A big welcome to Cathryn Hein who joins us to chat about writing rural romance. Born in South Australia’s rural south-east Cathryn’s debut novel, Promises was released last month. She hails from a family of jockeys and admits to growing up horse mad. Now living in Newcastle Cathryn writes full-time.  

As a writer of rural romance do you feel constricted by the tag ‘genre writer’ ?

Not in the slightest. Just because I write in a genre doesn’t mean I can’t explore broader issues. For example, Promises investigates, in part, the devastation suicide wreaks on everyone it touches. My second book, to be released next year, also looks at emotional issues beyond romance. Perhaps non-genre writers and reviewers see the tag as restrictive but I certainly don’t.

What do you see as having been pivotal or core to your desire to become a writer?

Reading amazing books as a child and experiencing the power of stories. I can still remember how Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books made me feel. The excitement and romance of Alec’s relationship with The Black was unforgettable, and when The Black met Flame…oooh!  Of course, it wasn’t just the Black Stallion. Over the years other books have had similar impact and I knew quite early on that I wanted to write. I wanted to create stories that wouldn’t let me go, characters I could laugh with and cry over, and develop worlds so vivid they seemed alive. It was a passion I didn’t let on about much, but it burned. Given romantic stories affected me most, it was inevitable that would be what I chose to write.

Apart from the rural setting how much is your writing influenced by previous or current life experience?

There are some influences, sure, my experience with horses being the greatest. Characters can take on aspects of people I know or knew, and emotions also come from within. We’ve all experienced embarrassment and it’s squirmy heat, for example. Same with anger, love, hurt, frustration, joy and every other emotion you can think of, so there’s a deeply sunk well I can dip my bucket into when it comes to writing. What’s important to remember is that my characters aren’t me and will react to those emotions in their own unique way. But generally my ideas tend to come from other sources. I’m a great one for cutting out newspaper and magazine articles that have struck some sort of a chord. Sometimes I’ll gain inspiration from a documentary, movie or television show and then mull on it until it twists into something new. Inspiration is everywhere.

What are the three essential ingredients for a strong romantic story?

Number one is conflict. It’s what drives the story and keeps your reader engaged. No one wants to read about people whose lives are going swimmingly well. Where’s the drama in that?

Number two is to create likeable and relatable characters. This is especially true for the heroine. The characters can have faults – in fact, they’re much more interesting if they do – but the reader must empathise. If they don’t care about the character they won’t keep reading.

Number three is to engage the reader’s emotions. Make them feel not only a part of the story, but a real part of the characters’ lives. They need to laugh and cry with them, feel their anger and joy as if they lived inside their hearts, so that the end of the story the reader’s only response is to hold the book to his or her chest and sigh in satisfaction.

If you weren’t writing within the rural genre what would you try your hand at?

I’ve already tried my hand at light fantasy, erotica, and an Indiana Jones type romantic adventure, and have plans (time permitting) to continue writing all three. But I would dearly love to write a cosy mystery involving a mischievous elderly couple, and I wouldn’t mind attempting a Jackie Collins / Jilly Cooper-esque bonk-buster. That’d be huge fun. My reading is quite eclectic so my writing aspirations tend to be too. But rural romance is my first love, and I don’t anticipate that changing any time soon.

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