Category Archives: Uncategorized

a new website, a new book

Ten years since Untamed was first published, it has finally happened! I have a new historical romance out on submission. It took me five years to write, and I can confidently say it has all the romantic intensity, complex characters and gender-queerness of Untamed. You will not be disappointed.

In order to launch this second beginning, I’m giving my website a massive update, so keep an eye on this space in the coming weeks. It’s really pretty.

I will also be starting a monthly newsletter you can subscribe to on the new site, where I will share publication news, events and recommendations. I will be cross-posting the content to the website. None of the current blog content will be coming with me.

I look forward to seeing you over there.


This is the sixth of six observations on writing craft

This thought is a new one, but I’m finding it a powerful tool in my writing, and in critiquing. I’ve been noticing what creates a moment of emotional shift.

We all know that in romance the characters should start in one place emotionally and through the journey of falling in love, they should grow and change and end up in a new emotional place. But where do those moments of change happen? Something new or different has to occur – otherwise the character would simply continue on as they have been.

So what creates the environment for an emotional shift to happen?

My feeling is that nine times out of ten it’s vulnerability. Vulnerability opens up this tiny space, this suspension of all the usual crap, and in that space anything could happen next.

That one moment allows something new to begin.

This is what allowed the nuanced conversation between Lauren and Hannah in The Split which I discussed in the previous post. Hannah realised Lauren was looking around for her ex, and being caught in the act made Lauren feel vulnerable, like Hannah had seen something she maybe didn’t want her to see. Instead of pressing her advantage, Hannah used the shift between them to be kind.

When I’m not moved, emotionally, by a kissing scene or a sex scene, it’s often because there’s no vulnerability. I see a lot of sex positivity and characters responding with enthusiasm and arousal, but that doesn’t give me a sense of what it means to them, to be touching this person and be touched by them. I don’t feel like anything has changed because of the kiss.

This goes back to my notion that complex characters feel multiple things at once. Kissing someone you want for the first time is arousing, but it’s also strange and terrifying – because of what you’re admitting by kissing, because of how much you want it, because it’s a sudden shift in intimacy.

The stimulus doesn’t have to be as obvious as a kiss, though. Maybe the characters are talking about something really ordinary, and suddenly one of them realises how much this person means to them – this specific person – and it’s terrifying, and they probably respond in the last way you’d expect (or at least the fifth, or eighth). As soon as you want something, you have something to lose.

The romance lives in those emotional responses.


This is the fifth of six observations on writing craft

 When reading contest entries I often find myself impressed with the character conflicts the writers have developed. They are deep, simple conflicts rooted in character and in the premise of the story.

But I also find that once the characters meet on the page a whole lot of extra, superficial conflict is chucked at them – misunderstandings, inexplicable assholery, snap character judgements, overwhelming instalust etc.

I think this happens when the writer either doesn’t trust the inherent conflict to carry the scene, or hasn’t clearly identified what the conflict is. The effect is messy, confusing and unbelievable. The characters often have to act in irrational, self-deluded ways to allow for these superficial conflicts, and so I find myself liking them less and finding it harder to suspend my disbelief.

My feeling is always: Let these two characters meet, and give their conflict space to play out.

What a fantastic opportunity for us to learn more about them as characters. People are interesting and unpredictable in conflict. It brings out feelings and behaviours that we don’t see at any other time. And if you have built a solid conflict, your characters can both come across as self-aware adults and still participate in a tense, unresolved scene.

I say all that as though it’s obvious, but this, of all my observations, is the one I struggle with the most in my own writing. I find it difficult to slow down into a scene and allow the characters to speak for themselves. I’m writing a scene at the moment where two characters are in a tense negotiation and I had to tell myself to let one offer the other a cup of tea. They are completely opposed, but the refusal of one to offer the other sustenance isn’t where the conflict resides.

I saw an outstanding example of character conflict done well recently. I’ve been watching the British drama The Split, which I loved. (It’s currently on iView, for Aussie viewers.)

The scene I’m going to describe has some mild spoilers, so stop reading now if you don’t like to be spoiled at all!

The protagonist, Hannah, is a family law solicitor and she comes from a family with tense, entrenched, contradictory dynamics. She is married with children, but has a decades-long attraction to one of her co-workers. He had been married, but was divorced two years previous. We find this out when his ex-wife Lauren is the solicitor opposite Hannah in a pre-nup settlement – and that’s also when we find out Lauren is pregnant, and that they split up because he never wanted kids.

The pre-nup settlement becomes emotionally charged when Lauren’s team leaks detrimental information. Hannah confronts her outside the court, but Lauren doesn’t give an inch.

Then, incredibly, the conversation turns away from professional things into personal. Hannah asks about the baby and they connect on a mum-to-mum level. But like, not in the lame way that sounds on paper. They are grown women who contain multitudes – who can fight their professional fights one hundred and ten percent and still relate to each other as people outside that fight. It’s so unlike almost all other TV that it’s just electrifying to watch, this concession to the complexity of people.

But because it’s an excellent show the professional dynamics do leak into the personal dynamics in subtle ways, and vice versa. Hannah gains the upper hand in the pre-nup settlement and is righteously indignant – but Lauren, who has been slowly percolating information, is devastated by the realisation that she’s that Hannah. The reason her ex never wanted to have kids with her.

The conflict in these scenes didn’t land because the characters were at odds with each other – it landed because they were both acting in good faith, from the most mature, professional place they knew how, and they still couldn’t resolve it or protect themselves against the way it hurt them both.

a letter to my postpartum self

Dear Anna,

You’re sitting outside in the early spring sunshine and Robin is lying on your lap – the whole length of her no longer than your thighs – wearing a sweet pink beanie and wrapped in the stripy blanket you bought months ago. She is deeply peaceful, looking up at you, and you’re wishing her out of existence.

You don’t want her to die. Now that she’s here, you might not survive her death. But you also can’t bear the sudden death of your adult life, your sense of self, and you want to take back every decision that brought you here.

The fact that motherhood is the first difficult thing in your life that you can’t quit is what will make you a mum, but you can’t accept the reality of it yet.

I still feel deep guilt for these thoughts, and I have nothing but compassion for you, who are thinking them.

‘I just feel like someone else could be a better mum to her,’ you say to your own mum, who is sitting with you, quietly absorbing the fact that you’re in a bad way.

‘Probably,’ she says, and shrugs.

When I tell people this anecdote they’re often horrified, and if it ever occurred to me to respond to a woman’s pain this way, I wouldn’t have the confidence to do it. But the thing is, it was the perfect response. You, sitting there, realise that it’s irrelevant what kind of mum any other woman could be. You are Robin’s mum.

By the time you’re me, you’ll be comfortable with being a mum. You’ve become used to the ways in which you’re the mythical being, Mother, before you’re the person, Anna. But you’ve never entirely exorcised the imposter syndrome – the feeling that you cheated and somehow faked your way here.


There are so many things I wish you’d known or done differently, but the truth is, my advice would all be useless because you simply don’t have the capacity for any of it yet. You’re going to grow the capacity in the most painful way possible. You can’t go over it, can’t go under it, have to go through it.

It’s the first time in your life you’ve experienced capital-A Anxiety. The way you’ve experienced it before is within yourself – you, an anxious person, moving through the world. This is completely different. This time the world is anxious – it is a dangerous, unstable place where you cannot rest in the familiar. You experience, vividly, that you’re walking a tightrope, but you know that if you look down you’ll see that there is no rope, and you’ll never stop falling.

You don’t want to eat, and every bite you force into your unwilling body is a victory. You stubbornly take care of yourself. Thank you for that.

These feelings are still so vivid, but I read back on some emails you wrote at the time to hear it in your own words, and I had forgotten this particular feeling, which seems nonsensical now: ‘I worry that if I do the smallest thing wrong she’ll die. (Of hunger? Neglect? Crying?) I don’t feel like I know how to keep this little stranger safe and happy.’

You use the word ‘stranger’ a lot, when you talk about her.

When Ken talks about the moment Robin was born, he says it was like all the flowers on every tree burst into bloom.

No flowers bloomed, for you.

You took in the fact of her. You absorbed that newborn, raw steak smell. You were vaguely aware of some urgent activity that you found out later was because you had lost a lot of blood. When she cried, you held her tighter and said, ‘You’re alright, I’ve got you. Mum’s here.’

It’s going to worry you a lot, the absence of insta-love. You do love her, but it’s still just a fact at this stage. At about three months it will start to become an emotion. The world will start to steady and you’ll be better at never looking down.

Ken will go back to work when she’s two weeks old, and you’re not going to be able to wrap your head around it. Who the fuck decided you only need two weeks of support? The morning he leaves for work you’ll feel as though you and Robin are in a rowboat together and you’ve just been pushed off from shore.

You’ll get through it. Women everywhere do, amazingly. It still doesn’t feel like it justifies the way our culture leaves women to it.

You’ll get through it by spending whole days on the couch watching a vaguely exploitative British show about teen parents with Robin on you, feeding, sleeping. The closer it comes to Ken’s arrival home, the more impossible it will feel. One of my lasting memories of that time is sitting on the doorstep with Robin, waiting.

You’ll learn to deal with the needs of the moment – even when you feel unresolved, scared and out of your depth, and you’re so tired your ears are ringing.

You’ll learn to put catastrophes down. Not real catastrophes – there will, despite your every worry, be none of those – but the kind you imagine in heart-stopping, gruesome detail.

You will learn to live with the things you cannot change.

The extreme intimacy of your life with Robin is difficult for you. Soon, every time you let down milk you will be filled with a feeling of dread. My best guess is that you respond to the serotonin which is supposed to deepen intimacy adversely, because you cannot take more. You’ll learn to think of this as a chemical reaction and ignore it more or less.

When your second child comes along just eighteen months from now, it’s going to stretch you beyond your limits (you will cry while brushing your teeth, because if you don’t multitask you won’t get to bed) but it’ll be easier emotionally, because among three the burden of intimacy is shared.

Even without the benefit of hindsight, there are some things you did really well.

You were a total champ at asking for and accepting help, and it saved you.

Also, good on you for letting the house be a mess. A clean house always feels nicer, but you stayed sane, which seems like an excellent outcome.

Huge tick for always having TimTams in the cupboard.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sticking with mothers’ group. The first few weeks aren’t going to be great. A woman from Kidsafe will tell you about a toddler who swallowed batteries that melted half his trachea, and another who hung herself on curtain cords. The woman from the library will make you all respond like children would to the picture book she reads aloud in a fake-bright voice. It’s humiliating.

But some of the women in your group are going to become wonderful, life-saving friends to you. Not because you’re particularly alike, but because you’ve stuck by each other, with dogged persistence, through all the shit.

You will invite them into your house when you can’t see the floor for toys and food and towels and the occasional wet nappy. You will feed your kids dinner together on a regular basis and toast the witching hour. They will even help you clean your monster house when you move, because for some reason you thought it would be cathartic and didn’t hire someone to do it for you. (You had to pay for the oven to be cleaned anyway. Hire someone next time.)

I wish you could have felt ownership over your early motherhood, but you will go into your second labour focussed on building the capacity for ownership and leadership – and you will triumph.

I wish you’d had the knowledge and confidence to not entertain large groups of visitors in those first few months. Those visits drained you unbearably and ushered in the first feelings of dread.

To get yourself through one particularly bad evening, when you can’t even imagine making it to tomorrow, you will imagine a three-year-old Robin, in her miraculously robust, independent body, popping her head around the door with a cheeky smile.

You can’t imagine more than a smile – not words, not play, not personality.

Last week she made you a monster out of paper and sticky tape, complete with accessory telescope and binoculars.

You are her mum, and you will do an amazing job. You will give her everything she needs to grow up to imagine star-gazing monsters, and to make what she has imagined with the powerful fingers and mind she grew inside your body.

Take a breath, don’t worry about the green poo, and enjoy that glass of wine.


This letter was inspired by the incredible book The Motherhood

love is dangerous

Love is dangerous. Love threatens everything we are, threatens to break the world open.

There’s this great two-piece post by thejgatsbykid and Foz Meadows about Kylo Ren as a romantic figure; it suggests teenage girls are reading him as romantic because they’re taught to read abuse as love.

Abusive behaviour isn’t a new topic in the romance community. The first romance-only bookstore in the US doesn’t stock Fifty Shades of Grey because they think it depicts an abusive relationship.

I really liked the post about Ren because for the first time it made me think personally about how I’ve been trained to read romance. I have absolutely experienced what Meadows describes when reading intentionally abusive characters: ‘At times, I’d even feel frustrated that a particular story wasn’t doing what I’d anticipated – why wasn’t the heroine together with that guy? Why had the narrative set them up romantically, then dropped him off the board?’

I read romance first and foremost for an emotional experience. My adult life is so much steadier, emotionally, than my teenage life. I’m more focussed, more sure of where I’m going, who my affection and loyalties lie with, what my faults are. But my god, there is still an ocean of teenage longing in my soul. So: romance. I experience the beautiful, painful warmth of love and brand-new lust, without the chaos of being a teenager. It’s catharsis.

I wrote in my last post that the person having the sexual experience in romance is the reader. I also think it’s the reader who has the romantic experience.

All the discussion around the alphahole that I’ve seen has been about whether he’s abusive and whether it’s anyone’s place to police other readers’ sexual and emotional desires. But what about the alphahole as a literary function? What emotional experience does he give to readers?

Love is dangerous. It has an edge that cuts deep – it’s why it feels like nothing else on earth. The dark and dangerous romantic hero isn’t just a stand-in for a real-life boyfriend: he’s the embodiment of the emotional threat that is love.

Of course there are other ways to evoke the same experience, but when Edward and Bella head into the woods and they know he’ll either kill her or find some control, I didn’t experience that as abusive, I experienced it as true. In the moment of all-out love – not the resolved moment, but the moment when your blood is burning with it – it feels 50/50 that you’ll survive it.

The romance community is criticized all the time for giving readers unrealistic expectations of relationships. Our tired answer? We are grown-assed women who can tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

As one of those teens who absolutely learnt to read dangerous, violent characters as romantic, I don’t feel that ever informed the choices I made in reality. I stayed away from people who made me feel afraid, and was attracted to people I liked.

(Obviously that doesn’t guard against abuse in real life – all I mean is that I wasn’t looking for the patterns of abuse I read in romantic books.)

So I fell for a couple of wonderful people – and that lust and crazed adoration didn’t feel good or kind. It felt dark. It was untrod ground that took me away from my parents and my bright childhood. It stole my breath. It made the world catch on fire. My need to possess that someone made me feel violent.

What the Ren article showed me about myself was troubling, and I hope we keep having these conversations that shed light on our subconscious influences – and on the social assumptions we write into our books.

But I also don’t want to lose sight of romance as literature. We tell stories to reflect the deepest truths about ourselves. A romance hero isn’t a template for a real-life boyfriend – he’s a literary investigation into the emotion of human love.

baby hiatus

Dear regular readers (oh how I have neglected you!), and newcomers (welcome!), and random stumblers-upon-my-blog (also welcome!),

As previously discussed, I’ve been a pretty rubbish blogger this year. I’ll put it behind me, though, if you’ll be generous enough to do the same. Because right now I’m declaring myself on official maternal leave from being an Online Author Presence! I will still be an author, and still dream up worlds with lady-gliders in them (it’s really a thing, I can’t stop thinking about it), but you won’t be hearing from me for a couple of months – possibly even until next year.

If you’ve just come to my blog for the first time and want to read some amazing essays on Romance, may I recommend the guest series I hosted last year. I particularly recommend Cecilia Grant’s passionate defence of romance as a middle finger brandished in the face of existential despair, Scott Pearse’s meditation on masculinity and death, Cath Crowley’s description of moving from one book into the next… Look, just go read them all, okay?

If you’re interested in my Regency romance Untamed, you can find all the buy links on my books page. A print edition will be in Australian and NZ bookstores from 21st August – huzzah! It’s very heavy and pretty-looking, and the pages just beg you to jump right in.

It’s a bit weird to be on the other end of geo-restrictions, and I’m really sorry that readers elsewhere around the globe won’t have easy access to the print edition. You can probably source it online, but you may faint in horror at Australian book prices…

If you want to know more about Untamed – what it was like to write, how I feel about the characters, and the all-important question of who would play Darlington in the film version – here’s an interview I did with my publisher, Carol George:

And here’s me reading a short excerpt from the scene where the hero and heroine first meet:

I’ve been thrilled that so many readers are looking forward to seeing what I write next. I am too! I won’t be writing in earnest again until next year, so the book is still a little way off. But here’s a sketch of my murderous, debt-collecting heroine, if you want a sneak peek of what I’m thinking of writing.

I will be keeping an eye on blog comments, emails and twitter mentions, so if you leave me a message in one of these ways, please don’t feel you’re yelling into a void if you don’t receive a reply. Your message will be heard and appreciated!

In the meantime – happy reading, everyone!

the one about pregnancy

So I am pretty much the worst blogger ever.

Part of the reason for my craptastic blogging is, of course, that launching a book out into the world has taken a surprising amount of brain/heart/creative energy. I was not prepared! Hopefully next time I’ll be amazing and organised. I’ll have all sorts of interesting things to say. Huzzah!

The response to Untamed has been incredible. And it’s been so crazy-varied that Jessica from The Hypeless Romantic actually wrote a review of all the reviews. It’s a pretty good overview, if you’re curious how it’s been received by the wide world.

The main reason, though, is that I’ve spent the last seven months growing a human.

One thing I can say for sure about becoming pregnant (aside from the anti-blogging side effects) is it has made me appreciate that evolution is a genius and a drunk.

There’s nothing like growing a WHOLE NEW HUMAN BEING in your insides to make you consider how crazy it is that we still do this shit. I mean, surely there’s some more sophisticated way to take care of it by now? It’s so weird that my body, which for 30 years has been just me – just the way I get from here to there, just motor control and the naïve messenger of emotion – was capable all this while of turning into the perfect incubator.

Then there’s the fact that the best way to give birth is still through the vagina. Crazy evolution.

But the genius is in the 9 months. That is some evolution I can appreciate. I have been impatient at times, but there’s no question I’ve needed every minute of that time to come to terms with all the feelings and also to buy nappies.

There are so many things I didn’t realise about pregnancy until it happened to me. Some ways that knowledge might affect future books:

1)   Even for women who long to be pregnant, pregnancy can be a terrifying, confronting, ambiguous thing. There’s nothing like facing the reality of becoming a whole new entity to a whole new person to make you consider all those tiny, inconsequential details your biology has been shouting down. Like whether you even actually want a kid.

Pregnancy is the hallmark of Happy Ever After, and when previous heroines show up in other books they’re always glowing. Don’t be surprised if I write a previous heroine who’s sick, belligerent and feeling wholly terrified.

2)   It’s entirely possibly to not even start showing until well into the 20-something weeks. A heroine could conceivably hide an unplanned pregnancy for AGES.

3)   Unless she has horrible morning sickness. Morning sickness really is the worst. I felt car sick for about eight weeks straight, all nauseous in my head. I have absolutely no idea how women maintain 9-5 jobs during the first trimester – and especially how they keep their pregnancy under wraps while doing so.

(This is where the Worst Blogger Ever bit comes in. I couldn’t even hold down a Couple of Hours a Week job.)

4)   You don’t necessarily fall in love right away. Especially if you look at images of the first couple of weeks’ gestation and discover your baby is currently in the form of a ribbon of cells that will eventually become its brain and spinal cord. (For the love of god, don’t do this.)

Even when you do start to fall in love with the hard round bit you can feel through your stomach but not name, and the tiny feet that have discovered your ribs, it’s not a very straightforward kind of love. Suddenly you have twice as much to lose as you did before.

5)   Death is thoroughly unnerving because something that was here is suddenly not here. It’s so simple, and so impossible to grasp. Expecting a baby is like and unlike that. It is unlike, because I can already feel her – I already feel like I know something of who she is, because she squiggles and is still and complains and is content. It is like, because it’s impossible to understand that in two months a whole new person will exist who was not here before.

6)   The only aversions I had were to coffee and the internet. Seriously, the internet. (Again with the Bad Blogger.) The only craving I’ve had has been in the past couple of weeks and that’s for ice. Gah, now I want ice.

7)   Growing huge can be confronting. Paired with pregnancy hormones it can make you think crazy paranoid things. Not that I ever for one second had crazy paranoid thoughts about special k hanging out with less huge, less pregnant women. Oh, no. *shifty eyes* But, you know, a heroine conceivably might.

What portrayals of pregnancy, birth and motherhood make you roll your eyes when you read them or see them on TV/movies?


The very basis of a romance novel is this: Two people have each experienced certain things in their lives. In reaction, they have armed themselves, so that said things never happen to them again. Then love comes along, and it requires that the armour be removed just long enough for their lover to touch a finger to their skin, directly over their beating heart.

It’s a hugely romantic idea – but not unrealistic, I think. Part of loving special k is that I trust him so completely, he’s the one place I can fully set my burdens down and feel the curious tenderness of being exposed, and know that I’m not about to be hurt.

Not that this armour, these defences, are bad. They’re part of what makes people interesting, and unique. But they tend to be terrifying to let down. And, contrary to most romance out there, unless you’ve been through years of therapy, you probably couldn’t articulate exactly what those defences are.

I did a self-development course a couple of years ago, and I came to the realisation that I don’t share myself. So the challenge was to call people who are important to me and share that information with them. See the problem there?

My experience at that moment was not a thought like, “I am being emotionally challenged by the idea of sharing. I can’t do this.” It was a visceral certainty that the world would end as soon as I opened my mouth.

So every time I read a heroine thinking, “My parents died, and then my first husband was an emotionally cold bastard, so as lovely as this man is, I can’t afford to love him,” it rings false.

Much truer to have a character simply experience the world as a place where love can never happen again. And when love begins to happen, it feels like a world breaking.

my marriage thesis

A dear friend I met during my writing course was married this weekend, under a steely, stormy sky. She asked me to say some things about marriage during the ceremony, because she and I have talked extensively about what it takes. And I’ve thought about it a lot, being a romance writer and everything.

This is what I came up with:

  • One of the most wonderful parts of marriage is the comfort and familiarity of it. But as marriage is so often a contradiction, the opposite is also true: marriage can’t flourish without allowing room to be always new and surprising. Because people are always new and surprising. Or, as I once heard it put: Remember – you aren’t marrying yourself.
  • When you’re married, I have found that love can transform from being a fuzzy feeling, to being implacable – a bedrock you can build a life on, that asks for transformation and trust and acceptance, when those things seem impossible.
  • Which is probably why I’ve found that the single most important practice in marriage is kindness.
  • The most confronting part of marriage for myself – and most people, I imagine – is the fact that you’re promising something you don’t know you can fulfil on. But if you were to vow, “I will be with you until it doesn’t work any more,” that wouldn’t be a promise – it would be a statement of fact.
  • When you commit to something beyond what you know you can do, “I will be with you always”, you are calling yourself to be great. You are creating something entirely new, where all the inconsistencies and complexities of marriage become possible.
  • There’s a line from the move Valentine’s Day: “Love is the last shocking act left on the planet.” I agree. Today you two are taking on something shocking – something worth striving for, and worth being great for.