Bronwyn Parry: Award-winning romance author

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image-bronwynparry200Bronwyn Parry was awarded the prestigious Golden Heart Award in July 2007 for her romantic suspense manuscript which has now been published as the book As Darkness Falls just out in Australian bookshops.

She holds an Honours degree in social history and English and has worked in HR in a hospital, as a youth worker, dance teacher, organisational development manager, and educational designer. She also occasionally does academic work.

Bronwyn is studying a part-time PhD researching online communities of romance readers and writers and their perspectives on the genre.

She is a member of the Romance Writers of Australia and the Romance Writers of America. She lives in the New England tablelands, with her husband and two border collies.

Click play to listen. Running time: 23.42

As Darkness Falls

Transcript

* Please note that these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie:
Bronwyn, thanks so much for joining us today on this podcast.

Bronwyn:
Thank you, Valerie.

Valerie:
Well, now tell us, when did you know you wanted to be a writer and how did you then go about making that all happen?

Bronwyn:
I guess being a writer had always been in the back of my mind, even when I was a kid I was writing short stories and fan fiction, although we didn’t have the term fan fiction back then.

The late ‘90s, I sort of really started writing sort of properly, I mean in terms of exploring ideas and themes and chapters and things. But it wasn’t until about 2001 that I actually decided I was going to seriously write and see what I could do with that.

Valerie:
Why? What happened in 2001 that made you do that?

Bronwyn:
I think it was, I was getting perilously close to 40 and we moved house into the house we’d been sort of building for a while and in one week I moved house, finished my honors thesis, submitted my resignation from the career job I was no longer finding fulfilling and I decided to be serious about writing, all in that one week.

Valerie:
Wow. So what happened then?

Bronwyn:
Well, I was doing consulting and things like that but in between times – in quiet times, I wrote and I started exploring and playing with ideas and I set – I gave myself time to just play with writing and see what kind of writer I wanted to be, how did I write, what things worked for me, what things didn’t work for me and that sort of thing.

And that’s something that I think was a good investment of time.

Valerie:
And what appeals to you about romantic fiction because that’s what As Darkness Falls is, you know, that’s the genre that it falls in, doesn’t it?

Bronwyn:
Perfectly. That’s what – yes. It is a romance. It’s the characters that appeal to me most about romantic fiction. Romantic fiction reflects on people and their emotional growth. My preference is within the genre; it’s a huge genre and my preferences lean towards the sort of real end.

There’s a very strong light fantasy entertainment end of the genre as well but I tend to read towards the more realistic end of the genre.

I think one of the things that’s important to remember about romantic fiction is that women are front and center in romance. They’re an integral part of romance; they’re not just stock characters who support the male action figures.

And women and women’s concerns are portrayed in very positive ways. And emotional strength is assumed as a core value within romantic fiction so for all those sort of reasons I really like it.

Valerie:
And how did your book As Darkness Falls come about? Did you already have those characters in your head or what happened there?

Bronwyn:
No. With As Darkness Falls, I had actually been working on a number of other stories and I was still finding my way and my voice. But one – in the small hours of the morning, one morning I dreamt this very short, vivid scene. I do have a lot of dreams; that wasn’t unusual to have a dream but this was a particularly short and powerful scene.

It was really just sort of a snapshot moment and it was a woman who was obviously a police person of some sort facing a mob of people in a very isolated area and she was trying to talk to them out of attacking a suspect.

And I knew something terrible had happened in the community. I knew she knew these people and then I woke up. And that scene it had been so strong that I went and sort of gathered a bit more and took some notes and that scene is actually now basically the end of the prologue of As Darkness Falls.

But of course, once I’d written it down, I then had to work out who she was, where they were, what had happened and most importantly, what was going to happen next.

Valerie:
Yeah. Because apart from being a romance, as you’ve mentioned, there’s obviously some kind of crime afoot.

Bronwyn:
Yes.

Valerie:
So what kind of research went into this book in that – on that aspect?

Bronwyn:
That aspect. Well, obviously police procedure was something that I needed to research a bit about. Now, setting it in a fairly isolated community means that there’s not necessarily hard and fast rules because things can happen differently out there due to the lack of resources and – and distance from resources and things like that.

But I did talk with a number of police officers and that’s after the manuscript got accepted for publication. I actually contacted the local police station and was pretty lucky to be put in contact with a female police sergeant who had worked a lot in isolated communities.

And she was fantastic in just giving me a few tips about, making it a little bit more real, I guess. And so she was wonderful.

The other thing too I think that was sort of the landscape – the setting is fictional but I needed to sort of model the landscape itself on a particular area so I went and sort of visited the area that I chose as the model and just spent a bit of time out there and walking around and driving around and thinking about well, how – how would this landscape impact on the characters and – but also on the unfolding crime and the – and the search to resolve that crime.

Valerie:
So did you have the seed of the idea and then went out and did the research required and then started writing or was it a bit of everything in between?

Bronwyn:
A bit of everything in between. There was the seed of the idea, then – and I had visited that particular landscape before so when I realised this was an isolated area for work, I could use that as the model.

As the plot evolved and the book evolved, I realised I needed to find out various things so I went out and searched for those answers.

Valerie:
So you would you be interested in writing crime fiction as well?

Bronwyn:
I would never rule it out but straight crime fiction tends to focus more on sort of intellect and reason then and the crime itself and often violence or social issues or whatever.

And my interest I think in writing is mostly on characters and character focusing so that’s – that’s mostly where my interest lies so romantic fiction – and romantic suspense combines, I think, the best of both there. But I like focusing on the intensity of that emotional journey.

Valerie:
Sure. And are you a reader of romantic fiction? Is that what you mainly read or do you read or write a variety of things?

Bronwyn:
I read a wide variety of things and always have. Romance has always been a part of my reading but I’ve read everything from literary fiction through science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction.

I like ridiculous things like Terry Pratchett, that wonderful, absurd fantasy that really is so real through to science fiction like Ursula Le Guin – quite a huge range. But I have always read romance and always enjoyed romance.

Valerie:
Now, I love reading romantic fiction but what kind of feedback do you get from people when you tell them you write romantic fiction? Do they have a kind of stereotype in their heads of romance writer?

Bronwyn:
Well, for people that know the genre, the feedback’s always very positive so a lot of enthusiasm but for people who don’t know the genre, the most common thing is sort of a bit of a snickering laugh and a comment about Barbara Cartland –

Valerie:
Yes.

Bronwyn:
Or bodice-rippers. In Australia, we don’t have a lot of conversation about romantic fiction so it’s not very – for people that don’t read it, they don’t know very much about it and these stereotypes and the myth still persists so it’s quite an educative process now trying to talk to people that don’t know much about the genre.

Valerie:
And even though you only decided to take writing seriously in 2000 or thereabouts, what were you doing before then? Like were you dabbling in it or were you just doing things for yourself? What was the extent of your writing before then?

Bronwyn:
Oh, mostly it was daydreaming, sort of daydreaming characters and situations and I’d sometimes write down scenes and things like that. But I wasn’t seriously trying to structure a book or develop a conflict – complex character or think it about it emotionally.

I wasn’t really seriously thinking about putting together stories. It was more just basically as in daydreaming and fantasising and just letting the imagination roam.

You’d see people in the street and think, “I wonder what their story is,” and you’d have a little – you know, I’d have a little sort of imagination about what that might be. But I didn’t actually sit down and write seriously.

Valerie:
Sure. So you had quite a diverse background in everything from a youth worker to a dance teacher and organization or development manager. Where then did you go and learn how to hone your craft in writing or how did you go about working out things like character and dialogue and plot?

Bronwyn:
Initially, because I live in a small community and it’s a very academic community, I didn’t confess to being a romance writer to start with so I turned to the Internet because that – while we have a writers’ center here, there was a lot of focus on literary fiction and academic-type writing.

So I turned to the Internet and I actually found that there was a lot of very, very useful information out there on the Internet and I discovered that the Romance Writers of Australia and the Romance Writers of America existed.

There were critique groups; there were social communities that revolved around romance reading and romance writing. And so I became involved and met a lot of people through that – those Internet forums.

Valerie:
Don’t you love the Internet?

Bronwyn:
Oh, it’s wonderful; it’s fantastic.

Valerie:
So what are you working on now? Is there another book in the works?

Bronwyn:
Yes, there’s a loosely-linked sequel to As Darkness Falls. It starts about eight or nine months after the events in As Darkness Falls and one of the secondary characters from the first book becomes a main character in the second book. And it follows this one.

Valerie:
How far along into it are you?

Bronwyn:
About a third of the way with lots of draft scenes sort of sitting in the last two-thirds of it. So I’ve still got a fair way to go, yeah.

Valerie:
So can you describe to use what your writing day looks like – your typical working day when you’re writing?

Bronwyn:
Well, I get up and I tend to check the various blogs and things like that that I read and have a bit of slow – I’m not a morning person – bit of a slow start to the morning. Breakfast, shower, dressed, etc. – I do hope to be dressed by 9:00 just in case anybody rings – not that I’ve got a video phone but you feel more professional when you’re out of your dressing gown.

And then I tend to sit down – mornings aren’t my most productive time. I’m much more productive in the afternoons and evenings so I’m trying now to discipline myself to sort of do all the – the business-type things in the morning and the bill-paying and the tax things and that sort of thing and then concentrate in the afternoon and into the evening on writing.

Valerie:
And when you made that transition when you decided to take it seriously, did you actually go cold turkey so to speak and actually just start writing? Was it a hard – was it a sudden thing and was it a hard thing to do financially or just logistically?

Bronwyn:
Well I still had to work but I was doing private consulting from home so that – that gave me more flexibility in terms of having time to write but earning a living had to come first, so I tended to spend sort of more weekends and evenings writing.

I did give myself permission to play for a period of time so that I wasn’t sort of thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to sit down and write a book. Write, write, write the book.” I realised I needed to explore and experiment and learn the craft and I’m not a terribly structured learner; I tend to learn by doing so that was what I did.

And I probably started about 12 different stories and played with different ideas and wrote scenes and chapters and synopses and things like that – and basically learned about writing and about my voice and the stories I wanted to tell and how I wanted to tell them by doing that and seeing what worked and what are not.

Valerie:
And you say that you’ve found a lot of help and feedback from forums and other places online. Can you give us an example of that?

Bronwyn:
Well, first of all, the Harlequin community – they have a huge discussion board and that, to begin with was very useful. There was a lot of information about writing Harlequin romances and I had originally thought I would target the shorter category novels but then I decided that that wasn’t where my voice lay.

But I sort of met a whole lot of people through those discussion boards and that’s ended up being a very, very supportive writers’ group even though we all write different things. That ended up being quite supportive and we do critiques for each other but it’s also getting through the writing day and the ups and downs of the writing life and they’re a fun bunch of people to do that with.

Valerie:
So, effectively, you have a virtual writers’ group to workshop with.

Bronwyn:
Yes, yes. And a small group of us actually got together and did serious critiquing of each other for about two years or thereabouts; we were all aiming seriously for publication by then and so we had a fairly non – a fairly no-nonsense, up-front critique group, which was a great experience.

We’re now sort of heading in far different directions, I think, and we’re pretty much all published so we – we don’t critique each other as much as used to but it’s still a forum for brainstorming and also getting a kick up the proverbial butt when you need it.

Valerie:
And for aspiring writers out there, can you tell them how important that sort of workshopping environment is, you know, to improve your own writing so that you’re not in isolation?

Bronwyn:
Yeah, I think it’s very important to compare and to be able to talk about your writing and to hear peoples’ feedback on it. I think that you need to write a lot and find your voice and then know what your voice is and develop that and don’t let anybody veer you away from that.

Once you know what it is – how you want to write and what your particular strengths as a writer are, then you’ve got to hold onto those and hone those. So critique groups – you know, finding a really good critique group is invaluable; a bad critique group can be very damaging.

So knowing why you write what you write and polishing and developing that voice is very important. And the feedback from others – you need to know what to take and what to leave.

Valerie:
And when did you know? When did you find your voice and how did you know it was it?

Bronwyn:
When I first started writing As Darkness Falls I’d been playing with a lot of other stories and I was feeling confident that I could, grammatically I was quite good and I could write reasonably well.

But I think the type of story that As Darkness Falls is – it’s a little bit dark; it’s a bit gritty. It looks at a community as well as the main protagonists and I think that is an important part of the types of stories that I want to tell; sort of quite real, based in Australia and in sort of the complexities of real life.

Valerie:
So you’re currently researching online communities for your P.H.D.

Bronwyn:
Yes.

Valerie:
Online communities involved with romantic fiction. What – what have you learned from that? What – what’s been interesting about that research?

Bronwyn:
Oh, that there’s huge, active communities of readers and writers out there that – and that those interactions are very important to the ways in which people read and write the genre.

The different ways in which readers read, that’s one of the things that often comes up as demonstrated in discussions; that one person will interpret something one way and other people have other very different tastes or very different ways of reading or very different ways of processing what they read, so that the same bit of text can be interpreted so differently by two different people.

I’ve learned how passionate romance readers are. They’re – that they’re passionate readers of all genres. They tend to be interested in people, though, so they’re interested in characters, they’re interested in authors, they’re interested in other readers and – so they communicate a great deal because that communication with others is an important part of the way that they interact in the world.

Valerie:
And in your research, have you found at all that there’s a typical or an ideal protagonist?

Bronwyn:
No. One of the things I’ve found is that we talk a lot about alpha heroes or various different sort of heros. I think one of the things that stood out for me, though, is that we – because romance fiction has been very much the ugly stepchild of literary world of fiction. A lot of people don’t talk about it; it hasn’t been studied properly or not until recently.

So we don’t actually really have a good language to talk about romantic fiction. We don’t have a good language to talk about themes and structures, what makes a good romance, what makes a less – a less solid romance. We don’t even really have a good language to talk about love, which is at the heart of romantic fiction.

So that’s one of the things that I think we grapple with and a lot of the discussions in the communities, I can see that if there was a good framework that we had – for example, we have a good framework for literary fiction but that doesn’t translate across.

And we’ve got a reasonably good framework for things like adventure fiction or fantasy or whatever, in terms of, the ideas that the hero’s journey and that sort of thing than the mythic structure. But that doesn’t work for a female-centered, emotion-centered genre.

So that’s one of the things that has given me lots of questions to ask about romantic fiction and the ways in which we read it and talk about it.

Valerie:
And for people out there who are aspiring writers, what would your advice be to them if they’re just starting out and they were sort of where you were in 2000? What would your advice be to them to – to get to where you are today?

Bronwyn:
Write a lot. Write, write, write. Find your voice. What is it that’s special about your writing and the stories that you choose to tell and how you choose to tell them? I think you need to know the market ,not necessarily writing to the market but knowing where you’re writing in relation to what is currently being published and what publishers are currently looking for because you can’t sell it if you can’t pitch it, in terms of to a publisher as something that they want.

Valerie:
So it’s not just about a creative inspiration; there’s a commercial reality to it as well.

Bronwyn:
If you want to make a living from writing or if you want to, you know, earn money from writing then you do have to confront the commercial reality of it. Publishers will publish a book if they think it will sell. So we have to be – as writers, we have to be able to convince publishers that our book is not just a creative work of genius but that readers are actually going to go and shell out hard-earned cash for our book.

Valerie:
Yes. Of course. But apart from the commercial reality end, what do you do to – what do you do, on a final note, to get into a creative flow that – so that you can actually get the words out and the words that you’re really happy with and that you’re proud of?

Bronwyn:
Just for the moment, I wish I knew but self-discipline’s important and it’s something that I could do with some more of. I think finding a good space to write is important although that’s going to be different for different writers.

Personally, I also use soundtracks. I’ve got playlists for each book which have a sort of range of different types of music on there. And that helps me to get into the emotional mood of the scenes that I’m writing, so different bits of music for different characters or different points in the book.

Valerie:
What do you mean? You create a playlist for each character that embodies that character?

Bronwyn:
Yes – or embodies the character’s emotional space at a particular point in the book.

Valerie:
Really.

Bronwyn:
The current male character that I’m writing is a very sort of raw, earthy male-type character – very controlled and reserved. So Waterboys’ The Pagan Place is sort of a very raw, earthy male rock from Ireland in the 1980s so – so it’s a couple of tracks for that that I play that actually sort of helps me to get into the sort of spaces – being able to write from that character’s point of view.

Valerie:
What a great idea.

Bronwyn:
Yeah. It works for me.

Valerie:
Have you always done that?

Bronwyn:
I have done for the last few years and my system’s evolving a bit as I go so that there are some tracks I don’t use for particular parts of the book because it’s not right. The current heroine I’m writing, there’s a lovely she’s a very overworked and somewhat stressed kind of person but there’s this lovely Irish tune that just embodies that sort of tiredness, I think.

Valerie:
Right.

Bronwyn:
So when I want to get into her point of view, at this particular point in the book – later on, she’ll be happier or whatever but at this particular point, she’s facing a lot of – a lot of burdens so – so that track really just helps me to get into her – her frame, her mood.

Valerie:
Great. And on that note, thank you very much for sharing your insight into your writing process with us today.

Bronwyn:
My pleasure, Valerie.

Valerie:
Great. Thanks, Bronwyn.

Bronwyn:
Thank you.


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