Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Wildflower Hill includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kim Wilkins. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Wildflower Hill is told as a dual narrative, one following Beattie Blaxland as a young woman in the 1920s, the other following her granddaughter Emma Blaxland-Hunter in modern day. The two women’s stories become intertwined across the decades when Emma gradually uncovers her grandmother’s history after inheriting her sheep farm in isolated Tasmania.
In 1920s Scotland, Beattie Blaxland became pregnant by her married lover Henry just before her nineteenth birthday. Abandoned by her family, Beattie and Henry set sail for a new life in Australia. After a tumultuous and trying course of events, Beattie manages to secure a Tasmanian estate, run a successful sheep farm, and later establishes a highly successful woman’s wear business.
In modern day, after an injury ends her dancing career and her boyfriend breaks her heart, Emma leaves London and returns home to Australia to recuperate. There, she discovers she has inherited her beloved grandmother’s Tasmanian sheep farm, Wildflower Hill. Through cleaning out her grandmother’s house and sorting through her belongings, Emma discovers secrets about her grandmother’s past and begins to reevaluate her own life and priorities.
TOPICS & QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Which story did you enjoy reading more, Emma’s or Beattie’s? How did you relate to both of them?
2. Early in the novel, Beattie’s friend Cora tells her: “There are two types of women in the world, Beattie, those who do things and those who have things done to them” (p. 31). How does Beattie adopt this motto throughout her life? Does Emma live by the same credo? Do you agree with Cora’s theory about women?
3. How did you feel when Margaret went behind Beattie’s back to let Henry see Lucy? How do you feel about Mary, Henry, and Molly’s determination to “keep Lucy away from sin”? Is this just a selfish excuse to keep Lucy away from Beattie?
4. Discuss how religion is treated in the novel. Being a good Christian is emphasized by characters such as Mary, Henry, and Molly, but Lucy feels closer to God when she prays privately, and Beattie seems to feel more in tune with the land. Talk about each character’s concept of God and “good vs. evil.”
5. Beattie remarks that it doesn’t matter how she earns money, as long as she can feed her child: “Children can’t eat morals” (p. 135). Do you agree? Do you think Beattie did the right thing working for Raphael and serving drinks illegally?
6. Discuss the poker game that leads to Beattie’s ownership of Wildflower Hill. Why does Beattie come up with such a risky proposal? Why does Raphael agree to it?
7. Beattie often blames herself for letting Lucy be taken away. Did she do the right thing by relinquishing more and more control to Henry? Should she have filed for sole custody? What is more important, for a child to have contact with both of her parents or to be raised in the most stable, “proper” way possible?
8. Compare and contrast Beattie’s relationships—with Henry, Charlie, and Ray. Do you think Beattie should have told Ray about her former relationships? How do you think he would have reacted?
9. How do you think Beattie would have reacted if she knew Charlie’s death was actually a murder? Do you think Leo was right to keep the truth from her?
10. Why do you think Beattie kept every record from her past at Wildflower Hill? Was it as Emma muses, that she was clinging to every scrap, or do you have a different theory?
11. The setting of the book is described beautifully, through the vivid description of Wildflower Hill and its contrast to the city of London. What was your favorite scene?
12. How does Emma’s sense of identity, priorities, and relationships change throughout the novel? What event impacts her the most? Compare and contrast her transformation with Beattie’s.
13. Discuss Mina’s father’s reluctance to see Mina perform. Do you understand his embarrassment? Why does Patrick refuse to get involved?
14. Emma decides to finally visit Lucy and deliver her grandmother’s letter, even though her grandmother never intended to send it. How do you think Lucy will receive her? What do you envision happening after the close of the novel?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Do a little research on Tasmania to help envision the setting of Wildflower Hill. Visit http://www.discovertasmania.com/about_tasmania for information, maps, and photographs. To take a virtual tour, visit http://tourtasmania.com/.
2. Visit Kim Wilkins’ blog at http://fantasticthoughts.wordpress.com/ and read her thoughts on the writing process, her many novels, daily life, and more!
3. Before her injury, Emma was a prima ballerina. Go to the ballet with your book club and see the dance that Emma dedicated her life to.
4. Emma is greatly impacted by her involvement with Mina and the rest of the Hollyhock dancers. Watch a video about the Adaptive Dance Program, a dance class for children with Down syndrome founded by Children’s Hospital Boston and the Boston Ballet in 2002 at http://www.childrenshospital.org/patientsfamilies/videos/Adaptive_Dance_Final.mov.
A CONVERSATION WITH KIM WILKINS
You’ve written many acclaimed books in the fantasy and horror genres. What made you decide to branch into women’s fiction? How does writing in these genres differ? Do you have a preference?
I had written a lot of books very close together, basing them on mythology and history, and I was a little burned out. Also, I felt I had said all I had to say in that genre for the time being. So I sat with my agent on her couch and we were talking about the books we used to love in the 80s, like Lace and A Woman of Substance, and she said, “Why don’t you write something like that for a change?” I loved the idea of doing something fresh and different.
What made you decide to use the pen name of Kimberley Freeman on some of your books and your real name, Kim Wilkins, for others?
I used the pen name because I didn’t think there was much cross-over between the readerships. Freeman is my grandmother’s maiden name, but “Kim Freeman” sounded it like it could be a man. So I made it Kimberley. It’s very strange to walk into a bookshop and have the staff call me Kimberley though.
Tell us about the research that went into writing Wildflower Hill. What inspired you to set it in Tasmania? Do you have any experience with ballet?
I did ballet as a small child and I was just terrible at it. I was a blue fairy at the end of year concert, and somehow ended up on the side of the stage with the pink fairies and never really recovered from the shame. But I read a lot of ballet books and I still enjoy watching ballet. I decided to set the book in Tasmania because it’s such a wild, breathtaking place. And it’s right down there at the bottom of the world, tucked away, out of sight, and so underappreciated! Apart from that, I had to do a lot of historical research, but I always enjoy that aspect of my work immensely.
We never hear from Cora again after Beattie leaves Scotland. What do you think happened to her? What kind of life did she end up living?
I imagine she would have had a privileged life with few worries, financially anyway. I think it says in the book that she has a baby, and Beattie is jealous at the idea of the life of ease she might have. But of course, money doesn’t guarantee happiness.
The original title of the novel was Field of Clouds. What was the origin of that title, and why did it change to Wildflower Hill?
I called it Field of Clouds because when I was down in Tasmania researching (in the middle of winter) there was one day on the farm that the fog simply didn’t lift, and it felt like the fields were full of clouds rather than crops. But the name of the farm was always Wildflower Hill and we thought it was a much more vibrant, inviting title.
You mention on your blog that you struggled at times through the writing process of Wildflower Hill. Was this book more difficult than your others? How do you overcome obstacles such as writer’s block?
I struggle with every single book. Sometimes I wonder why I continue to write them! Every book is difficult, every book has unique challenges that I have to find unique solutions to. But I am just psychologically better equipped to deal with them because I’ve written so many now (21 including children’s books). So writer’s block doesn’t present as a big problem for me. I know that there’s only one way around it, and that’s to think a bit more, then write a bit more, and chip away at it slowly. Then I’m back in the swing and off again. But yes, I do sometimes moan about how hard it all is on my blog.
Gambling plays quite an important role in Beattie’s life. Did you have to do any kind of research or are you familiar with cards yourself?
No, but my dad was a gambler so I was well aware of how much one can win or lose. As for the card game that plays an important part in the plot, I had to get a couple of friends who are mathematicians to work out how much should be bet at each stage to achieve the right result. I am pretty bad at math.
You have created two very different protagonists with Emma and Beattie. What made you decide to tell the story through their alternating viewpoints? Did you enjoy writing for one woman more than the other? Whom do you identify with most?
I loved them both so much. I loved how prickly and self-absorbed Emma was and how she slowly softened and found out what was really important. I do identify with her (being a sometimes prickly and self-absorbed person!). But Beattie had my heart. No matter how much life beat her down, she just kept getting up. She had a strong moral compass and an unbreakable spirit.
Wildflower Hill has been enthusiastically received in Australia. How do you think it will translate to an American audience?
I am so pleased and proud to be sharing the book with the US. I really hope that my characters connect with your readers, and that the parts set in Australia will be interesting to them. At its heart, Wildflower Hill is a simple story about a woman who didn’t know a big secret about her grandmother, and I think that’s a story that can relate to any audience.
The ending of the novel leaves the reader wondering what happens next. Any plans for a sequel? What do you think happens after Lucy opens the door to Emma?
I have no doubt Lucy would welcome her with open arms. Age makes people wise, and Lucy would definitely want to know her family. So, no plans for a sequel. I had one reader over here who was so distressed that I didn’t say exactly what happened, that I opened her book and handwrote the last line, “And Lucy took Emma inside and loved her to pieces.” So, yes, that’s what I think happened next.