Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday Talk-Time with Barbara Hannay

Barbara Hannay was this year's RITA winner for Best Traditional Romance! She is also the writer of the most evocative and moving Outback books around. So no wonder her favourite Category Romance ever has an Outback theme...

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover category romance until I was well and truly married and had four teenage children. As I had been an avid reader since early childhood, I have no idea how I went for so long without knowing about these wonderful books.

After my first book was published, I discovered my grandmother had always been an avid Mills and Boon fan, but as she’d lived in another state, I missed out on sharing this love with her.

So… my adventure with category romance began when I was teaching English and I was suddenly required to teach a unit of popular fiction to Year 11 students. We had to dissect Mills and Boon novels as well as detective fiction and action adventure stories.

As soon as I started reading the romance novels, I knew I’d found the stories I’d been looking for all my life – stories that I not only loved to read, but longed to write. As you can imagine, after missing so many romance reading years, I had a lot of catching up to do.

This was in the days before the Mills and Boon lines were divided and I remember that my early influences were Sally Wentworth, Catherine Spencer (I adored That Man Callahan!) Charlotte Lamb and Penny Jordan, as well as the supremely talented Australian author, Ann Charlton. (Her book Driftwood Dragon was superb.)

Over the years that followed, I kept discovering more and more wonderful authors who created fabulous stories with lively, complex, lovable characters, and intriguing plots, breathtaking sexual tension and gorgeous ‘a-ahhh’ moments. But how could I possibly single out a favourite?

During this time I knelt at the feet of more experienced Australian authors and listened closely whenever romance writers talked about books. And I became intrigued when the name Lucy Walker kept cropping up. I was even more intrigued when I eventually discovered that Lucy Walker wrote for Fontana Books back in the sixties and early seventies!!!

She’d obviously made a huge impact for her name to live on long after most of her contemporaries had disappeared off the radar. It was still some time before I came to own my very own Lucy Walker books and I discovered what all the fuss was about. Her books are now among my very precious and treasured possessions.

Let me tell you about The Man from Outback in which a young English girl, Mari, is whisked off to Australia after an unfortunate romance with the boy next door. Her family decided that a holiday might mend her broken heart… But as soon as she gets to Ninna-Warra Station, she meets Kane Manners, the manager, and her heart is soon in trouble again.

Before I continue, I should admit that some aspects of Lucy Walker’s books are outdated and I think some facets might be considered politically incorrect today. Added to this, the characters smoke, the heroine, Mari, is impossibly young and innocent -- the hero, Kane, thinks of her as a child -- and yet she finds herself in a marriage of convenience with this man, who is more than thirty (perhaps a lot more). And later we find that he’s married Mari to keep her a prisoner!

OK, I hear you ask… why was I so impressed? Well, to start with, I love to write books set in Outback Queensland and Lucy Walker’s description of the alien world of Western Australia and its remote Outback is masterful. It’s a world of dust covered trucks racing over bumpy, trackless ground, of palatial, tropical hotels with cool, palm-decorated lounges, and low, rambling homesteads where the main communication is by two way radio.

But the appeal of her books involves much more than their settings. Lucy Walker’s characters are skillfully drawn. In the best tradition of English girls Down Under, Mari Curtis is admirable and “plucky” as she faces up to the remoteness and strangeness of Ninna-Warra and its formidable master.

And Kane Manners is downright unforgettable.

Yes, I think that’s the key.

Lucy Walker’s heroes make a lasting impact. She has conquered the mysterious allure of the quiet loner and made him her own.

In The Man from Outback, we wait breathlessly with Mari from page one until page twelve before we actually meet Kane Manners.

On page 2, Mari is driving through the Outback with her uncle and asks what Kane looks like. When Bob, in the driver’s seat, simply moves his hat forward over his brow and Uncle Ralph takes his pipe out of his mouth and coughs, she wonders if they’re scared of him. Obviously, something about her question ‘put the men off their beat’.

And this is after another man has already referred to Kane as an ‘ogre’.

Eventually, Uncle Ralph tells Mari that Kane is: ‘…a big fellow. Well tall, anyway. He’s quiet. Likes to do things his own way...’

When Kane appears at last, Mari notices, almost immediately, his ‘considerable power of silence, a silence that made itself felt. She knew, without diagnosing it, that here was someone who shared only part of himself with other people. The greater part, the powerful part, was for himself alone.’

It is not until close to the end of the book that we understand about the uranium mine on the neighbouring property to Ninna-Warra and why this taciturn loner, Kane, feels he has to marry Mari. But we savour every moment of the exquisitely protracted tension between the innocent, star struck young girl and her remote and too quiet husband.

Mind you, Mari has some miserable moments in the middle of this story, especially on her wedding night.

Kane, his hat in hand, came along the veranda to the screen door. He stood looking at that double bed.

‘It will be plenty of room for you, Mari,’ he said quietly. ‘There ought to be another bed somewhere around for me.’

Mari’s heart stood still.

But to Kane’s dismay, he finds himself asking, ‘What, in the name of fortune, have they done with their other beds?’

Mari responds… ‘There’s plenty of room here… I can sleep on one side and you can sleep on the other…’

He stood looking down at her. He seemed troubled and now Mari knew her first painful thought had been right. He did not think she was old enough to be married.

Of course, they spend the night in bed together, and the tension in this scene and in many others is excruciating. Romance readers who devour this story, do so mostly to get to that delicious moment at the end, when they know Kane will openly declare his love. The night he finally comes to Mari’s bed with the words… ‘Move over, Mari. It’s too big a night for me to spend it alone.’

Oh, dear, sometimes these quotes taken out of context sound corny, but the appeal of these very traditional books is in the sustained tension, the suppressed longing and the secret mystery of the loner, who can be so very, very nice when he sets his mind to it. As an author for the Romance line, I continually find a great deal to learn from the old fashioned novels of Lucy Walker and they are still available at certain sites on line.

In fact, my book, The Cattleman’s English Rose, published in 2005, was my tribute to Lucy Walker. I even called my hero Kane McKinnon and his book was the first of my Southern Cross trilogy.

Now a question. Do you agree that it’s the hero who makes a romance outstanding? I’d love to hear about your favourites?

Barbara Hannay is a 2007 RITA winner for Best Traditional Romance for Claiming His Family.

This month, Needed: Her Mr. Right, Book #2 in the Secrets We Keep trilogy is available in the UK and North America and online in Australia and New Zealand.

Check out more at her website...



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9 comments:

  1. You know...I'm not sure this 'my favorite romance' is a good idea...where do I find this one!

    "Move over, Mari. It’s too big a night for me to spend it alone."

    ...SWOON...

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  2. Barb, "That Man Callahan!" is one of my all-time, pre-thought-I-could-ever-write-one category romances. It was a library read, and every time the title comes back to me I think I ought to head over to Amazon and pick up a copy.

    Never read a Lucy Walker. Feeling like I ought ;).

    Thanks for the heads up!

    Ally

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  3. I absolutely agree it's the hero that makes the romance--the heroes are the reasons I read these books :-)!

    Wonderful story summary, wonderful quotes. I'm swooning with Jenna :-).

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  4. I still get the urge to read the old Lucy Walkers now and again. I haven't got all of them anymore, but a precious few that I keep on my shelf for when I need to be transported!

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  5. Thank you, Barb. I felt I was reading the book again from those excerpts.

    I think the hero has to be yummy to make for a great book, but I don't think he can truly shine without the right heroine. So I think, they get fifty-fifty on the necessary for a great read scale, but for different reasons.

    Jennie

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  6. Like Barbara, I discovered category romances in school. After we took our AP English test senior year, our teacher had us to study genre fiction. I read my first HR and couldn't wait to read another.

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  8. I've never read Lucy Walker but now I want to. Which ones are her best?

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  9. There are some wonderful "old" romances like that one, aren't there, Barb? I remember falling for Essie Summers's books the same way. And Jane Donnelly's. The quiet loner has always been my favorite hero. And yes, it's the hero who makes the book for me.

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