My early love affair with romance novels and why any book is a good book
As written for The Australian Romance Readers Association - July 2020
My lifetime love affair with romance novels began at a young age, starting with Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables. It wasn’t long before my reading appetite surpassed the stories in my family’s bookshelves and I plunged into the world of category romance, thanks to a free library in my tiny hometown post office.
As we lived seven kilometres out of town, a trip to the post office was always a highlight. I rarely turned down the opportunity to see what the postmistress had for us and which new Mills and Boons novels had been placed on these shelves.
I loved everything about this display of red- and pink-spined books. The glamorous heroines with their flowing hair, gorgeous gowns and haughty expressions. The open-shirted heroes with their strong jaws and pensive stares. I especially loved the historical novels and dreamed of wearing the ballgowns and being swept off my feet by a handsome rogue or a dashing Duke. Aware that I was a bona fide bookworm, Gail the postmistress never minded me borrowing from her communal romance shelf.
But my Year 6 primary school teacher wasn’t quite so impressed.
Fed up with a sudden influx of love letters on his desk, the twenty-something male teacher pulled me up in front of the classroom and outed me as a Mills and Boon fan. Expecting to call my bluff, he chose a sexy scene from my Penny Jordan novel.
‘If you can’t manage to read that scene out loud, you shouldn’t be reading these books at all,’ he reasoned. With cheeks burning, I did exactly that. He was embarrassed, I was embarrassed yet triumphant, and my classmates were stunned. We came to a compromise—I was allowed to continue reading my beloved romance novels on the condition I quit with the undying declarations of love.
As a high school student, I made the most of my community library and delighted in the wide range of Nora Roberts, Danielle Steele and LaVyrle Spencer tales. I still remember my flaming cheeks when one of the librarians asked if I had my parent’s permission to borrow the steamier titles. I explained my family’s theory that any book was a good book and now, as a parent myself, I stand by those words.
My children aren’t far away from those awkward teenage years, and I’ll be encouraging them to read romance novels. What safer way to learn about the dynamics of love, romance and sex than in paperback form, and understand that a woman’s pleasure can be—and should be—seen as an important part of any healthy relationship.
I also write about love in its many forms in my own rural romance novels, Wildflower Ridge and Bottlebrush Creek. I explore the love between partners, the love within families and the push and pull of relationships. For anyone who hasn’t picked up a copy yet, you’ll also discover my stories are an ode to country living, from the love songs sung by magpies on their beautiful morning symphony, and the way food and baking is an official love language, to the tender care and affection between a child and their orphaned lamb.
As I write this article, it’s late June and my daughters are sitting by the wood fire with an icy-cold lamb that was abandoned this morning. They’ve called him Frosty, given the arctic blast of weather we’ve had this week. Eventually—if Frosty makes it through these crucial early days—he’ll go outside with our other bottle-fed lambs, but for now he’s nestled in a towel-filled tub, being heaped with love and fed tiny doses of milk by two very smitten young girls.
I think love, in all its forms, is worth celebrating and that’s why you’ll find me reading romance—and hopefully writing it—until my very last days!