When I was 11 I wrote something rather profound in my diary. It was something along the lines of ‘I don’t like reading books without romance in them!’ My access to ‘books with romance in’ was quite limited. Some of the Baby Sitters Club books had some good love story lines, like Stacey and Sam in many of the Super Specials. I remember enjoying reading Anne Frank’s Diary with Peter as a romantic character, and also Laura and Almanzo’s courtship.
That Christmas my Nan, who loved reading too, gave me my first Sweet Dreams novel. The blurb started with ‘Love can be rough…’ and it was about a girl on an Outward Bound course who fell in love, but had to compete with a rival, named Lisa, for her boyfriend’s affections. This is where my Sweet Dreams and Sweet valley High addiction started. I consumed them quickly, usually in under three hours. I bought two huge cartons from a book fair once, and had enough reading material for the summer holidays.
There was one thing I was excited about when high school began — reading the Freshman Dorm series, which I had spotted during my orientation visit, weeks earlier. I loved the stories of Winnie and Josh, and also Dash and Lauren. I was enthralled by Faith and Christopher, and KC’s brief fling with Steven. These books kept me up late, and got me out of bed early.
Soon though, I depleted the collection of Freshman Dorm, and discovered SVH Senior Year, with Elizabeth and the super sexy Conner and I was soon trying to track these down too. In fact, I am still working on this collection. As school went on, my interest in reading never waned, but I fell out of love with my school library reasonably quickly, and had to find my books from op shops and the public libraries.
For six months I read as many Virginia Andrews books as I could find. I sold this collection, but I loved the story of Heaven and Troy, and was sad when I grew out of gothic horror which seemed to be exactly the same.
At fourteen I read Paullina Simon’s epic novel, Tully, and fell wildly in love with the men in that book, and Tully’s semi-charmed life. I wanted to own the book so much that I put it on laybuy at Target, and paid a few dollars off it each week.
I became obsessed by Bridget Jones and her endless mishaps, tantalised by Jane Green’s Pygmalion effect bumper book ‘Jemima J’ and shipped Harry and Hermione before it was cool.
My fate had been set.
Soon, though, the cracks started to show.
People would make fun of my reading habits. Or try and talk me out of them, or tell me I could read something much more worthwhile. I became embarrassed and started only reading romance novels in my room. When I started university, I found myself scouring libraries in the city for books I always wanted to read, but never managed to find in my home town.
During my writing courses, there was some scoffing by students about romance writing. Or the characters would have a sad ending. I wrote several sad endings to my stories because it didn’t quite seem literary enough.
Whenever I would write something, I would say it was ‘realism’, and believe it.
I had a few Mills and Moon books, and was given one as a joke at a Claire Hooper show. I kept them in my bathroom and read them while I dried my hair.
And finally, years later, I heard a segment on RN that talked about the craft of romance writing.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realised that the novel I have started is a romance. I submitted the first chapter, plus a pitch letter for an assignment, and my lecturer corrected a sentence I used to describe my book. She had included the word ‘romance’. Forget realism. I had written a romance. And, yeah, I would probably continue to finish my novel, which is a romance, and then start my next novel which is also a romance….
That’s okay. I won’t ever turn up my nose at the notion of being published by Mills and Boon. It’s now my dream.