Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Not long ago I blogged here that with writing, the learning never stops. To many people’s surprise, I still buy books about the writing craft. Even if I learn one new tip, the purchase is worthwhile.

As I’ve said many times, there’s no one way to write. Most teachers will tell you how they write. Not necessarily a bad thing. If Stephen King, Nora Roberts or Liane Moriarty give me advice, I’ll give it a try. If it works, terrific. If not I can try something else. You can do the same. Now for the questions.

Is there a formula for writing romance?

Yes, there is a formula – but not the one you expect. Frankly, if I was given a computer program, had to press a few keys, and out comes a book, I’d certainly try it. So far I’m still waiting.

For me, the “formula” is simply having two characters who meet and are strongly attracted. There must be a huge problem coming between them. This problem, also called the conflict, is so big that readers can’t see how it can be resolved to allow the characters their happy ever after, or happy for now.

Dozens of books have been written on how to create the conflict. Basically you need to know who these people are, something about their history and emotional make-up. Then you’ll need their greatest fear, and what character you can pit against them who fulfils all their emotional fantasies while triggering their fears big-time. All fiction has conventions but formula, hardly. Not when people and their stories are so varied.    

Where do you get ideas?

Ask an editor or publisher what books they most want to see and they’ll say “a story that’s fresh and original” or “a good book.” They can seldom define either, only that they know it when they see it.

Here’s the best definition I know. When you watch a talent show, you see talented people doing extraordinary things. They may hit all the right notes, juggle or play an instrument but they need another factor to win, something you can’t pinpoint but you recognise as soon as you see it.

This elusive factor can’t be taught. Polished perhaps, but it’s usually inborn. They do what they do for love, because they can’t not do it. As a writer, do you have that quality? I don’t know. But if your work is put in front of me, I’ll know it in an instant.

The words may be raw, the grammar wobbly, but if you have that factor your story will compel me to read on to find out how things turn out. This isn’t to say you can’t improve your work, but first focus on telling a story only you can tell.

Your characters may seem like ordinary people in a mostly ordinary setting. They may be the only people in their community who don’t have the special “thing”. Think Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker.

This is the story others will see as “fresh and original” because it felt that way to you as you wrote. You’ll be so in love with your people you can’t wait to get their story down. Get excited about your characters, fall in love with them, feel along with them. This is an idea in its purest form.

How do you know if you’re a writer?

This is a question I’m often asked in interviews and at writers’ conferences. As a child I wrote before I knew what a writer was, thinking everybody made up stories for their own entertainment.

I believe writers are born with the storytelling gene. You may scribble here and there when you can. You may enter competitions involving writing. Or write your family history in a more creative way than just who was born when and did what.

You may think everybody does this, especially if you don’t know any writers. The opposite also happens, when you find a local or online group and immediately think everybody is writing a book.

The only definition of a writer is a person who writes. Whether you’re published or not, sell squillions or not, that’s the bottom line. If any or all of these fit you, you can safely say you’re a writer.

Do these answers work for you? Please share your thoughts in the box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing,


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BUY NOW 34 Million Books, Australia’s Queen of

Romance shares her life and writing tips

Part memoir, part writing guide

print and ebook buying links at

Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Let’s face it, a writer’s primary tool is language. Just over a year of living with a global pandemic has changed not only our language, but our relationships with each other. If we’re not careful our writing may be another casualty.

In Australia, phrases like social distancing and contact tracing are now commonplace, with Corona Virus Disease quickly being shortened to Covid. Technically Covid-19, but who’s counting?

Then there’s self-isolating, quarantine, lockdown, and the unprecedented popularity of…unprecedented.

Many people now work from home (WFH) or meet virtually via the internet using platforms such as Zoom, with varying degrees of success. Many of us chuckled over the US judge and lawyers conferencing on Zoom, one of the parties appearing to be a white kitten with wonderful eye rolls, apparently due to a rogue filter.

Others are photo bombed by children, animals and half-dressed family members, leading to Zoom fatigue and the self-explanatory label, covidiot. No wonder “quarantini” drinks are a thing as we check the news for “donut days” with zero new cases of community transmission. The actual consumption of foods such as donuts and sourdough bread adds “Covid kilos” possibly piled on after too many quarantinis.

If you’re a writer, where is all this leading? I hear from many of you that working from home isn’t too big a challenge. WFH has been a writer’s normal for as long as some of us can remember. But that’s before someone threw in “schooling from home” while trying to hold down your usual day job if you’re fortunate enough to keep it.

Some writers thrive on WFH, although it’s fair to say mostly those without school-aged children. By and large the majority of writers I’ve consulted say they’ve written far less then they’d expected, given the limits on outings, social engagements and travel.

Therein lies a big clue. Writers need things to write about. Virtual get-togethers don’t provide the same input. Going out in a mask may work for superheroes, but it’s tough on those of us who need human interaction, if not for story material, then for priming the well of our creativity.

We accept the need for social distancing, but romance writers write about people touching, arguing, hugging, loving. Bumping elbows works, but can you see your characters doing it and having the physical response that leads to a romance?

I’ve turned off TV shows where the actors are mostly masked. Yes, it’s the new normal, and the medical benefits are undeniable, but facial expressions are also part of our language toolbox.

How are we to deal with such changes? Some writers are choosing historical periods where they feel more comfortable with character interactions, steaming up series such as Bridgerton and the like.

Personally, I’m writing stories set in my invented South Pacific island kingdom of Carramer. Her Royal Secret Santa is out now on Amazon in ebook (links below) and my current work-in-progress is Royal Right Hand Man. Carramer is my secret hideaway, untouched by Covid, and readers like it that way.

I made this choice because, of all the translations of my work received lately, the majority are Carramer “royal” books, set in a modern world that we barely recognise any more.

Medical experts suggest even with vaccines, we may have years before we can truly relax. By then the habits of social distancing may be too entrenched to change. Only time will tell.  

For me, romance novels have never been about reality. We live with our everyday partners and mostly wouldn’t change them. Over the years surveys conducted by Harlequin show that we have no wish to hook up with a romance hero. They are fantasy. And sales tell us as the real world gets darker, demand for fantasy increases both on screen and on our devices.

As a writer, how are you coping with this new normal? Are you writing Covid elements into stories, or getting as far away from them as you can? How are you priming your creative well? I’m totally supportive of the measures taken to keep our communities safe, so this isn’t anti-anything of the sort. What I’d love to hear is how you’ve kept your writer-self safe and productive, or what you plan to write when you can.

Please share your thoughts in the box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy creating,


Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Print and ebook buying links at

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Recently there’s been much talk online about what writers like and don’t like about the writing process. One answer that cropped up is how much we like “having written.” Makes so much sense. The writing part is the work, while “having written” is a chance to stand back and admire your handiwork.

Many writers are surprised but also encouraged that I find the going hard sometimes, despite having written so much.

Writing isn’t like a trade you can learn and then graduate. Unlike building a house where you lay the foundations a certain way, frame up the walls and lay the bricks or add timber cladding, there’s no blueprint for writing a book.

Even deciding where to start is a challenge. Frequently you’ll start too far back and have to lop off the first pages or even chapters, before instinct tells you where the book really starts.

Judging contests like RWA’s Valerie Parv Award, this is the most common problem I see. Imagine if our mythical builder lays a nice set of foundations only to discover that the house really starts on the upper floor?

Sometimes I’ll know where my story starts and it’s usually in the middle of a major change for a lead character: a new job, reunion, a death of a person, a relationship or a planned future. These changes are key right now as the global pandemic affects everyone’s plans. Even if the story has nothing to do with a pandemic, the hopes, fears and challenges are the same.

You may not share your character’s exact experiences, but chances are you’ll share the emotional upheaval and connect with your readers on this level.

Currently many of us are expected to pivot – change career directions – and writing is no different. Just as our mythical builder must deal with change, but still build a structure with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms, our stories are changing into ebooks, audio books, online reading, streaming and other formats.

As attention spans shrink, readers don’t want screens filled with solid text. I’m now writing shorter paragraphs and chapters – 2,000 words tops, where I once wrote 5,000. Less detail and more getting on with it, as one reader put it.

Here are three things to keep in mind for writing in 2021:

1. As the real world changes, characters must change, too, living on their phones and devices, bumping elbows in greeting, and shuddering at being enveloped in a hug. We don’t have to write about a pandemic, but we do need to be aware of how story worlds are changing, and will continue to change to reflect our new reality.

2. Equality and diversity must be taken into account. Even historical settings may need tweaking for contemporary readers – Bridgerton, anyone? Keep reading across your genre, whatever it may be. Heroes who were acceptably pushy and macho not so long ago, must take account of their heroine’s feelings. For me, no has always meant no, but now it must be very clear that any relationship is consensual.

This doesn’t mean being inaccurate, even in historical settings, but be aware that the entire historical world wasn’t white as well. Create characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds, not as curiosities, but as reflecting reality.

Right from when I started writing romances, whenever I had a doctor, lawyer or the like in my book, I’d make them female, to make the point that the authority world doesn’t have to be exclusively white or male. I’ve always written characters of different ethnic backgrounds and physical abilities because that’s how I see the world. Do your research, of course. Don’t write stereotypes. But be aware of your choices and chance to influence particularly younger readers.

3. Accept that the blessings of being a writer are also its curse – there will always be more to learn. Study new writings and trends without being imitative. Your voice is exclusively yours and deserves to be heard. The worst of the pandemic has also created opportunities. There’s an explosion of indie publishing that smashes boundaries and opens doors. Your book can be out there more quickly than you ever dreamed possible.

If not for the chaotic state of traditional publishing, I doubt I would have indie-published 34 Million Books, Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips. Part memoir and part writing guide, it’s a book I’m immensely proud of. I followed it with Her Royal Secret Santa, a Carramer Christmas story. Who knows what will come next? Blessing or curse, the choice is up to you.

How are you handling the new normal of writing and publishing in 2021? Please add your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” to subscribe here. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy pivoting and writing,


Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Print and ebook buying links at

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

In the last minutes of 2020 many online friends posted memes booting 2020 out, saying good riddance, and commiserating on the trials and tribulations of last year.

For most of the world, this was a trying year and I haven’t heard anyone regret its ending. But regret is a negative emotion, hardly a useful guide to what we do want from 2021. An example of this came from American psychologist and NASA consultant, Dr Denis Waitley, with whom I was fortunate to work when he visited Australia. He explained how, years before, he was asked by a retail client to help them reduce shop-stealing.

Dr Waitley suggested placing a barely noticeable message under the store’s background music, saying, “Don’t shoplift. Don’t shoplift.” To everyone’s surprise, cases of theft went up. When he changed the message to, “Please pay at the checkout,” the figures dropped dramatically. Next time you want something done, replace “Don’t forget to…” with “Remember to….” even as a reminder to yourself. Positivity works.

It can be harder to work out what you want than what you don’t want. Here are some positive changes you CAN make to your writing life in 2021.

Be kind to yourself

Instead of beating yourself up for not writing every day, or reaching a specific word count, put star stickers on a chart, or create a sparkly list on your phone of what you did accomplish. Break the task into bite-sized pieces. I used to put housework on my to-do list until I broke it into specific chores I could cross off as I went along. Which would encourage you more – putting write book on your list, or setting 200 word daily goals?

Do some meditation

Above all, writers need time to think. Forcing yourself to write, you may miss the inspirations that come from letting your brain relax. I do Chakra meditation most days, but you have many options. Gardening, walking, playing with pets, all allow your thoughts to wander as you consider your story options. Just remember to write down or record on your phone whatever ideas come, so they’re available to you later.

Take screen breaks

If I’m off social media for a day, I’ll get PMs or emails asking if I’m OK and did I get their message. The sender means well but it’s impossible to create new material if you’re constantly on call.

Try new challenges

For me, this was indie-publishing my memoir, 34 Million Books. The experience was such a buzz, I committed to writing a Christmas ebook set in my invented kingdom of Carramer. Started in early November, the story was up on Amazon by December 2, and is one of the most fun writing experiences I’ve had in years. Your challenge can be as easy or hard as you like but should feel exciting and even a touch scary.

Be your authentic self

Within sensible security limits, share your authentic self on social media. Be open about your writing challenges and ask others how they deal with similar issues. This isn’t humble bragging or virtue signalling, it’s an honest attempt to connect with others on the same path. Many times I’m asked when the fear of the blank screen will go away and the writing become easier. I believe we write to see if we can do it. No writer ever knows it all. This keep the work stimulating.

You can also nurture connections beyond your writing goals

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of connections, whether friends, family or colleagues. Make time to meet, online if actual meetings are restricted. Hang out with animals. My rent-a-cat Jessie, and Cookie the teacup poodle are special furry friends who give far more than they take.

Last week I discovered that the current Valerie Parv Award holder, Kristin Silk, whom I’m mentoring, shares my love of guinea pigs, and we’ve happily exchanged GP experiences on Facebook.

Take a break from your four walls. This isn’t always possible during lockdowns, but when you can, visit a cafe for takeaway if need be, and people-watch to refill your idea well.

How will you refresh your writing self for 2021? Share in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on sign me up at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy New Year, happy writing,


Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Print and ebook buying links at

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

With less than a month left of 2020, I don’t know anyone who’ll be sorry to see the year end. Except perhaps we writers.

We’re not only used to spending long hours by ourselves, but we can escape to our own invented worlds, whether they be C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or my own island kingdom of Carramer.

This year my ‘escape’ was indie publishing 34 Million Books. Part memoir and part how-to, it took me way outside my comfort zone, while lifting my spirits and my readers’ during our troubling times.

Having discovered (with a lot of help from my friends) that I could self-publish and be proud of the result. I embarked on writing a Christmas story set in Carramer. Here I’ve set over 23 books in several genres. Her Royal Secret Santa was written in a month, very fast for me. It’s out as an ebook, see buying link below.

This morning I awoke with a sequel spinning through my head, Royal Right-Hand Man. I’ll attach a brief excerpt at the end of this. Warning, if you haven’t read Secret Santa, it contains a spoiler. Starting out to answer a question from Her Royal Secret Santa, instead it turned into a guide to the next story, catching me by surprise. Don’t you love it when your characters do that?

Among my mood lifters are inspirational books and posters. A favourite is The Desiderata. For many years it was believed found in an old Baltimore church and dated 1692. We now know it was written by American poet, Max Ehrman.

I wrote this version to inspire writers. The italic lines are from the original poem. The interpretations are mine.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence.

How else can we listen to our inner voices and tune out the chaos of modern life? By avoiding ‘loud and aggressive persons’ you avoid hurting your spirit and thus, your creative source.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Comparisons are everywhere. Social media is filled with them, making you wonder how your own writing journey compares. The answer is, it doesn’t. Aim only to exceed your own highest standards.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Celebrate small milestones as well as major successes. Content yourself with sharing your stories, even if the prizes elude you for the time being.

Exercise caution in your business affairs for the world is full of trickery.

Any writer looking at a publishing contract knows this only too well. Indies also have many pitfalls to avoid.

Let this not blind you to what virtue there is: many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

A fortunate truth, providing us with much to write about.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is perennial as the grass.

A cynic cannot write convincingly about love or any other emotion. Only genuine emotion felt by the writer can move readers to laughter, tears and other vicarious experiences.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Age confers many blessings on writers, among them time to follow your craft and a wealth of lived experiences from which to draw.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Two occupational hazards of writing. Nowhere is strength of spirit more needed than right now as we face the challenges of the world around us.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.

Even if no-one else understands your drive to write, you owe it to yourself to respect, nurture and explore your gift as fully as you can.

…whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.

All writers share a common aspiration – to communicate. By sharing your stories you not only keep peace with your soul, you contribute to the pool of human understanding.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Have a happy holiday, however you celebrate. Best wishes,


OUT NOW for Christmas – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Ordering links at

And the ‘bonus bit’ from Her Royal Secret Santa

Warning – spoiler alert spoiler alert spoiler alert

  • Christmas Day, what a time to find yourself unemployed.

Still, Dian felt relieved as the security chief escorted her to her car. Not the black SUV she’d driven in the prince’s employ, but a yellow Citroen C4. The children’s car seats had already been transferred along with a box of personal effects from her office.

A certain nostalgia accompanied the sight, but there were also benefits. No more bowing and scraping to royalty, no more pretending to be who she wasn’t. That wretched Australian woman had taken the prince off her hands. No more feigning an attraction Dian didn’t feel.

“A farewell committee of one?” she asked the woman waiting by the car.

“I just heard. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’ll find another job soon enough.”

The other woman hugged her. “I wish I could come home with you.”

After ensuring the guard had gone back inside, Dian shook her head. “We need you on the inside.”

“I know. Martin and Nicole will love having you at home.”

“Me, too. Go inside and do your job. We’ll talk when you get off.”

Cherie reached up and kissed her partner deeply. “Can’t wait. Have the champers ready on ice when I get there.”                                    © Valerie Parv 2020

Now you know the other parent to Dian’s children. But we don’t know why having Cherie “on the inside” is important and who is “we?” Answers in Royal Right-HandMan coming in the New Year.

Last month I was guest blogger on the Australian Romance Readers’ Association (ARRA) site, enjoying talking directly to readers. As I wrote, I got that the same changes currently affecting readers also apply to writers, so I’m sharing much of that blog with you here.
I’d been thinking about how touching has become off-limits and what that might mean for relationships, both in everyday life and in our stories.
In my new book, 34 Million Bookspart memoir and part writing guide—I confess I didn’t learn to hug until my teens. My late husband was a wonderful hugger, sweeping my sisters into brotherly hugs whenever we visited.
Like our British-born parents, they were uncomfortable with such open displays of affection. One day he didn’t hug my older sister and she asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to attack me?’ Evidently she had learned to enjoy being hugged, as I had.
In my romance novels, touch is as essential to a relationship as it is in real life. There’s even a name for being deprived of touching—skin hunger.
We now know that orphaned babies whose basic needs are met but who aren’t held, can go on to develop anxiety, depression and mental health problems.
This is because gentle touching releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone, with benefits from reduced heart rate to lower blood pressure. By contrast, lack of being touched produces cortisol, the hormone making us feel stressed and anxious.
In my romance novels I like to focus on sensations like touch as much as on sexual intimacy. As the song says, you can’t have one without the other. Over the years I found the more I got in touch with my own emotions, the more clearly I could see where I needed to go in my books.
In times of social distancing, the task becomes more challenging but must still be addressed, even if you show them struggling with these issues and taking care of each other in ways we haven’t had to think about before.
It’s vital to show how the characters really feel. The author may tell us in various ways, but we aren’t in there having the experience for ourselves.
Our readers need to feel as if the story is about them. They suffer through the pangs of falling in love and being frustrated by the problems keeping the characters apart. Showing how they feel involves going deep inside the main characters, using the five senses: sight, sound, smell taste and touch.
While nothing beats being touched and held by a person who matters to us, we (and your characters) need to experience pleasurable touching within the “new normal” limitations.
What’s needed for ourselves and our characters is the feel of deep-contact pressure; this may be why weighted blankets are so popular lately. Sleeping under one can feel a lot like being hugged. Cuddling a pet has a similar effect, perhaps explaining the surge in pet adoptions during the last few months.
You can also try crossing your arms over your chest and pressing a hand firmly to each shoulder. Stay like this for a short time, close your eyes and imagine being held by someone you love.
This is a good way to explore how your characters feel. The fewer emotional barriers you have personally, the more ways you can show your characters responding to their feelings in rich sensory detail.
While being filmed by a television crew in my home, I mentioned how I sometimes test-drive scenes from my books in a similar way. Of course they wanted me to demonstrate for national TV, surprised when I politely declined.
Is the sense of touch important to you in your everyday life? In your romance novels? Please share your thoughts below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,
34 Million Books: Australia’s Queen of Romance
shares her life and writing tips

Buy now in print and ebook
You can find Valerie here: Website | Facebook | Twitter

I promised myself I wouldn’t write any more about the pandemic, figuring many of us are already on overload. And for people who’ve lost loved ones, the topic is particularly painful.

But it seemed the pandemic hadn’t finished with me. For years people have urged me to write my life story. The truth is, I didn’t know where to start. Attending a writers’ conference in Sydney gave me a surprising answer.

Walking around the city led me to the former head office of hardware chain, Nock & Kirby. As a copywriter in the company’s advertising department, this was where my writing life truly began. Instantly I knew the way into my story.

I also decided I would indie-publish the book. This was a far steeper learning curve than expected but also hugely satisfying. I went from manuscript to paperback and ebook in under three months, admittedly with a lot of expert guidance. Without the restrictions of the pandemic, the book may never have happened at all.

At the same time I knew it wasn’t enough to record my own writing journey. The other side of me is a teacher and mentor to emerging writers. I decided to address that side through a series of “writing takeaways” linked to my experience of being published for over forty years. The book would thus be part memoir, part writing guide.

Then a writer who was also planning a memoir asked me if she had to start with her childhood and continue in life order, which she’d didn’t want to do. Was it okay to write in episodes or chapters with related content? That was soon after I launched 34 Million Books, and was exactly how I’d chosen to tell my story. 

Right now a lot of creative people are struggling, with no or limited audiences for books and movies, except when streamed at home; when libraries can only allow a few people through their doors, and books must be disinfected before being reissued. As I say in my book, helplessness and despair don’t make good writing companions. Yet somehow we have to keep going for ourselves and our readers.

American writer. Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogged about her feelings during 9/11, saying, “Writing didn’t matter when faced with the loss of life and the outpouring of grief. [Then] I realised that escape is rest. It’s important. It gets us away from the horrors, the terrible things, the stresses and upsetting moments of everyday life.”

Here’s an excerpt from 34 Millions Books about writing in times of crisis:

1. Don’t make light of what you do. Stories provide an important respite from the trials of real life.

2. Realise that there have always been pandemics, floods, fires and other life-changing events. If you can’t write for the time being, do what you can to help, whether donating in cash or kind, or volunteering your services.

3. Tell yourself it’s okay not to write. Give yourself time and space to deal with the crisis around you. The manuscript will still be there when things improve. And so will you.

4. Give yourself a break from the turmoil. For me that’s when news media repeat the same stories and images over and over. It’s okay to screen out the drama for a time and make stories. If email and social media alerts keep dragging you back, find ways to filter important messages so you can focus on your work.

5. Refuse to feel guilty for doing something you love, something valuable and needed. By making sense of your own world, you help readers to do the same, as long as you keep writing.

Have you written about some of your experiences to help others? How do you keep focused during troubled times? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but if you click on “sign me up” at right, your comments can appear right away. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Take care,


OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title:

 34 Million Books

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Management: The Tate Gallery Australia

It’s all very well to have plenty of writing time. But what do you do if your idea bucket is not only empty but leaking? “What if?” is a question I use often,  both to develop a story and to solve ‘plot-holes’ during the writing.

For example, there’s the reader favourite of twins switching places. Usually the hero is fooled for a time. But what if the hero knows from the start that the twins have switched places, and decides to teach them a lesson? This question turned into the inspiration for my book, Centrefold.

One twin is a financial journalist and the other is a centrefold model for a men’s magazine? The finance writer loses her job after she is mistaken for her model twin. When the opportunity arises for her to take her twin’s place, she decides she may as well, since she’s getting the blame anyway. Unbeknown to her, the photographer is not only dating her sister, he sees through the plan right away. Cue a story I had a lot of fun writing.

“What if the hero had arrived by UFO?” became the basis for The Leopard Tree. The book was originally accepted by Mills & Boon, London, until Alan Boon decided British readers weren’t quite ready for a hero with UFO connections, and wanted me to remove this element.

I felt strongly that the hero’s air of mystery highlighted the sense of him being a loner, the odd man out in his community, and decided against making the change. The book was eventually published with the UFO element by Harlequin’s then-sister company, Silhouette Books in New York. Sometimes you have to wait for your readers to catch up with your ideas.

Writing my 3-book series, Outback Code, gave me a whole string of what-if moments, starting with the question, what if there was a long lost goldmine on the characters’ outback property? Each book in the series had its own romantic elements, but the over-arching mystery wasn’t solved until book three, with each couple contributing more pieces to the puzzle.

Probably my favourite what-if became Operation Monarch, a romantic suspense novel set in my island kingdom of Carramer. The what-if question was whether the hero, a notorious bad boy, was really the heir to the throne. The heroine was the present monarch’s bodyguard assigned to the hero until the what-if was resolved.

If you’re going to spring a major what-if on readers, you need to plan how you’ll overcome obstacles that would normally get in the way. Resolving whether my hero was the true heir could be handled by DNA testing. Despite what we see on TV, DNA testing takes a couple of weeks for a result, for now anyway. There are faster versions but they aren’t as conclusive as the slower method.

This gave me a time limit when my hero and heroine had to deal with the situation and each other.

Later, in Desert Justice, I played with another reader-favourite trope, the idea of a ruling sheikh as hero with an Australian woman caught up in a plot against his life. Having one or another character falling in love in unfamiliar surroundings, is often called a “fish out of water” story. This plot appeals to me because it links to a “core decision” formed by my family’s many house moves, making me a perennial fish out of water. We make these decisions about ourselves early in life and they can be hard to change.

Desert Justice is featured in this anthology

When you’re told that readers want fresh, new stories, it’s tempting to think you need a bizarre plot that no-one has done before. But tropes such as twins or sheikhs remain popular for a reason, pitting your characters against each other on a deeply emotional level.

These tropes work provided you give them your own unique twist, as I did by having the hero catch on to the twin substitution right away. In another book, my characters agreed to a pretend marriage to comfort a dying friend who wanted to see them get together. The heroine was a stunt woman who worked in movies, giving me the perfect twist. What if the actor she asked to be their marriage celebrant was a real celebrant in his day job, and the ceremony was legal?

You can use what-ifs to play with plots and ideas as long as you keep the emotional tug-of-war between the attraction the characters feel, and the conflict keeping them apart.

Have you ever used a what-if to kick start your story? How did it work? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. They’re monitored to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy what-iffing,


Congratulations to Kristin Silk, 2020 winner

of the Valerie Parv Award. I look forward to

mentoring Kristin in the months ahead.

Over and over, we’re hearing how our world has changed. If you’d told me last August that I’d be announcing the winner of the 2020 Valerie Parv Award via Zoom at a virtual writing conference, I’d have said you’re dreaming. But thanks to a nasty bug which doesn’t need any more publicity, this is our “new normal.”

Even more astonishing is that this year we’re celebrating 20 years of the Valerie Parv Award under the banner of Romance Writers of Australia.

The winner’s name is a secret until the official announcement later this month but the short list is already out. Congratulations to the finalists, in no particular order, Amanda Newberry, Karen Lieversz, Kristin Silk, Davina Stone, Dianna Lennon, Rachel Armstrong and Frances Dall-Alba. One of you will be my new “minion” as past winners call themselves. As a previous minion tweeted when the list came out, someone’s life is about to change and they don’t even know it.

I’m always thrilled to see the minions winning awards, publishing all over the world, and becoming great friends. The saying is, “once a minion, always a minion.” Sadly, a virtual conference doesn’t allow our annual Minions’ Breakfast where we catch up wearing our special tiaras.

Valerie Parv am and VPA Contest Manager       Karina Coldrick

This year, because of the lockdowns, we all got so much writing done. Yeah, me neither. The world is so crazy that it can be difficult to write at all, with crafting and baking having more appeal.  When actor, Debra Lee Furness, complained about being locked down with her family, a friend said she had no sympathy. Asked why, the friend pointed out that Furness was locked down with Hugh Jackman. Such a sacrifice.

Despite such challenges, this year’s VPA finalists are an impressive group. The entries ranged from a gritty Regency heroine; to a reunion romance; a challenging birthday gift; a mismatched couple finding love in the outback; an escape-worthy fling in the fairytale world; a friends-to-lovers story; and a page-turner “secret baby”.

The final entries, give readers respite or head-on challenges, sometimes both. There’s much experimenting with present tense. Backgrounds are sketched in with a light hand..

So how does a writer become the next VPA minion? These are some aspects I take into account:

  1. You write from the heart

Every highly-placed entry is a labour of love and it shows. Your story may not be perfectly written but your characters are people we care about from the start.

  1. You add a touch of originality

If two entries vie for the top prize, I generally favour the more original. Your story will have something special that transcends genre.

  1. You’re a storyteller

I look for a story that comes to life right away, giving us people we want to see triumph against the odds. I’ll read any genre or time period as do agents and editors. Like them, I forgive occasional writing slips as long as you give me a page-turning story.

  1. You have the X-factor

I know it as soon as I see it. The entry may not be the one I want to choose but the writing makes the choice inescapable. In her winning book, Shadowfae, Erica Hayes thanked me “for wanting so hard for this book not to win, that it did.” A great review in the Wall Street Journal backed me up.

In The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, one of two books we worked on together, minion Joanna Nell included her “heartfelt thanks…for encouraging her to trust her instincts and tell [her] story from the heart.” IMO this is the very best way to write.

Rather than answers, I give the minions tools they can apply to any story. For example, identify the work the writing has to do. Every sentences, scene and chapter must have a job to do, revealing character, moving the story forward, deepening conflict, filling in essential background, or in a mystery/suspense, planting clues and red herrings.

Another VPA minion, Carly Main, said, “I’ve tried a few critique partners but nobody has ever suggested new ways of telling the story. Is it a matter of experience or do published authors look at manuscripts in a different way?”

I can’t speak for other authors, but I’ve known that once you identify why a scene or chapter is in there, you open up dozens of ways to achieve the purpose, rather than simply rewriting the scene in different words, making rewriting and editing much simpler.

Minion Michelle Somers
checks out a poster in LA

A well-honed story sense is part of the X-factor. The rest is studying your craft to discover not only what works but why. Curiously, however far you go into fantasy and sci-fi, or human psychology, as author and TV show-runner, John Yorke, points out, the basic human story structure remains constant, explaining the world to us, and us to ourselves.

Could you be a future VPA minion? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing,


On Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Romance Writers of Australia virtual

conference details at –

As I write this, I’m wearing my Judgy McJudgeface while reading the short listed entries in Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award. Once I choose the winner and rank the finalists, I write each one some feedback, figuring if you’ve reached the finals, you’ve earned the attention.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed the entries I’m seeing which include more cynical, snarky stories to out-and-out escapism. Neither is right or wrong. As Leslie Wainger, one of my American editors said, it’s all in the execution. In other words you can get away with a great deal, as long as you do it well.

Some things are still needed – strong characters with goals they’re desperate to reach, and a compelling story we want to invest time in reading.

The Valerie Parv Award Medal

The old tropes are welcome but need – as it’s put now – to pivot with the times. The crisis has swept away a whole strata of stories that would have been fine not so long ago. As my agent, Linda Tate says, it’s no longer enough to write a “good” story, you need to write something really special.

If you story involves a “marriage of convenience” (where the characters agree to marry for reasons other than love) it must give readers something they haven’t seen before. What does a marriage of convenience look like in a Covid-19 world?

How will social distancing change your characters? On social media, discussion is raging as to whether contemporary stories should reference the pandemic at all. As they’re written in the “eternal present” this is your decision. Some writers have already changed works-in-progress, setting them a year or two before the crisis. Others choose worlds we can escape into.

Society has changed drastically in the last few months and until a vaccine is available, the changes are likely to be permanent. Watching older shows online, even if set only months ago, I find myself yelling at the screen, “Get away from them.”

There’s much talk of a “new normal.” What does this look like for your characters? Even if you don’t mention Covid-19 it will likely cast a shadow over personal interactions. Some changes are less physical than they are states of mind. What will international travel and world cruises be like in future? How will characters relate to each other?

Readers still want larger-than-life characters, not fragile creatures wrapped in bubble wrap. But they are changing, sometimes in unexpected ways. Rumour has it that the ultimate spy, James Bond, gets a toddler daughter in his next movie. Stay tuned.

As the world changes around us, our stories need to change, too. As I noticed reading for the Valerie Parv Award, romantic comedies are having a resurgence, along with cosy mysteries, fantasies and fairy tales, all re-imagined for the new normal.

Apocalyptic fiction is having a moment, but needs to end on a hopeful note. That, at least, stays the same. As the indomitable Kathryn Falk, publisher of Romantic Times, said long before Covid-19, “There are no Mr. Rights, but there are Mr. Trainables.” The phrase seems to predict the new normal. Then again, Kathryn is known for setting trends, rather than following them.

Look at the different romance tropes, a trope being a recurring theme. How could you reinvent them for this strange new world? Some readers collect books that use their favourite tropes and they still resonate, provided they feel fresh and exciting.


Here are some favourite tropes:

Amnesia, Friends/enemies into lovers,

Second chance at love, Royalty & billionaires,

Fake relationship/ engagement/marriage of convenience,

Wounded hero or heroine, Unexpected baby,

Stranded, forced to rely on each other.

Sub-genres include military, sports heroes, rock stars and rural settings

Can you create a romance story that will become a future trope? Somebody had to write the first marriage-of-convenience story. This is a time to be daring, to push the boundaries. As long as you have two individuals who fall in love against impossible odds, the sky’s the limit.

What would you love to read next? Is that the story you need to write? Share your thoughts in the comment panel below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but comments can appear immediately if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,


Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of  90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney



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