Working with Words: Anne Gracie

At the turn of the century, Anne Gracie set out to knock out a couple of romances while she forged a proper literary career. Instead, she fell in love with the genre. She's since written 20 books of historical romance fiction and her novels have been translated into 18 languages. We spoke to Anne about escapism, inspiration and the urban myth of the romance-writing 'formula'.

Photograph of Australian romance author Anne Gracie

What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

My first novel, Gallant Waif (1999). It was originally published by Harlequin in the UK.

Whats the best part of your job?

The friends I've made in the writing world. People say it's a lonely job, but I have friends all around the world – real friends – purely because of writing. The other 'best part' is when a book finally starts to come together and I realise it's going to work. That's when I can't stay away from the work in progress, and the words pour out of me. When it works, it's magic. Those moments are few and far between, but they keep me going.

Whats the worst part of your job?

Battling with doubt. I constantly fret about whether the book is good enough, whether readers will hate it, and whether it's even going to work.

Also deadlines – though I probably couldn't do without them.

Whats been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

When my first book was a finalist in the Best First Book category at the the Romance Writers of America RITA Awards – they're the Oscars of the romance writing world. It got the book noticed, and resulted in my being published in the USA and other parts of the world.

The number of brilliant ideas for stories I've had but forgotten is staggering. All that remains is the tragic conviction of their utter brilliance.

Whats the best (or worst) advice youve received about writing?

The best (in fact, the only) writing advice I knew when I first started was, 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait'. In other words, write to create emotion and tension in the reader. The worst? I was given this advice by several people in the local writing world: 'If you want to make any money writing in Australia, write romance – there's a formula you can use and it's dead easy.'

Wrong! 'The formula' is an urban myth. The year my first novel was picked up, I was told it was one of 11 books contracted out of more than 20,000 submissions. Easy? Sure.

Whats the most surprising thing youve ever heard or read about yourself ?

It never fails to surprise me how lighthearted romance fiction can give real comfort to people battling with tough life issues. I think it's not only because it's escapist fiction but also because it reaffirms positive values and always ends hopefully.

If you werent writing, what do you think youd be doing instead?

Being a reader. All my life I've wanted a job where someone would pay me to read books – books of my own choice that I didn't have to review or anything, just read and enjoy. The fantasy lives on. But really, I can't imagine not writing.

Cover image of Anne Gracie's debut novel, Gallant Waif

Anne Gracie's debut novel, Gallant Waif (Harlequin Books)

Theres much debate on whether creative writing can be taught whats your view?

To be sure, talent is innate, but it's arrogant to suggest writing can't be taught. It's like saying musicians can't be taught, or artists are natural born and need no lessons. You teach people the techniques, the skills, open their eyes to a range of different writers and writing, and then it's up to them how high they can fly. Even so, every writer I know works constantly to improve their writing, to hone their skills, to get better. I don't think you ever stop learning.

Whats your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Read a wide range of books; write and write and then rewrite; develop your writing craft and keep your eye open for good courses. Be prepared to listen to criticism, but keep faith in the power of your own voice. Also, keep notes on your ideas. The number of brilliant ideas for stories I've had but forgotten is staggering. All that remains is the tragic conviction of their utter brilliance.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. My house is half buried under books, so I reluctantly bought an ebook reader – and found I loved it. But only for fiction – reference books must be hard copy. And if I really love a novel that I've read as an ebook, I'll also buy that in hard copy.

Escapist literature? Yes please.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? 

I'm never any good at this kind of question. I'd rather get a bunch of different characters together and I'd let them talk to each other while I listened.

Whats the book thats had the most significant impact on your life or work and why?

In a way, every book I've ever read has contributed to my becoming a writer. If I have to pick one with a direct connection to what I'm doing now, then maybe These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer, which I read when I was 11.

She's the reason I now write Regency-era historical romance. I love her humour, her plots and her characters, especially the minor characters, and the fact that her books are fun to read. I used to read a lot of serious literature, but the older I get and the more depressing the world news becomes, the more I'm returning to my childhood preference of reading for fun. Escapist literature? Yes please.

Portrait of Anne Gracie

Anne Gracie is a Melbourne-based author of historical romance fiction, whose work has been published in 18 languages.

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