Romancing the sandstone - Q&A with the UQ alumna rocking the world of historical romance fiction

27 Feb 2014

As an eight-year-old Anna Campbell was a chatterbox, and in an effort to gain some semblance of ‘peace and quiet’ her mother gave her books to read "quietly, over there", and one day she was given a Mills & Boon.

“That first Mills & Boon romance had me at hello, and that was back in the days when you were lucky to get a kiss at the end!" Campbell said.

"Rather tame by today’s standards. But I was immediately hooked. The emotion and the fact that a woman was so central to the story made that book (and those that followed) precious to me.”

We asked Anna some questions about her life as an extremely successful romance author (she’s written and published nine books) and also about her time at UQ.

UQ: People often say “I could write a romance novel, there's a formula" what are your thoughts on the formula idea?

AC: I can't tell you how often I've struck this particular myth, based on the idea that you write away to Mills & Boon and they send you back a pro forma document or a computer program and basically all you do is fill in the names of your hero and heroine. A slightly (but only slightly) less pernicious version of this myth is that you're told the couple needs to kiss on page 23 and have their first fight on page 87 and there needs to be a love scene in chapter seven!

In 2012, in the United States, romance sales were $1.4 billion and the genre held an impressive 17% of the book market. Are people really suggesting that the fans, usually women, who read romance in such volumes are too stupid to notice that the stories are ALWAYS exactly the same? Surely not!

There's a source for this particular myth. Harlequin Mills & Boon, the world's largest publisher of romance, have detailed guidelines for what they're looking for. These include information on themes and length and sensuality levels, just so that you don't offer your 200,000-word epic fantasy about the zombie apocalypse in the Kingdom of Hedgehogs to an editor who buys medical romance. It's a professional solution that saves everybody time and trouble.

UQ: Have you always had the 'writing bug', were you a word nerd from an early age?

AC: I’ve always been a book and a word nerd, right from the beautiful Oxford University Press fairytale books that my parents read to me when I was a toddler – I actually think those fated me to write historical romance. I still remember the beautiful dresses and the lovely houses! I wrote a piece in Grade 2 about wanting to be the new Enid Blyton and I started my first novel in Grade 3, a ripsnorter about horse-napping.


UQ: What's one of your best memories from your time at UQ?

AC: Oh, so many! The wonderful friends I made, obviously, are the best thing I took away with me. But when I think back, I remember a beautiful full moon night when I came out of undergrad library in jacaranda season to see the moonlight shining on that fateful tree that warns people of exam time arriving. The Great Court was silent and empty except for me, and the white light on the sandstone made me feel like I’d been transported to another world. I love the beautiful campus at UQ. By the way, is that lovely jacaranda still there? *

UQ: Were there any teachers or mentors who left a lasting impression on you after your degrees?

AC: I want to say “Oh, so many!” again. I think I’ll mention the late Val Vallis who was such an inspiration in terms of his love for writing and extraordinary breadth of knowledge.

UQ: What are you working on now and how are you researching your next book?

AC: I’ve just started the dirty draft of my fourth Sons of Sin book that should be out mid next year. No confirmed title as yet. The hero’s house is based on sprawling Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (although it’s in Yorkshire in the story) so I’m having a lovely time revisiting the guidebook and the postcards and the photos I gathered together when I visited in 2004. Some books require a lot more intense research (the treatment of mental illness in the early 19th century for Untouched or the East India Company for Captive of Sin, for example) but I’ve pretty much established the world of this current series so I’ve done most of the heavy lifting already.

UQ: Given that Valentine’s Day is but a week away and you’re an expert in the business of ‘love’ what would you say is the most romantic line ever written?

AC: I struggled with this one. So many options! But given I write Regency romances and Lord Byron was such a quintessential Regency personality, I’m going for his lovely poem:

She walks in beauty, like the night

   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

A selection of Anna Campbell's book covers - click here to see the gallery with captions. 


* Yes – the jacaranda is still there. We welcome and encourage any alumni and community to come back and visit the campus.