On what makes books special

Wildflower Hill fleetingly (yet triumphantly, I like to think), made the USA Today bestseller list last week. I have never had a real, live bestseller in another country before, and so I spent the day I found out stopping in front of mirrors and introducing myself: “Hello, I’m Kimberley Freeman, international bestseller.” I was disappointed to note I didn’t look any different.

Once you’ve had a bestseller, the publishers can emblazon that fact on subsequent publications. I’ve always wondered about that, about whether people really do buy books simply because the author has sold a lot of books to other people. I know I have read a few books for that reason, but some of the more compelling reasons I buy books include:
* I read the back cover and it sounds SO EXCITING I MIGHT DIE
* Somebody whose opinion I respect tells me I will love it
* A review somewhere says it has the most incredible and unexpected ending that you just don’t see coming, and I take that as a personal challenge
* It looks pretty

In the case of the book pictured, though, I bought it (or rather got my mother to buy it for me) because it had a history that intrigued me. I found it in a secondhand book store as a child, and the inscription in the front, from 30 years beforehand (and as a child, 30 years is forever!!) caught my imagination. I took it home and wrote my own name in it in my closest impersonation of the original handwriting. I also wrote the pseudonym I was considering at the time: I’m sure my publishers are very glad I didn’t stick with Misty Moonshine.

I still have this book because it’s special to me (you can read a blog post about it on my other blog here), and it still gives me a lovely frisson to think of eight-year-old Annette also reading the book, then releasing it into the world for me to find 30 years later. We are connected, Annette and I. We are time travellers who shared a story, 30 years apart. And I’m all for the digital future, but that’s something you don’t see so much of anymore.

On late bloomers

Here in Brisbane, one of my favourite times of year is mid-August, when the jasmine on my patio blooms. It has the most exquisite, sweet scent, and it accompanies the cool, sunny days that characterise the end of winter here in the subtropics. It’s in full bloom in early September when my kids have their birthdays, and a few weeks later the flowers are falling off and the leaves are turning brown. I prune it back and wait another year.

But this morning, mid-October as the gardenias are budding, I found some late bloomers. I inhaled their scent hungrily, then took this photo.

I was a late bloomer in every sense of the word. I stilled played with my dollhouse in the first year of high school, until one of the other girls told me that it was lame. I was puzzled and sometimes horrified by the things my teenage peers talked about and did. I gained a reputation for being the biggest “dag” in my grade (if not the school). I flunked almost everything at high school and spent a very long time working in fast food jobs and typing jobs.

In fact, I’d say that I didn’t really blossom until my mid-twenties. I went back to school and finished my senior, got into uni, started writing books, and haven’t looked back. It seems to me there is so much pressure on children/teenagers to decide on a career and embark on a course of study that some of them are just not mentally and emotionally ready for. I hope my kids—who show signs of being late bloomers themselves—can go at their own pace, make a few mistakes, then find something that they are genuinely passionate about when the time is right for them. After all, there is that lovely surprise of finding a late bloomer, blossoming prettily on the dying vine, long after the crowd has moved on.