Interview with Barbara Hannay

1. Barbara, thanks for joining me in this interview and congratulations on receiving a highly acclaimed Award for Outback With the Boss, for best Harlequin Romance of 2001. How do you feel about winning?

It's certainly exciting to receive this recognition. Outback with the Boss was my fourth novel and when I wrote it I was starting to feel much more confident with my own style. I felt that I was finally finding my own voice. The fact that the book has been so successful is a great validation that I'm on the right track.

2. More Australian authors accepting awards in other categories were Anne Gracie and Tricia McGill. Do you feel that Australian romance authors have finally received the recognition they deserve?

Yes, there is a wealth of talent among Australian writers and we are starting to make our mark on the international scene. I think Australian writers have always been popular with readers, they seem to appeal to both the British and American markets. But now we seem to be winning more awards from fellow writers or reviewers. This brings a broader recognition to Australian writing that is very welcome.

3. Please tell me what inspired you to write for Harlequin Romance.

I didn't have a specific line in mind when I started out. In fact, I was very uninformed about the huge romance industry and the range of markets available. I just read Mills and Boon books and tried to emulate that genre and hoped for the best. Luckily the editors liked what I wrote and found the best home for me.

4. What are the main characteristics of that particular line and how does it differ from Silhouette Romance and the other category lines?

I think Harlequin Romances vary greatly in style and plot types from writer to writer - perhaps more so than in most other lines. Personally, I love this variety and I think it is a great strength of the line. There are authors from USA, UK and Australia, so this gives readers lots of different settings to enjoy as well.

But if I was to select a defining quality, I would say that we all produce very warm, feel good stories packed with emotion and although they are designated as sweet romances, there can be a surprising degree of sensual tension. Many of our stories are very contemporary and many of our heroes and heroines have sex outside marriage, although this might not be described in graphic detail. This might surprise some readers, but you are more likely to find Bridget Jones type characters in a Harlequin Romance than in any other category line - particularly in the new Tango mini series. They tend more towards realism than to fantasy and this is where they differ from Silhouette Romance.

5. Is there a place for readers and aspiring authors to find out more about you and other Harlequin Romance/Mills&Boon Sweet/Tender authors?

Most of us have our own websites (mine is and there have been threads on the eHarlequin Community boards devoted to discussing our line. But the really good news is that we are launching our own website .

By the time this interview is posted the website could well be up and running. On this site readers will be able to find out "everything" about all of us, with up to the minute news about future releases. A special fun feature will be our Cafe Corner. Each month three different Harlequin Romance authors will chat about topics relevant to our line. We really want readers to understand that just because Harlequin Romance is the oldest romance line, it has kept pace with the way society has changed. The first month's topic is "Cinderella kicks ass."

6. Another project of yours is to help aspiring authors as mentor in RWAustralia's isolated writers scheme. Which are the main problems aspiring authors seem to struggle with?

Oh, goodness. Each writer has unique strengths and weaknesses, so that's a hard one to answer, but perhaps nailing the conflict is the hardest skill to develop. I think one of the simplest ways to handle that for a beginning writer is to have a hero and heroine with personalities that are diametrically opposed. That way their conflict comes from within and then you can put them in an external conflict situation that challenges their beliefs and values. Eventually they have to change, or at least one of them does, and that process, though painful, moves them closer to long term happiness.

Pacing is another hard skill to learn. A lot of beginning writers get bogged down in back-story instead of pushing the present story forward and letting pieces of back-story feed in later.

7. What advice would you like to give to aspiring authors?

It's the same advice Stephen King gives in his book "On Writing." Read and write. Read as many books as you can and write as often as you can. Accept that writing is a craft to be learned. And most importantly write the kinds of stories you LOVE. If you love what you're doing, you won't mind how many hours you have to spend at the computer, getting the story down and then re-polishing your work, because it will be a joy. I wake up every morning and can't wait to start work. And before I was published I was determined to keep submitting and never give up. I had four rejections, but I would have kept going if I'd had ten. I knew I'd discovered exactly what I wanted to do.

8. Your new book coming out next month (January 2003) is called A Bride at Birralee. Could you tell us a little about it? How did it come about?

After I wrote The Pregnancy Discovery, my editor asked me to write a book for the Maybe Baby series. It could be about any aspect of pregnancy. I came up with two ideas - one about infertility which became Their Doorstep Baby and has already been released as part of the Maybe Baby books and the other became A Bride at Birralee.

It's really more of a marriage of convenience than a pregnancy story. A young city woman discovers she's pregnant at the same time that she's offered the job of her dreams. She travels to the outback to ask her former country-based boyfriend to help care for the baby while she fulfils her contract. However when she arrives in North Queensland to make this request, she learns that the baby's father has been killed in a mustering accident. It is his brother who finally offers to help her, but he has a price - a marriage of convenience so that his dead brother's child has legitimacy.

As with all my stories, I loved writing it and I became completely engrossed with my characters.

9. I've read two of your books in German. How does it feel to be translated into so many different languages and to be read by so many readers from other cultures all over the world?

I think I've been translated into about thirteen languages now and believe me, it's quite a buzz. Sometimes I'm watching TV and I see a crowded football stadium in Germany or France and I think crikey, the same number of people in that country handed over their hard earned cash for my book. It's a very satisfying thought.

10. When writing your stories and setting them in Australia, do you keep your international readers in mind?

Yes, I do. The first book I sold was set in the outback and the UK editors seemed to love the bush setting. In Outback With the Boss, the book that won the award, the hero and heroine are lost in the outback and the setting is very significant and more or less becomes another character shaping the story and interacting with the characters. The largest part of my readership is international and I know Australia is a popular tourist destination, so I try to get as much Aussie and North Queensland flavour into the stories as I can. Another of my books, The Pregnancy Discovery was set on Magnetic Island where I lived for four months in 2000 and I was aware of the huge number of backpackers staying there, so possible international readers were at the forefront of my mind all the time. I travel extensively throughout the outback to make sure my settings and situations are as authentic as possible. Mind you, local readers seem to appreciate the accuracy, too.

11. What about your country, would you like your readers to take away with them when they finish reading your stories?

I'd like them to have an understanding of the unique beauty of the Australian landscape. For me it's beautiful even when it's at its harshest. I would also like them to see our country, especially the outback, as retaining a little of the frontier feeling that makes it an adventurous place to be. I hope they sense that Australians have a great sense of humour, that we have a sense of pride in who we are, but we don't take ourselves too seriously. But mostly I guess I want them to think we have the most gorgeous hunky men in the world. I believe there was a survey once that rated Australian men as the best kissers! I'd love to think readers were lining up to read about Aussie blokes. (grin)

12. Who would you say are the most passionate romance readers? And which was the most surprising or unusual reader response you have ever received?

I honestly don't think I can pinpoint any particular readers as being most passionate. One of my most enthusiastic letters came from South Africa, another very happy reader wrote from Japan, but then there have been others in the UK and New Zealand - and Australia, of course. The biggest surprise came from a Year Nine student in America who used Their Doorstep Baby for a school project. Mind you, as a former teacher, I was delighted that she was discovering the joy of reading through one of my books.

13. I heard that as an English teacher you used romance novels to demonstrate as examples for stereotypical characters/storylines. What changed your view of the genre? And what inspired you to write one yourself?

Yes, I had a kind of Road to Damascus experience, turning from persecuting these novels (via literary deconstruction) to embracing them. Two things changed my mind. One was that I noticed the girls in my class were made to feel silly for enjoying romance novels while the boys thought it was perfectly OK to enjoy action/adventure thrillers, so I decided to become a champion of the girls' preferences.

Also I recognised immediately that today's romances have the same ingredients I enjoyed in the classic girls books I read when I was young. Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Seven little Australians... all these stories had spirited heroines and gorgeous guys who were perfectly right for them ... and they all had those delicious aahh moments when the characters finally realised they were in love.

Discovering today's romance books was a little like falling in love for me. I felt as if I'd finally found the kinds of stories I'd been put on this earth to write... Sounds drippy, but that's how I felt. I still do.

14. Who can be found on your 'to be read' pile and is there anyone you'd like to recommend?

I've just finished Jennifer Crusie's Fast Women and loved it. Near the top of my waiting to be read pile are Connie Brockway's The Bridal Season, Linda Howard's Son of the Morning, Anne Tyler's Back When We were Grownups, Anita Shreve's The Last time They Met, and a HM&B historical, The Dutiful Rake by fellow Aussie Elizabeth Rolls. And just for a change of pace, I want to steal The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carré from the pile on my husband's side of the bed.

But if I would abandon all these in a flash if a La Vyrle Spencer that I hadn't yet read crossed my path. She continues to be my strongest inspiration.

And one of the most impressive romances I've read this year (make that ever) is Laura Kinsale's Flowers From the Storm and I also loved the new Tango books by my fellow authors in the M&B Tender/Harlequin Romance line. I'm afraid I could go on and on.

15. You are popular for writing some very sexy outback heroes. How authentic are they and where do you get your ideas from?

When you're born and bred in the same country that produced Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, how can a girl go wrong?

OK... seriously, all romance heroes have to be idealised versions of the truth, and my guys are a combination of the men I know and have met in the outback, coloured by my own fantasies. I've known several owners of outback cattle stations, I've camped on their creek banks and slept in their homesteads and swapped tales with them around a campfire or two. I've been to cattle sales and "helped" with yard work like branding and ear tagging. The outback men are terrific guys, very fit and strong with a great sense of humour - a little reserved because of their isolated lives, but also very confident.

Then of course there's my husband and two gorgeous sons - all of them over six feet and lovers of the outdoors. I guess I'd say my heroes are very authentic.

16. What can your readers expect from your upcoming writing projects?

After A Bride at Birralee, I have two linked books coming out in mid 2003 about two brothers Gabe and Jonno Rivers. I am particularly fond of both these books. Gabe appears with Piper O'Malley in a friends-to-lovers story in A Wedding at Windaroo, and Jonno finds himself leaving the outback to deliver A Parisian Proposition after falling for city girl Camille Devereaux.

Submitted by Kris Alice, December 2002

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