Kirsty Manning grew up in northern New South Wales. She has degrees in literature and communications and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty's journalism and photography specialising in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online. In 2007, Kirsty and her husband, with two toddlers and a baby in tow, built a house in an old chestnut grove in the Macedon Ranges. Together, they planted an orchard and veggie patch, created large herbal 'walks' brimming with sage and rosemary, wove borders from chestnut branches and constructed far too many stone walls by hand. Kirsty loves cooking with her kids and has several large heirloom copper pots that do not fit anywhere easily, but are perfect for making (and occasionally burning) jams, chutneys and soups. With husband Alex Wilcox, Kirsty is a partner in the award-winning Melbourne wine bar Bellota, and the Prince Wine Store in Sydney and Melbourne.
We are delighted that Kirsty joins us today to chat about her daring life.
What makes a daring woman?
Someone who steps out of her comfort zone. Or someone who makes a deliberate effort to help someone else. I also think having a goal and working hard to complete it is daring.
Not all of us have big sparkly public goals, so many women are quietly plugging away at a project, or research. It might be their day job, or it might be a side hustle, but they are getting it done and often carrying a complex matrix of family, friends, lovers and partners along with them.
I recently took my three of children to see the daring women of Hidden Figures and we all cried!
Overcoming adversity is always daring. Both my characters in The Midsummer Garden are daring …
What has been your most daring move?
On reflection, there are many daring things I’ve done. Physically, I’ve cycled thousands of kilometers (camping all the way) up the East and West coasts of America. I’d never really ridden further than to school before, but then I cycled a continent when I left uni!
I’ve invested with my husband and business partners in The Prince Wine Store and our restaurant, Bellota. I’ve worked very hard to support both those ventures and our family. It takes a certain kind of quiet resolve to start your own business and stick at it.
We built a house and garden from scratch, having only ever owned a tent. It was a giant project – especially with a new business and three babies under three! None of these things felt daring at the time, as I tend to lose myself in whatever I’m doing at the time. There’s no grand plan …
Writing a novel didn’t feel particularly daring, but I’ve realised since publication how vulnerable I felt as The Midsummer Garden hit the shelves and made it’s way into the wild. I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone to shepherd the book into the public domain …
I have a twelve year-old daughter, she’s determined, kind and strong and I realise that I have to show her that it’s not unseemly to be ambitious. To be daring. Sometimes the chatter around you isn’t always encouraging – there will always be naysayers or the expectations of family and friends – so I think you have to find a kernel of quiet resolve and stick at your goals.
That’s what really daring women have taught me …
Tell us about the daring woman in your novel?
I have two women, one contemporary, one medieval, as the book is set between two eras: 1487 and 2014.
Artemisia is a medieval cook, herbalist and healer. Her life is contained to the French Chateau where she works.
She's preparing a lavish wedding banquet and trying to do the best she can within the physical and social restraints of her time. Artemisia is named for both the ancient goddess and the herb. Artemisia is often referred to as the Mother Of Herbs as is it strong, bitter and beautiful.
My Artemisia is as complex as the herb. She cooks and prepares her herbal tonics (like a violet broth for a hacking cough) and salads scattered with wild herbs and rose petals as a way to show her creativity and love. She's a fierce, strong woman with her hands in the soil who spends her day toiling for others. Yet she cares deeply for the people who work with her. She carries a secret, and with it ... hope.
It's amazing what the mind and spirit can endure when you have hope.
When it came to writing my daring contemporary woman, I called her Pip. I wanted to explore the Great Expectations that modern society place on the educated modern women.
Pip is physically tough. She spends her days with her hands deep in the soil and slurry and is striving to finish her PhD in the male-dominated world of marine biology. She’s bold, clever and quietly ambitious. Daring. She loves her family and fiancé with a ferocity that surprises her.
Why did you choose a female protagonist?
I chose two! Actually, there’s many strong, quirky, wonderful women in my book.
Women, just the complexity of their lives fascinates me. I’m always wondering what drives other women.
I used the Roman de la Rose trope because the garden has always been a powerful metaphor in literature. My medieval character—Artemisia—is contained by both the physical walls of the chateau and the garden, but the social mores of the time. Artemisia dares to dream of a life beyond the walls, despite knowing that the odds are against her. She’s the embodiment of resilience, without losing her kindness.
With Pip, I wanted to compare and contrast themes of containment. Is she still expected to place love before career and family? Is it unseemly for a woman to be physically tough, to dive deep into her study and passions and lose herself there until she is ready to surface?
The subject of what is ‘unseemly’ for a woman is a tetchy one. But I wanted to get the message out that it is not selfish to carve a bit of space out to thrive.
Tell us a bit more about your latest book …
The Midsummer Garden brings to life the stories of two women across the ages, both of whom are preparing a wedding banquet when we meet them.
Travelling between lush gardens in France, windswept coastlines of Tasmania, to Tuscan hillsides and beyond, The Midsummer Garden lures the reader on an unforgettable culinary and botanical journey.
1487 Artemisia is young to be in charge of the kitchens at Chateau de Boschaud but, having been taught the herbalists’ lore, her knowledge of how food can delight the senses is unsurpassed. All of her concentration and flair is needed as she oversees the final preparations for the sumptuous wedding feast of Lord Boschaud and his bride while concealing her own secret dream. For after the celebrations are over, she dares to believe that her future lies outside the Chateau. But who will she trust?
2014 Pip Arnet is an expert in predicting threats to healthy ecosystems. Trouble is, she doesn’t seem to recognise these signs in her own life. What Pip holds dearest right now is her potential to make a real difference in the marine biology of her beloved Tasmanian coastline. She’d thought that her fiance Jack understood this, believed that he knew she couldn’t make any plans until her studies were complete. But lately, since she’s finally moved in with him, Jack appears to have forgotten everything they’d discussed.
When a gift of several dusty, beautiful old copper pots arrives in Pip’s kitchen, the two stories come together in a rich and sensuous celebration of family and love, passion and sacrifice.
The Midsummer Garden by Kirsty Manning is available now. You can buy it here.
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