Real-life love secrets shared by top writers


Did you struggle thinking how to mark Valentine’s Day? Spare a thought for romance writers, whose year-round brief is dreaming up lovetastic scenarios. Today five of Australia’s most popular authors in the genre share the real-life experiences that moved them most.

RACHAEL JOHNS

I’ve been writing romance novels since I was 17 and accidentally dumped my high-school sweetheart, almost 25 years ago. Teenagers do crazy things.

Sobbing into tissues over my broken heart, I thought my life was over. I’d loved him since I was 13 (which felt like forever). I thought we were going to get married, have babies and live happily ever after.

While I’d always done well at high-school English, I wasn’t a keen reader or writer, but while I was wallowing over my lost love I felt compelled to put pen to paper or, rather, fingers to keyboard. I wrote the story of me and that boy but it wasn’t a romance at all. If anything it was a tragedy. Even back then I knew you couldn’t end a book by accidentally dumping someone, so instead I gave him a horrific disease and killed him off. While that story was absolutely terrible and will never see the light of day, I now see it for the therapy that it was.

But while I was healing my broken heart, something else happened. Something magical. I caught the writing bug. I discovered I liked creating stories and playing God better than anything else and decided then that’s what I wanted to devote my life to. Although I eventually recovered from that heartbreak, found love again, married someone else and had three gorgeous sons, I will never forget the strong emotions that come with first love: the intense obsession when you first like someone, the feeling that you need nothing or no one else — not even air — to live, and then the deep despair when it is over.

In every novel I write, I mine the highs and the lows of my very first romance, but it is my husband and my sons who have taught me what love really means. And that is standing by someone through thick and thin, and loving them during the fun moments but also when things are tough. I’d never have thought when I was experiencing that first heartbreak that it would spark my future career, which to date includes sixteen published novels. Perhaps it is fitting that my new novel out in May is titled How to Mend a Broken Heart and, like I did, my characters learn that heartbreak can often open doors and bring great joy.

CLARE CONNELLY

Inspiration for writing romance comes from myriad sources — and given that it’s Valentine’s Day, I should point out that my husband is, of course, one of them! But beyond him, real-life events definitely inspire what goes onto the page. Usually, it starts with the kernel of an idea that bends and warps beyond recognition, or mashes into another idea, until a plot begins to take hold. It’s impossible to switch my idea-seeking brain off, so everything I read and hear is grist to the mill …

Fails

I settled down with my husband when I was quite young, so for dating fodder I tend to turn to my single girlfriends. One of them dabbled in online dating, and after flirting with a guy in his thirties for a few weeks, held high hopes when the night of their first date arrived. What she wasn’t expecting was that he would be driven to the restaurant by his mum, who spent the evening waiting at the bar …

Triumphs

I saw a story online about a dad who, at his daughter’s wedding, drew the bride’s stepfather from the congregation, so both men could walk with her. The idea of love as a force that blends families, open hearts and heals past hurts is a compelling theme for me, something I explore in my books.

As for my husband …

Our love story is what gives me faith in the idea of soulmates. We met when I had just turned 18 , and within hours of knowing him, I said to my best friend “I’m going to marry that guy”.

And, Reader, I did indeed marry him!

PENELOPE JANU

Valentine’s Day is a good time to think about the important people in our lives, and the memories that we’ve shared. One of my most romantic real-life romantic moments was essentially an act of friendship.

Studying at the University of Vienna, I took classes in ballroom dancing. Like me, many inexperienced students struggled with the steps, but we looked forward to the end-of-term dance, where we’d be partnered with European students who knew what they were doing. At the dance, I was paired with my friend Juan Filipe — a very good-looking Spaniard. For the first and last time in my life, I experienced what it was like to actually dance. Juan Filipe literally propelled me around the floor, our steps exquisitely timed to the music. Years later, when I wrote On the Right Track and Golden dances with Tor, I rewrote that scene, allowing me to capture those precious minutes all over again.

There’ve been quite a few times in my life when romantic gestures haven’t gone to plan (six children can help with that…). In my novel, In At The Deep End, environmentalist Harriet has a terrible fear of the water, and Norwegian naval commander Per offers to teach her to swim. A turning point in the book is when they kiss underwater, and I thought I’d better check that the kind of kiss I’d written was possible. My husband and I were in Hawaii when I gave him the fact-check assignment. Having given the mechanics of kissing under the water less thought than I had, he breathed in a mouthful of ocean. Ten minutes of choking later, we were ready to try again …

As I’ve been very happily married for 36 years, I haven’t had too many new beginnings in romance, but this is something I explore in my latest book, Starting From Scratch, where childhood friends, on the cusp of falling in love, are torn apart through misunderstandings and injured pride. Would my husband and I have given each other a second chance at love? As things have turned out, I hope that we would have!

ALISSA CALLEN

February 14 is a date that has always been marked on my calendar. In a world stuck on fast forward, any opportunity to slow down and appreciate those close to us is worth celebrating.

It also helps that chocolate and flowers are two of my favourite things and that I write rural romance. While in my books I can control the external forces that shape character experience, the celebration of Valentine’s Day in my real life hasn’t always gone off without a hitch.

A memorable non-Valentine’s Day was one that happened early in my relationship with my now hubby after I’d returned from living overseas. The scene had been set. Dinner at our favourite restaurant booked. Basket of red roses delivered. Then we decided to grab a quick lunch on the way back from the beach …

Within two hours of food poisoning kicking in it was obvious Valentine’s Day was going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Thankfully there have since been memorable Valentine’s Days — for the right reasons — from candlelit dinners when the kids (finally) were asleep to weekends revisiting the tiny ivy-covered country church in which we were married.

It is these such universal moments of connection, peace and love that I hope to capture within the pages of my books. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need a specific day to value those who are special to us, but an annual reminder never goes astray.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

MELANIE MILBURNE

I’m always thinking up romantic gestures for my heroes to do for my heroines. Sometimes it’s a beautiful gift of jewellery, or a huge sacrifice he has made on his part that reflects his deep love.

A couple of my heroes have bought properties that meant a lot to the heroine. No surprise where the inspiration for that came from — my husband actually did that for me! He secretly bought a block of seaside land in a place where we had previously holidayed on the east coast of Tasmania. He kept it a secret for a whole year!

Then, one day, we went on a drive and he suggested having a look at the block where a building was in the process of being built. I was bitterly disappointed to see the Sold sign and didn’t even want to get out of the car in case the new owners thought we were snooping.

Little did I know we were the new owners! My husband showed me around the partially built house and seemed to know a lot about what room was what. Still, I didn’t twig. But then, he took me in his arms and said “Happy anniversary, darling”. I looked at him blankly for a moment, not quite able to believe my ears.

Actually, I was acting like my heroine in my latest release, One Hot Night in New York. Zoey is completely gobsmacked by the demonstration of Finn’s love for her. What a hero.

For more from these authors and their fellow writers head to romance.com.au — and remember to share your own favourite love stories at the Sunday Book Club group on Facebook.



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