Nine Naughty Questions
1. I wonder, is a Romance writer born or made? Please tell us little about your life before publication.
I was brought up in Mt Gambier, in South Australia’s rural south east and had an idyllic childhood dominated by beach holidays and horse mania. After studying agriculture at Roseworthy College I worked for a couple of pasture seed companies before a doing a complete about-face and becoming an investment advisor. I’ve always written – short stories and bad angst teenage poetry at school, followed by umpteen attempts at full length fiction that never made it past the 10,000 word mark. Only when my partner and I moved overseas did I realise it was now or never. Once I’d experienced that first ‘I’ve just written a 100,000 word book’ high there I was no stopping me!
2. For all the glitz and the glam associated with the idea of Romance novels, writing about and from the heart is personal and very revealing. Do you think this is why Romance Readers are such devoted fans? And do you ever feel exposed?
I sometimes think reading romance is like a benign drug addiction. There’s such a rush of feeling and absolute satisfaction when you reach the end of a brilliant love story that all you want to do is experience it again. I call it the Happily Ever After High.
Feeling exposed comes with the territory. Despite writing characters that can be nothing like yourself, there’s always some piece of you on the page. There has to be to make it real. Many quotes about writing, like Hemingway’s ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed’, exist because they’re true. You do bleed. In my case, it’s often from banging my head over and over against the desk in acute frustration.
Heart of the Valley is my tribute to the magnificent NSW Hunter Valley, a place I fell in love with during my pasture seed days.
It tells the story of Brooke Kingston, a talented equestrienne whose world is turned upside-down after a terrible accident. When her well-meaning family, desperate to get her to Sydney so they can take care of her, hire a farm manager to take over her beloved property she digs in her spurs and refuses to leave. But Lachie Cambridge proves more than a match for Brooke…
Due to his job, my partner and I move around quite a bit, and this lifestyle has had a great affect on my concept of home. For me it’s wherever Jim is. For others home will always be a place. Heart of the Valley explores this theme. Is home a place or is it where your heart lies?
4. Is the life of a published Romance writer… well… Romantic?
Ha ha. It has its moments!
But there’s a great joy to the lifestyle. It’s incredibly satisfying to be able to live your dream, and that flows over into your relationships and overall life.
5. Of all the Romantic moments in your life is there one moment, more dear than all the rest, against which you judge all the Romantic elements in your writing? If so can you tell us about that special moment?
I have a couple of special moments that I use for comparison. Adolescence is a great mine of emotion. Everything feels so intense when you’re young, over-hormonal, and enchanted by the endless possibilities and adventure of love. If I can recapture that on the page then I’m a very happy camper. As for revealing those special moments? Now, that would be telling…
6. Sex in Romance writing today ranges from ‘I can’t believe they’re allowed to publish this stuff’ explicit to ‘turn the light back on I can’t see a thing’ mild. How important do you think sex is in a Romance novel?
I think it depends on the novel and the characters. Some of the most intensely satisfying romances have no sex at all. Others simply wouldn’t work without sex because it would be impossible to think of the characters not getting it on. Sex in some instances can really raise the dramatic stakes for the hero and heroine, while in others the same scene could be pointless. Each book dictates what works.
7. Romance writers are often Romance readers – please tell us your five favourite (read and re-read) Romance Novels or five novels that influenced your work most?
Number one would have to be Jilly Cooper’s Riders. My copy has been read so many times that it’s in tatters. Polo would follow very closely, along with Rivals and The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous. These books are an absolute hoot to read and completely over the top, but I simply adore them. Rupert Campbell-Black is one of my all time favourite heroes – he’s just so naughty! I also love the way she makes the animals characters in their own right. I think that’s definitely rubbed off in my own work.
Paullina Simons’ Tully. It’s not a romance but the complexity of the characters amazes me. I’ve read this book many times and it never fails to keep me entranced. The book polarises people because the main character, Tully, is so difficult, yet at the same time she’s utterly compelling. You may not like her but you can’t stop reading her story.
Andrew Nicoll’s The Good Mayor. I adore the way Nicoll captures the absurdity of being in love. The Mayor does so many undignified things, which he knows are silly and only add to his hopeless state, but he can’t help himself. He’s so in love it hurts!
It’s the complete fantasy of it. If the world-building is done well, a good paranormal can take you to a land of pure magic; another realm where anything is possible. Sometimes we don’t want the real world, not even a tiny fictional scrap of it. We want to kick back and bury our nose in pure escapism. Paranormal romance caters for this need plus, being a romance, readers are guaranteed of a good dose of that addictive happily ever after high!
9. Lastly, what advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write. Don’t fiddle and faff. Write. Because the more you write the better you get. Then, when you’ve finished that first manuscript, put it away and write another. You’ll be stunned at how much better the second book will be.
Take the time to learn your craft. Writing isn’t easy – it’s very hard work and like any profession you need to hone your skills.
Always remember that everyone has a different process. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Some people are intricate plotters, nailing every tiny aspect of the book before they write a single word. Others are more organic and follow wherever their characters lead them. Some people write extremely rough first drafts then polish like crazy. Others – me included – can’t write another word until a chapter or scene is absolutely perfect. Whichever way you work, make sure you understand it. Once you’re published you’ll have deadlines, so knowing your process – how long it takes to write and edit your work – is vital.
Find good critique partners. They are treasures you can’t do without. Not only for their feedback on your work, but for their understanding and support during the dark times. And believe me, there will be dark times.
Join the Romance Writers of Australia. This is an extraordinary organisation. With them you’ll find information, education and amazing support. And friendship!
Cathryn, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.