Before assessing Winterflood's Passion manuscript with a view to publishing it, I wasn't a romance reader. It's not that I disliked the genre - hey, I'd read my fair share of Victoria Holt's and Mills and Boon in my time - but romance novels had never stuck with me as a reader past my teen years. To be fair, neither had any other genre. Crime, biographies, fiction or non-fiction, I was eclectic in my taste and very soon, romance slipped well and truly off the radar...until bloody Diana Thompson.
I've known Di for many years. Our husbands went to school together and I've been a frequenter of her exclusive jewellery store, Briolette, in Canberra on several occasions. Knowing her in that incarnation, imagine my surprise when on hearing I was starting a publishing company, Di sent me a completed manuscript for her debut novel.
Soon after I displayed my spectacular ignorance of things romance when I asked Di if works of this genre typically contained so many sex scenes. She assured me they did but there seems to be less and less good old fashioned fucking and more and more just plain fucked-up sex in the 'romance' novels of today. Although I've never read Fifty Shades of Grey, one couldn't fail to miss the hubbub over the controversial, kinky and confronting nature of the sexual encounters in that particular series. I think Diana might be right on that score.
Now there are a couple of questions about this sex thing to my way of thinking - the first being, is a novel really a romance novel if it doesn't contain any explicit and (with any luck) well-written sex scenes? A friend of mine reports throwing Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn up against her bedroom wall (violently enough to wake her flatmate in the next room) because the prick-teasing of the previous three books was seriously unrequited in the fourth and final installment in the Twilight vampire romance series. Readers of romance might well be into foreplay but consummation is clearly a must-have and I can attest that Diana Thompson has that covered in both of her books to date.
Which brings me to my second question - whether artfully written or not, are sex scenes the only draw card to the romance genre? I'd have to say not, and while my evidence is totally anecdotal I've been surprised by the number of people - blokes even - who've told me it's the setting, the story and the characters that really drew them into Diana's work. One friend said she skimmed the sex bits on the first reading of Winterflood's Passion because she knew she could always go back to them. She was more interested in how things would turn out for the beautiful but lonely heroine, Charlotte Ranleigh, and the unlikely hero, playboy art entrepreneur, Daniel Winterflood.
It's Di's character development and her vivid descriptions of country life in the picturesque NSW Southern Highlands that had me hopping from one foot to the other to read the manuscript for the second in the Bowral series, Unbridled Passion, where the fate of the sexy vet Dr Nick Delaney was to be revealed. With apologies to Diana's loyal readers, I got the jump on all of you as it was my happy duty to edit the manuscript ahead of the book’s publication last year. Unbridled Passion was finally unveiled at the inaugural Canberra Writer's Festival in August 2016 to rapturous applause and much voyeuristic gratification that finally, we would learn about Nick's journey to love with a newly introduced character, Jordana Talbot.
As is my wont, and in keeping with my new-found 'romance novel reader' status, I re-read Unbridled Passion recently, marvelling yet again at how Diana Thompson has made me care about the romantic lives of the good burghers of Bowral. The streets and surrounds of the town were very familiar to me and I warmly welcomed Charlotte and Daniel's intermittent appearances throughout the book as if they were old friends!
The expansion of Nick's story doesn't disappoint either. Although he seems to have it all - looks, a successful veterinary practice and many loyal co-workers, clients and friends - there's strong themes of abandonment and betrayal running through his life coupled with just plain bad timing in not 'getting the girl' in Winterflood's Passion. The other main protagonist in the story, Jordana, is equally fortunately endowed with looks and talent but like most people in romance novels (or in real life, it would seem) she's also known her fair share of trauma.
Unbridled Passion isn't a sequel per-se and could happily be read as a stand-alone book. But I'd be willing to wager that you'll want to backtrack and read Winterflood's Passion once you're done. If that's the case, save time and buy both books together at a 10% discount when you purchase from the For Pity Sake website. Just type in the coupon code UNBRIDLED at check out and voilà, your Valentine's Day is well and truly covered!
Diana Thompson will be 'in conversation' with Jen McDonald at Muse Canberra in Kingston ACT on Sunday 5 February at 3.00pm. Tickets are $10 with a free glass of wine and bookings are essential - http://www.musecanberra.com.au/events/.