read.

Be brave. Start with a few short stories if the thought of a whole novel is overwhelming.

Don’t give up, even when you doubt yourself. When I started writing, I had a small yellow post-it on my laptop that said ‘play big’. Not ‘dream big’, which felt too wishy-washy, but ‘play big’.

What are you working on now?

I’m in the middle of edits for my next novel, which is about a bundle of unsent love letters discovered in an old suitcase on a remote British island, and then I am at the start of a story set in an English boarding school that is about to admit girls for the first time.

You can read my review of The Botanist's Daughter here.

BOOK REVIEW; Rose's Vintage by Kayte Nunn

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn

BLURB (from GoodReads):

British blow-in, Rose Bennett, is heartbroken, overweight, irritable and a long way from home. She isn’t sure what exactly she’s doing at Kalkari Wines in the Australian Shingle Valley – it’s the middle of winter and far from the lush, romantic vineyard setting she’d been expecting. 

Her brother thinks she’s spying for him, her bad-tempered new boss thinks she’s the au pair and the nanny can’t wait for her to clean the place up. 

Discovering pagan bonfire ceremonies, bizarre winemaking practices and a valley full of eccentric locals, Rose just wishes she’d ended up somewhere a bit warmer. But as the weather improves, the valley reveals its beauty, and Rose starts to fall in love: with the valley, the wines, the two children she’s helping to look after, and one of the men there. 

When her boss’s estranged wife returns and her brother descends, wanting answers, Rose is forced to make the hardest decision of her life.


A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. I really enjoyed Rose’s journey as she rediscovered her love of cooking and negotiated her way through a host of troubles to find, at last, true love. 

 Perfect reading for a lazy summer Sunday!

Love contemporary romance set in the Australian landscape? Read my interview with Georgina Penny, author of A Summer Harvest


SPOTLIGHT: My Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016

Saturday, January 07, 2017


    Every year I take part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, in which readers all around the world do their best to read as many books written by Aussie women as possible. Last year I read only 10 books  by Australian women, and so I was determined to do better this year. I'm really rather proud of myself because I managed 28 books in total, and enjoyed them all.

     Here is my list (in the order in which I read them). Most of them have longer reviews that you can read by clicking on the title.

    I hope you are inspired to try the challenge for yourself in 2017. You can sign up here

1. 1. Wild Wood – Posie Graeme-Evans

WILD WOOD is a dual timeline narrative that moves between the Scottish Borderlands in the 14th century and an unhappy young woman in the 1980s who finds herself compelled to draw the same Scottish castle over and over again 

2.  Summer Harvest – Georgina Penney

A funny, romantic story with lots of heart, set in the Margaret River wine region and featuring engaging characters and light-hearted encounters. 

3. The Wife’s Tale  - Christine Wells 
The Wife’s Tale is a dual timeline novel that alternates between the point-of-view of Liz Jones, a young Australian lawyer whose ambition and drive to succeed have put her marriage at risk, and Delany Nash, who was at the centre of an infamous scandal in the 1780s.  

4. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 
Juliet Marillier’s books are an enchanting mix of romance, mystery and historical fantasy. Tower of Thorns is the second in her new series ‘Blackthorn & Grim’ which tells the story of the damaged and disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her faithful companion Grim. 

5. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts – Toni Jordan
The fourth novel by award-winning Australian author, Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a clever, funny, wise-cracking novel about love, infidelity and divorce. 

6. Nest – Inga Simpson
Inga Simpson is an Australian writer and Nest is a rhapsody about the importance of being at one with the natural world.. 

7. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is one of my all-time favourite books, that I like to re-read every few years. A retelling of the ‘Six Swans’ fairy-tale, set in ancient Ireland, it is a beautiful story of courage, love, peril and wonder set in a world where magic is only ever a hairsbreadth away from us all. 

8. The Lost Sapphire – Belinda Murrell
I always love a new timeslip adventure from my brilliant sister, Belinda. In The Lost Sapphire, a teenage girl Marli is reluctantly sent to stay with her father in Melbourne. Things began to get more interesting, though, when she discovers an abandoned house with a mysterious past, and makes a new friend, a boy with his own connection to the house. 

9. Hexenhaus – Nikki McWatters
Hexenhaus is a gripping story of three different young women at different times of history who all find themselves persecuted in some way for witchcraft. 

10. Enemy: A Daughter’s Story – Ruth Clare
A memoir of growing up in Australia with a brutal and domineering father who had been damaged by his experiences in the Vietnam war. 

11. The Good People – Hannah Kent
Dark, poetic, and intense, The Good People is a fascinating and atmospheric tale of the ancient fairy lore of Ireland and how it shaped the people who believed it. One of my best reads of 2016.

12. The Summer Bride – Anne Gracie
The last book in Anne Gracie’s delightful Regency romance quartet, ‘The Chance Sisters’. 

13. The Ties That Bind – Lexi Landsman
An engaging and heart-warming read that moves between the story of a modern-day woman’s desperate search for a bone marrow donor for her son, and the hidden secrets of the past.

14. Den of Wolves – Juliet Marillier
The final book in Juliet Marillier’s latest magical historical trilogy, Den of Wolves wraps up the story of Blackthorn and Grim beautifully. A wonderful mix of history, romance, and fairy-tale-like enchantment. 

15. Where the Trees Were – Inga Simpson
A beautiful meditation on the Australian landscape and the Aboriginal connection to it, Where the Trees Were is a must-read for anyone who has ever swung on a tyre over a slow-moving brown river or lain on the ground looking up at a scorching blue sky through the shifting leaves of a gum tree. 

16. On the Blue Train – Kristel Thornell
This novel was inspired by the true-life story of how Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days in 1926. A slow, melancholy, and beautiful meditation on failed love. 

17. The Dry – Jane Harper
Set in a small Australian country town, The Dry is a tense, compelling and atmospheric murder mystery, as well as an astonishingly assured debut from English-born novelist Jane Harper. 

18. Castle of Dreams – Elise McCune
A gorgeous cover and intriguing title drew me to Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune, described as an ‘enthralling novel of love, betrayals, loss and family secrets.’  

19. The Family with Two Front Doors – Anna Ciddor
Inspired by the real-life stories of Anna Ciddor’s grandmother, The Family with Two Doors is a charming and poignant account of the life of a family of Jewish children in 1920s Poland. 

20. Beyond the Orchard – Anna Romer 
A story that moves between the past and the present, with intrigue, passion, betrayal and the metafictive use of a dark fairy-tale – it’ll be no surprise to anyone that I loved Beyond the Orchard, the first novel of Anna Romer’s that I have read. 

21. The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks
An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times. 

22. The Waiting Room – Leah Kaminsky
Set in modern-day Israel, The Waiting Room tells the story of a single day in the life of a female Jewish doctor who is haunted by her parents’ tragic past. 

23. Rose’s Vintage – Kayte Nunn
A warm-hearted and very readable contemporary romance set in an Australian vineyard, Rose’s Vintage throws failed-British chef-turned-au-pair Rose into the midst of a range of lovable, eccentric characters including two adorable children and their brooding, difficult but gorgeous father. 

24. The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller
Set in England in 1255, the story begins with 17-year old Sarah being enclosed within her cell. Her door is literally nailed shut. Yet the world is not so easy to lock away. Sarah sees and hears glimpses of the life of the village, and is threatened by desire, grief, doubt and fear just as much as any other woman. 

25. Kumiko and the Dragon – Briony Stewart
26. Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret – Briony Stewart
27. Kumiko and the Shadow-catchers – Briony Stewart
A trilogy of charming fantasy books for very young readers, inspired by the tales that Briony Stewart’s Japanese grandmother used to tell her. 

28. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird
Described as ‘An intimate biography of the woman who ruled an empire,’ Victoria the Queen busts open many of the myths about both the woman and the era. 

Want more? Read my list of Books by Australian Women Writers in 2016 

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