If you’ve read any of my six previous novels, you probably know that I like to write emotional stories. They don’t always have the happiest of endings, although I do try to find something uplifting to land on over the last few pages! But the topics I have loved exploring over the last few years have been complex, difficult issues; things like domestic violence and forced adoption and drug addiction. My most recent book, The Things We Cannot Say, covers the joy and challenge of raising a child with autism, and tells the story of a young couple caught up in occupied Poland during World War Two! These books are incredibly research intensive and sometimes really difficult to write. I am putting my characters through hell, and some writing days for me literally are me sitting at the keyboard listening to emotional music while I type and sob. Even so, I love the way these books challenge me and make me think. I’ve learned so much about so many things as I wrote these books. My own opinions have been stretched and then changed and, although it might sound crazy to say, they forced me to empathise with people very different to me. Because of that, I feel like the way I love my fellow human beings has been deepened.
All that’s to say, I love my emotional fiction and I hope I’m lucky enough to write these kinds of books forever. But in 2016, I’d just written my book A Mother’s Confession (which is about domestic violence) and my book Before I Let You Go (which is about two sisters trying to navigate a complex legal situation after one is caught up in a drug addiction…while pregnant). I remember having coffee with a friend and she said to me something like ‘it must feel like you’ve been through both of these harrowing, life changing experiences at the same time’. Of course, fiction isn’t reality and I wasn’t quite that burnt out, but I suppose I was a little tired.
The problem is that I love writing. It’s my passion. My hobby. My favourite thing in the world to do (other than spending time with family and dogs, naturally). I felt like I needed a break from sitting at the keyboard sobbing, but I didn’t want to stop writing for any significant period of time.
I was pondering all of this when my friend shattered her ankle. It was an awful injury and she was trapped at home for months, basically immobile. I asked her what she was doing to fill her days and she told me she was reading romance novels. She was basically devouring them – dozens a week. Escaping into a world safe from the difficulties of her real life was saving her and I loved the idea that she’d found such solace in books. A few days later, I heard a podcast featuring romance novelist Kylie Scott. Kylie and I are both Australian and we happen to share our agent, and I was fascinated with her story. I bought one of her books…and by the end of the week, I’d read everything she’d ever written (except the zombie stuff. I’m terrified of zombies!).
It felt a bit like the answer to my ‘what to do now’ question had landed in my lap. A few years earlier, I had two characters pop into my mind, and I knew they didn’t belong in one of my women’s fiction stories. I decided I’d take Abby and Marcus, lifelong best friends, and try to give them a happy-ever-after. Their story absolutely poured out of me, and by the time I was halfway done, I’d already come up with ideas for their friends Paul and Isabel, and Jessica and Jake. The Start Up In the City series had been born.
It would be an understatement to say I loved writing these books. They are very different to my earlier novels – very modern, a bit steamy, and quite light-hearted. That’s not to say I don’t put these characters through hell, because sometimes I do. But these books will always end with our hero and heroine figuring it all out and finding a way to be together.
My women’s fiction novels are intended to entertain, but also to challenge and education and inspire. My contemporary romance novels will hopefully do all of that too, but they are intended to be a delicious escape from the challenges of the real world, and a reminder that in the end, love is everything we have.