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Friday magazine interviews Barbara
FM: Tell me about how you came to write romance novels - had it been a long term goal to get into print?
The urge to write has been with me for as long as I can remember. When I joined the Brownies at the age of seven the first proficiency badge I earned was the writerís badge, and all through my primary schooldays, I spent my spare time creating comic strips and magazines. In high school and beyond I progressed to short stories and poetry, but I never had enough confidence to share my writing with the public. The idea of being published remained an unreachable goal and I turned to teaching, marriage and motherhood.
But the interest in writing never went away and years later, when I was required to teach a unit on popular fiction to my Yr 11 English class, I had to read some Mills and Boon novels and I was immediately fascinated. I could see a strong connection between these romances and the stories Iíd loved as a girl Ė Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Daddy Longlegs.
What I particularly liked about the modern romances was that they were short, they were focused on women and their dreams, and they gave the reader the promise that no matter how bad things get, there will (in this book at least) be a happy-ever-after ending. That seemed appropriate in todayís troubled world.
However thereís a big learning curve to be travelled when you embark on a writing career. It took another four and a half years and four rejections before I achieved my dream of becoming a published author.
FM: Where do you find your inspiration?
Some of my writer friends refer to ďthe girls in the basementĒ who send up our ideas. The truth is weíre never quite sure what stimulates the muse, but a bum on the seat in front of the computer is the first step.
I found that once I started to write these stories, I discovered ideas flowing from everywhere. Itís as if the act of writing provides you with a set of special antennae and you find youíre suddenly on the alert for ideas about characters, plots or settings. Listening to or reading news stories helps and Iím a great ďpeople-watcherĒ, but movies, plays, magazines and books provide inspiration, too.
But perhaps my most helpful inspiration was my love of the bush. Although I live in the city of Townsville, Iíve spent a lot of time traveling in the outback and camping and canoeing with my family or visiting relatives on cattle properties. The first book I sold was set on a cattle property on the banks of the Burdekin River.
FM: What countries are your books sold in? Are they particularly popular in any specific area?
My books have been translated into twenty different languages (including Arabic, Russian and Japanese) and are sold all over the world. Australian romances do well in USA. The romance industry is huge there and over half the paperbacks sold are romance. But my books also seem to be popular in European countries, especially France, Germany and Italy.
FM: Your romance novels are often based in rural Australia, do you still think that there is a lot of romance associated with the bush?
Oh, yes. The allure of life in the bush is no doubt romanticized by those of us who live in the city, but itís still very strong. To start with, the beauty of the Australian bush is unique and readers enjoy settings that evoke the dramatic scenery, or the tranquility and the awesome splendour of the outback.
However, the Australian bush is peopled with heroes and heroines to write about, too. We think of rural people as warm, friendly, salt of the earth types with a strong spirit and a great sense of humour that sees them through tough times. We admire their resilience when they cope with heat and dust, dramatic market fluctuations, droughts, floods and bushfires... Rural people embody the image of man against the elements... and readers are uplifted by their fortitude.
We love outback characters because they are living the legend for the rest of us.
FM: What is it about the 'bush bloke' that so many women find attractive?
Traditionally, women have always known that men in the bush are tough and skilful. Their work keeps them physically active and mentally fit because they balance an active outdoor life with running a successful business, so they have the qualities that make them good providers.
But I think a bigger, more intriguing fascination for women is that the bush still has a reputation for breeding menís men. Mateship has always been strong in the bush and despite the huge advances women have made, thereís still a lingering sense that we (women) donít really belong... and thatís an irresistible challenge for any hot-blooded girl.
But perhaps the strongest appeal of outback heroes in a romance novel lies in the fact that these guys hide powerful emotions behind their toughness. Their feelings run deep. We women suspect (hope?) that behind a bush ďblokeísĒ Alpha-male exterior beats a Beta heart of pure gold and we love to see these loners - often remote, strong and silent types - brought to their knees as they admit they canít deny their feelings any longer. And we know that the heroine, who manages to penetrate the outer shield to expose such a manís tender feelings, wins a rare prize.
FM: Are people just as romantic as we have ever been or are we more cynical these days?
On the surface weíre more cynical. Young women today claim to be focused on careers, travel and fun and Mr. Right-For-Now rather than Mr. Forever. But when I talk to these women, I find that deep down they still long for a committed love with the right man. Many of them want the security of a man who will love them forever and be their life partner.
FM: Has the romance novel changed over the years?
There have been so many changes itís hard to cover them all. The biggest change is in the range of romances available now. The market covers everything from Young Adult and Chick Lit, to Inspirational (Christian) Romances, to Erotica, Romantic Suspense (action thrillers with romantic elements), Paranormal... the list goes on.
In the more traditional romances that I write I think the biggest change is that almost half the book is written from male point of view now. The heroís motivations and feelings are explored in more depth and so he is less of an enigma. Of course the heroines today are rarely helpless virgins waiting to be rescued. The books have to keep changing to reflect changes in society, so today the female characters have careers that are important to them. Plots today may cover modern issues like infertility or having a baby late in life, or dating over the internet and facing divorce.
FM: What advice would you give to aspiring romance writers?
Read, read, read. Find the kind of romance stories that most appeal to you and immerse yourself in the genre so that you understand it inside out. Then get on with writing it. You have to get that story down on paper. Thatís the hard part. You canít sell it till itís written. And consider joining Romance Writers of Australia. You can find them at Romance Writers of Australia
In this association you will find information and support. I and other authors have been involved in a mentor scheme to help remote writers. Thereís also a helpful monthly newsletter as well as annual conferences and competitions you can enter that give you helpful feedback and the chance to land your manuscript straight onto an editorís desk.
My most recent release THE CATTLEMANíS ENGLISH ROSE was on sale in December and is the first in my Southern Cross Secrets trilogy. It is still available from www.eHarlequin.com.au. <%call print_footer()%>