There's nothing like getting out of the house and the city for that matter and taking a country drive with your partner. Last week Sam and I drove along the back country roads to Wallan, a town North of Melbourne, Australia. Every so often we like to do this, as Sam say's, 'So we can have some time together'. We are each busy with our work and hobby interests so we don't often have a whole afternoon together. But when we go for a drive, it's our time to connect as we enjoy the views.
The peaceful rolling paddocks and rows of trees, take me back to childhood Sunday afternoons spent in the back seat of my parent's car, while they enjoyed a country drive. But as a child I was bored for most of it. Never would I have imaged back then that I'd love it so much as I do now.
Each time we pass a farm with cows I imagine how lovely it must be to live there. I say to Sam, 'Maybe we will retire to the country one day.' He's heard it before, but is happy to play my game and say's, 'Maybe, you never know.'
It's so funny how things in life can be such a coincidence. This morning I was reading a book from my massive to-be-read-pile that had a scene in it where the newly married heroine desperately wanted time to connect with her partner and so was thrilled when he said he wanted to take the day off and go for a drive in the country to look for a new home. How romantic is that? No wonder I love it when Sam suggests a country dive.
By the way, the book I'm reading is by a favorite author of mine, Annie West. It's called "The Sinner's Marriage Redemption"
In my sexy romance, "The Scottish Billionaire's Secret Lover", some of my favorite scenes are set in the country side. Hero, Angus lives in a Scottish borderlands castle. He and Natalie like to take drives in the country and they take a picnic basket too.
But Sam and I didn't get out the plastic knives and forks, we went to Hogan's Hotel in Wallan. A character filled double brick building with timber beams and open fires. Sam had a hamburger and chips and I had a humongous serve of lambs fry and bacon with mashed potatoes. A coffee for desert and then we were back on the road home.
As we were leaving the town, I turned my head and saw this outbuilding at the last minute. This picture is a bit blurry but I wanted to include it because it instantly inspired me. I imagined it decked out for a wedding. Can you picture fairy lights draped from the ceiling and floral arrangements set in the middle of white table clothed trestle tables?
It was getting late in the afternoon when the Melbourne skyline appeared on the horizon. But it had been a lovely day of chatting to Sam. We'd both fallen quiet, fully talked out and happy to just be with each other as we took in the last scenes of our rural sojourn. When we turned into our driveway, we started to think about what we need to do to get ready for the next day. But it's okay. We were peaceful and happy and smiling at each other and occasionally saying, 'That was a lovely drive we'll have to do that again soon'.
Stefanie London, a writer friend, posed a question on her Facebook feed this morning about whether or not people re-read their books and if so which ones do they come back to the most.
I could put my finger on two. I re-read Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe many times, enjoying the escape from the mundane world to fantasy land with talking animals. Each time I rejoined, Lucy, Susan, Edmund and Tom on their adventures I experienced the excitement and camaraderie. I relived their testing times and determination to keep going when all seemed lost.
The second book is Persuasion. This Jane Austen classic not only fired up my romantic nature but also combined a reunion love story with a tale of having to leave home. Anne goes on adventures unimagined when her father has to rent out the family estate and move to Bath. Although she imagines spending the rest of her days in a place she dislikes, that isn’t her destiny. The move sparks a chain of events that provides her with choices of new home and romance that had previously been unimagined.
I noticed the link between these two stories was each had a heroine who had to leave her home. Her safe world had been upended, and she has to use all her skills to navigate through what transpires because of it.
It makes sense to me that these types of stories would resonate with me because of the experience I had at the age of nine. I had to leave my home when I became sick and spend a long time in the hospital. My mum would come and visit me every day. While she was there, I felt safe, but when it was time for her to go, the hospital was a scary place. I had to make new friends with the staff and other patients and endure often painful or uncomfortable tests and treatments to make me better. I was on my own most of the time and had to deal with stuff that didn’t happen in ordinary everyday life.
Like the heroines of the stories I read, I came home again one day but was changed by my experiences. I used to wake my sister at six in the morning with my singing which I learned to do to pass the early hours in the hospital. What was worst was that home felt foreign. It seemed as though I didn’t belong in my own bed anymore. It took quite a while for that feeling to go away. I definitely became more independent from this experience, and I learned some fun crafts from the occupational therapists at the hospital that I was able to do at home. I learned that I can manage away from Mum and Dad and that although the journey can be tough, it helps to make you stronger.
In 2013 I had to spend six weeks in the hospital. I learned some precious things about myself during a time of forced retreat. Not long after romance came into my life and a new home followed. I love my life, even though there have been times it felt like it was kicking my butt. The ordinary days have become treasures to me because I’ve experienced the challenging times of being alone and struggling.
I like to read and write romance or books because they are always the story of people who have to face tough situations and grow from them. Finding love is the metaphor for having discovered the way to survive and thrive with challenging changes and embrace a happy life.
You can read the first chapter of my books on Amazon, or if you have a subscription to KU, you can read the whole book.
Do you have a book that calls you back again and again?
Only when the hero and heroine help each other to deal with past hurt can they move on to love and be loved. I can’t remember where I read or heard the following quote but it really stuck with me.
‘You don’t need to find a relationship without emotional baggage; you need to find someone to unpack with.’
In my novel, 'The Scottish Billionaire’s Secret Lover', both Angus and Natalie have devoted their lives to a charitable cause. It's their outlet for not having a child to love. Each believes they can’t be successful in a relationship but in working together to organize a ball, they help each other examine past hurts and discover their ability to be in a partnership again.
2. We all can change.
We learn about ourselves through relationships. All of us have grown up with a complete set of beliefs that have to this point helped us navigate our way through life but if we don’t challenge those beliefs and try something new we’re destined to go round and round repeating the same cycles and not even try to reach for our dreams.
Romance novel heroes and heroines have to shift their beliefs about who they are and their purpose in life. Sometimes they must even discard old dreams in favor of new ones in order to get to their happily ever after.
Elizabeth from Jane Austen’s 'Pride and Prejudice', had to change her belief that as rich man Mr Darcy is selfish and prideful. Mr Darcy has to get past the belief that a woman will marry for money, with or without love.
3. Never accept defeat.
Heroes and heroines may have set backs of the sort you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy but they always rally and have another go at trying again in a different way. They learn from their mistakes and misfortunes and are brave about having another go.
n real life, we need to understand that when we fail it’s a learning experience. In my own life, I’ve had to accept that a relationship needed to end, but I took time to examine my role in the relationship not working out. What would I do differently next time? I handle myself in a more healthy way in my current relationship.
Mr Darcy had to correct his haughty behavior to win Elizabeth. If he'd taken offence at her rejection and never saw the merits in her answer to his proposal, he'd have pushed her away. He'd never have won her in the end.
In 'The Italian Billionaires Secret Baby', Alessandro has made a colossal mistake walking out on his wife when she needed him most. She made the mistake a disaster when she left without telling him she was pregnant.
Believing she had to raise their child alone, she got on with it. When he finds out that his actions combined with her past experiences created a situation that put his child out of his life he tries to fix it. At first he acts in the same old way but he gets rejected. Instead of boarding the first plane back to Italy he sticks around and listens to her. He sees mistakes as fixable and tries to find a way to get his family back together. No matter what happens he’s learned not to walk away and give up.
Not giving up hope or belief in yourself as lovable and capable in life is the most important lesson I've gained from reading romance. I've been inspired and uplifted to keep going from reading romance. I've seen characters respond differently to the way I would have and it's opened my mind up to trying a new approach to difficulty and adversity. I hope my books are able to do the same for even just one person. It's about giving back and making a difference because it helped me so much in my life.
Here's a couple of books that resonated with me during difficulty in my life:
'The Boomerang Bride' by Fiona Lowe, a woman arrives in another country and finds the man she was to marry had scammed her. Instead of crumbling into a hysterical mess and blaming the world, she owns her gullibility and gets to work making a new life for herself.
'The Perfect Rake' by Anne Gracie. A family of girls are abused by their mad grandfather. They don't just put up with it and feel like victims, they plan and execute a daring escape.
Every romance I've ever read, has at least one strong heroine (sometimes two) who will find a way to change her world if that's what is in her best interest. Lastly I think Heroes in romance are amazing. They model just what a perfect man should be, flawed but trying hard to make things right. They care more than they want to at times, but they have hearts that just want to love a strong woman.
Because I was inspired by romance I didn't give up. I kept believing in myself as strong, lovable and that there was someone for me. I was rewarded with Sam. Here's a link to my post on how we met in A little Christmas Romance.
If you've been inspired by a romance novel you've read, I'd love to read about it in the comments below.
It’s finally autumn in Melbourne, Australia but it’s as though summer wants a last hurrah before departing for 2018. In a way, my romantic life is doing the same thing. Today I turn fifty-seven and yet I’m in a relatively new relationship. As you know, I’ve sold my unit and Sam, and I bought a house just over a year ago. So we're kind of just nearing the end of the honeymoon phase.
On my desk are the Valentines’ day bears he bought me, sitting under a bouquet of silk flowers that also inspire romance when I’m writing. This morning he gave me a birthday card and a gift voucher to Westfield so I can splurge on something special for myself. His sweetness keeps me feeling a bit younger than my years and is a little bit of summer although I’m in the autumn stages of my life.
Love and romance make me feel ageless in some ways, but in others, there’s a definite difference to spring romance. I don’t have the energy I did when I was young. Like the plants in my garden preparing for winter, slowing growth and conserving energy, I live life at a slower pace in my fifties. My days of dancing all night at a concert have been left behind in favor of gentler pursuits. Dining out and strolling along the pier hand in hand is life’s great pleasure now.
As I go through the seasons of my life, I find that in each one romance was present but maturing along with me. I know I’ll still be benefiting from having romance in my life as I move into winter also. But I must admit, autumn romance is the best yet.
My favorite book, ever, is Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion.’ Set in autumn, it reflects a mature love that has endured the rush of young love and disappointment, but is richer for their having had to wait. I also went on a kind of pilgrimage to Chawton, Jane Austen’s house museum and it happened to be in the autumn, so I was looking at the countryside she described in her book. I set my first book ‘The Scottish Billionaire’s Secret Lover’ in the UK in late autumn because it has that kind of second chance at healing a broken heart theme.
Being a romance writer gives me so much pleasure. I get to immerse myself in feelings of love whenever I sit at the keyboard. Autumn is a time when we can all take a breath and relax. After the heat and long days of summer, I look forward to taking a cup of tea and a romance novel out into my new garden where I’ll vicariously enjoy feelings of spring, summer, autumn or winter love every day. To be honest I love them all.
Romance novels offer access to live vicariously through characters who suffer but find love. But instead of sitting around feeling like victims, waiting to be rescued, they act. When I'm closing the book after reading the final pages of a thoroughly enjoyed romance novel, I have a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. I’m left with a sense of being motivated to face the real adversity in my life with courage.
Having seen hero and heroine through the twists and turns of heartbreak and courageous acts to overcome emotional and material world obstacles, I am emotionally there with them when all their efforts pay off. When they have won success through effort and not handed it by some fateful lottery ticket, their victory is sweeter for the struggle. I feel uplifted, and empowered to act in my own life as a result of borrowed bravery. That is a lot.
Perhaps the uplifting effect of romance novels can explain what happened during the GFC (The Global Financial Crisis) when the publishing industry was hit hard. Editors lost jobs due to falling sales, authors lost contracts for future planned books however the romance genre defied the trend and sales remained strong, even growing.
The general popularity of the romance genre, is not just a recent phenomenon. It could be said that the popularity of the romance novel coincided with the industrial revolution and the rise of a middle class in western society when for the first time a large portion of women came to have funds available for discretionary spending. Romance sales have remained strong right through the 20th century and into the 21st.
Ever since the early nineteenth century when Jane Austen was taking her first steps into the publishing world with what would become classics, there has been a following. But through the ages, women’s lives are very often not like the happy ending of a romance novel. So what do readers find that is relate-able in the romantic stories with happy endings?
In my own life experience, I’ve been very sad with relationships ending and suffering from illness. But loss has to be endured and even illness to a certain extent heals, adjustments can be made to adapt your life to the new normal and positives can be found. The sad, difficult times don’t last forever. In romance books this is what happens. There’s healing of hearts and hopefulness at the end of the story.
In real life the happy times return but it could be months or even years before healing can work its magic. In a romance novel it happens at the end of the book, every time. While a mature sane woman knows the romance is a fantasy and real life won’t mirror it exactly the underlying message is that enduring difficulty will eventually pass.
Sexy scenes or not?
It is impossible to talk about the romance genre without considering the physical relationship between the hero and heroine. Many genres include love scenes of varying degrees of explicitness. The genre I write contains intimate sexy scenes between hero and heroine. I find it is a natural progression for my characters to physically act out what they are feeling. In romance novels the the love scene, be it sweetly sexy to highly erotic, differs meaningfully from pornography. It must be an emotional experience, relevant to the story and move the relationship between hero and heroine forward and advance the readers knowledge of their character.
What does the reader gain?
Carol Rinkleib Ellison, PhD, a psychologist and author of Women's Sexualities has some ideas I think make good sense. She is quoted on a 2011 blog by Bodice Rippers, Femme Fatals and Fantasy, where explores the idea that through reading romance, women are able to move out of their traditional roles and into their sexual self. She says, ‘Taking part in enjoyable activities such as walking with a partner, listening to music, having a glass of wine, taking a bath, or reading a romance novel can help put women in the mood for sex. These activities can help women shift into their "sex self" from their role as mother, wife, employer, or employee.’
I conducted a survey of my female friends on when they read romance. I found timing had to do with a need to alter their mood. They claimed to read romance when had have leisure time as a way of lowering stress. Each has the pressures of modern life, responsibilities of various mixtures of the following: career; children; partner; and balancing family or personal budgets. One friend said she likes to double the de-stress dose and read romance while taking a bath. Another said that reading romance provided a leisure activity she can do when she is physically tired. A friend who shifted in with her in-laws whilst her new house was being built retreated to the bedroom with a romance where there is peace and quiet after the children have been put to bed.
During times of stress we all need a bit of feel-good and pick-me-up. The romance genre seems to have found the right mix of ingredients that provide upliftment in a way that women find accessible. Be it finding her sexual self, the optimism of the happy ever after ending, or the sheer love of the romantic ride, the sales tell the tale. The more demanding a woman’s life is, the more she reads romance.
I wrote that I'd like a man who was tall, like me, kindhearted, honorable and someone my children would admire and like. I kept hope there, in the presence of fear that it might never happen. I just knew I needed to do more. I needed to help myself to be in the right frame of mind for romance to come into my life. I decided to start saying yes to new experiences and to practice being romance ready.
I was invited to join a friend on a trip to Europe and in particular Italy. I had always wanted to go and so I jumped at the chance. I purchased a red lipstick at Harrods before the tour started and I wore it everyday of the bus tour leg of our trip. I was tired but when I put on that lipstick I felt alive. I absolutely loved Italy and I've always had a soft spot for Italian men. Paris might be the city of romance but Italy is the country of romance. The beautiful countryside, the villages with cobblestone piazzas and the ornate, pretty architecture all filled my previously empty romance well.
I came home feeling so inspired, I began taking myself out for dinner and picturing a loving partner sitting opposite me. I went to bed at night and imagined how it would feel to have that loving man curled behind me. I imagined walking down the street next to him and the feeling of my hand in his.
I had doubts about it ever really happening but, kept hope alive with my imaginings. I went on to finish writing a novel about an Italian hero and an Australian heroine, 'The Italian Billionaire's Secret Baby'.
I enjoyed meeting some very nice men that I'd met through internet dating sites but they weren't the right nice man for me. Then one day when I least expected it to happen (because I'd just come home from hospital) Sam contacted me. Born in Australia he has deep roots in the Italian culture, and he was exactly right for me. My grown up children think he's fantastic.
I still occasionally wear my red Dior lipstick. But I always hold Sam's hand when we walk down the street. He takes me out to lovely restaurants and it feels so wonderful gazing into his long lashed brown eyes. He's there at night beside me and I love it. All the imagining and dating was completely worth the journey to finding the man who makes my life romantic everyday.
Heroines in romance novels seem to be always beautiful and slim, right? Bertrice Small’s Sky O’Malley, had perfect skin unmarked by a single blemish. I loved that book but I also love it when an author goes against the trend and creates a less than perfect body type in a heroine who’s perhaps past her prime or has a plump figure.
In the book ‘Where The Heart Is’ by Billie Letts, the heroine, Novalee Nation, is overweight. I know, the movie version cast a tiny actress for the role but its heart and soul was born from the book that had had a less than perfect body heroine. Hero, Forney Hull, sees her inner beauty. He’s fascinated by Novalee when she visits the library to find out how to save her sick tree.
There is no perfect body, of course and beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. As in Anne Gracie’s ‘The Perfect Rake’, hero, Gideon shows us. He falls in love with plump (by Georgian standards) Prudence; he admires her figure a number of times. She’s his kind of beautiful. She has a “mother hen” nature in taking care of her sisters that he loves too. He’d sworn off marriage but in Prudence he finds the kind of woman he could spend a lifetime with and it’s his brand of attractive.
My favourite reunion-story, ‘Persuasion’, by (I don’t need to tell you but I simply must give her credit) Jane Austen, has heroine, Anne Elliot, a faded version of her younger self. Poor heroic, heartbroken Captain Wentworth claims to barely recognise her she’s so changed. If this isn’t proof that she’s not the prettiest girl in the room, he drives it home by giving all his attention to the pleasing Miss Musgroves. So much attention that by the time he realises Anne is the only one he could ever love, her status as more attractive than any other has returned, but he’s created expectations in one Miss Musgrove that may divide him from Anne forever. That his foolishness costs him a few sleepless nights is his just deserts.
All heroines have an inner beauty. They’re understanding and compassionate but flaws are fine, even physical ones. I’ve read lots of Mills and Boon Sexy and Desires with heroines who’ve been scarred or suffered burns, but their hero isn’t put off by them. For me it makes the HEA all the sweeter because I want life to compensate her for her pain and I’ve become so invested in her worthiness of being loved by a good man.
Let’s acknowledge that most of us have something we feel a bit insecure about even though we know we shouldn’t. Fiona Lowe’s Ruby and Rita winning ‘Boomerang Bride’ has a secondary character who is dealing with physical disfigurement. I became so deeply invested in her journey and felt sad for her, but it was a joy to watch her find courage to deal with real life issues and be valued and loved.
I guess we all want acceptance, so seeing a heroine who’s not beautiful in the traditional sense find love, reassures us that each of us is just as worthy of happiness as these heroines are. Christina Aguilera summed it up. “You are beautiful, no matter what they say.”
Inspiration is different for everyone, I imagine. It's the question I'm asked most often when I tell people I'm a writer. Lucky for me, I don't have any trouble answering them. I've been able to corral the plethora of things that inspire me into three categories. Travels, Real Life and Rescues and Fate Steps In. If you're interested in hearing about these, read on.
Travel and Holidays
I guess I've been a traveler since a very young age. All of us travel a massive orbit around the sun on this planet every year. That's a lot of miles or kilometers to clock up when you've just been born! No wonder we all hanker for a look at foreign places.
I've been fortunate to travel to distant lands and experience the richness of their culture. But long before that I did it through documentaries on TV and reading.
I guess that's why I like to use the escape of a foreign land or travels within my home country of Australia to help me craft a story that takes me away from my ordinary world and puts me into someone else's.
I set "A Wife for the Orange Farmer" in Mildura, a border country town situated on the grand Murray river. Its Orange Groves are watered by irrigation from that river and are the major produce for the area. During a caravan holiday at Mildura, I sat in the shade of a River Red Gum, rocking my baby daughter to sleep reading a Mills and Boon romance novel. So romance and Mildura were already a connection for me long before I was rescued by a real life hero who was an orange farmer.
Real Life and Rescues
No wonder when I was rescued by an Orange Grower during a thunderstorm at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden show I vowed to create a story for him. Such a charming handsome man, he entertained me and my mother with his easy good nature as he held a golf umbrella over the three of us.
Another yet to be published story was inspired during a self drive holiday in England. I was out of my comfort zone and then got lost. I needed directions and, you guessed it, a handsome man in a shiny silver Mercedes guided me back to the freeway.
Fate Steps In
I like these kinds of stories, soul mates who take a whole story to work it out. What if that woman lost in the car wasn't me but a grieving widow and this man was here to guide her back to a real life full of love and family? A novel was born.
What if that Orange Farmer with his easy manners and caring nature was taking care of his grandma who had grown so frail she needed a Personal Care Attendant? In country towns they're not easy to come by but a woman who's lost everything might go somewhere like that to find community and belonging and ends up finding a family as well.
I've met so many interesting people and been so many places and have such a romantic heart that I can't help but put them all together to create a story that gives it all meaning. Inspiration is drawn from everything I've ever read seen or done. It all gets put into a big bag and I play lucky dip I suppose. I also like to let my subconscious help out with meditating for writing and letting the words flow without questioning them and see what comes out. Later I sift through what has been mined for the gems. The results, well you've got to be the judge of that. Me, I love doing it.
Late last year a mystery illness, that had gone on for five years, came to a climax and was finally diagnosed but treatment left me in hospital for six loooong weeks. What has that got to do with romance at Christmas? I promise there’s a little romance to tell.
I’d survived the worst and made it home for Christmas with ten days to spare but had missed all the parties leading up to the big day. It was agreed I would spend Christmas at my Sister’s house. As I sat on the bed in her guest bedroom on Christmas Eve, I checked my emails. A lovely man had responded to my, online, E Harmony smile, sent before I became critically ill. I felt nervous about starting a relationship when I was still recuperating, but with my sister’s encouragement I accepted an email from him.
He wanted to get to know me and asked if I’d like to have a coffee. Heart aflutter, I made my sister stay next to me as I replied. We emailed and back and forth and discovered we were both spending Christmas day at our sister’s houses. It was agreed that we’d meet for coffee soon and exchanged mobile phone numbers. Christmas morning he sent me a Merry Christmas email and wished me a lovely day.
Last year, Santa gave me a loving, kind and understanding new partner for Christmas. This year, the two of us will be celebrating Christmas together. My gorgeous man is having lunch with my family and then we’re going to his family for dinner. Romance at Christmas isn’t just something that happens in books, it’s happened to me.
Luckily we can all enjoy some Christmas romance through the novels set around this theme. Two novellas I recently read have let me relive the wonderful feelings of beginning a romance at Christmas. A Kirribilli Christmas by Louise Reynolds, warmed my heart. A woman who has been searching for the love she wants in another country returns home to find the love she deserves. The scene where Shelby and Dan are decorating the tree is my favourite. Her wounded heart is healed as she re-examines her childhood and falls for the young man who’d always loved her. Sigh.
The other novella I read , Guarding Christmas: A Holiday Season Short Story by Jenny Schwatz was a reunion story also. Gray, a soldier who wants to settle down after active duty returns to woo the woman he’d left behind. But Yvie’s had enough of her quiet and settled life. She wants adventure and to realise a long held dream. Discovering that they belong together occurs during a thrilling, action packed lead up to Christmas day. It’s lovely.
Being a time of family coming together and, for me, a time of new beginnings, Christmas and romance seem go hand in glove together. The warm feelings of connection are strengthened at Christmas time. Reading about romantic love blossoming at Christmas is a perfect way to celebrate the holiday season.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope your Christmas wishes come true.
Romance author and lifestyle blogger
My whole life is inspired by romance. I write romance novels of course but also love creating DIY's and decorating in a romantic style. I'm rejuvenating an old garden, recusing roses and planting new ones.