As a first-time author at 49, Barbara Hannay has been a storyteller all her life. Writing was her favourite subject at school, and she grew up creating stories to tell to her sisters. With plans to become a journalist, Barbara instead chose a career as a high school teacher, a ‘sensible’ profession, according to her dad. While teaching a class on popular fiction to her year 11 students, however, Barbara decided to ‘have a go’ at writing her own novel. She was sure that the publisher receiving the manuscript would be “thrilled” to receive it. When the rejection letter arrived, rather than giving up, Barbara was “on a mission to get published”. Over the next four years, she honed her craft, reading 100’s of books, teaching herself to write, to become an author.
Fast forward to 2020, and Barbara has sold more than 12 million books, translated into 26 languages. The veritable ‘Queen of romance novels’ and the happy ending, Barbara’s protagonists all have emotional depth and a great story to tell. But when she starts writing, she’s never quite sure where their adventure will take her. I ask Barbara where her inspiration comes from, and her answer is surprising. “You can never quite pinpoint and remember exactly where,” she says. “The number of times it will come when you’re doing something totally unrelated is incredible. Getting in the shower and washing your hair, cutting up veggies or something mundane, maybe your brain relaxes, and the idea comes”.
Despite all of her success, Barbara sees writing as her “job” now, but to her delight, it’s something that she still loves, that bring her joy.
Barbara tries to write every day but considers herself a “reasonably slow writer” producing about 1000 words a day. Preferring to edit the story as she goes, Barbara likes to work to a final draft. ” I just can’t come back and rewrite,” she says. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Also, this way, I’ll often be able to write several books in a short space of time”.
With over 50 books now published, I’m curious to know if Barbara has a favourite. While she finds it hard to choose, she nominates The Secret Years and her latest novel, The Sister’s Gift. Both stories have more contemporary themes. Unlike your typical romance novel, Barbara delves into subjects such as surrogacy and how it can fracture a family, terminal illness, love and loss.
Advice to would-be authors
While there are lots of different writing courses available now, Barbara’s advice is pretty simple, “write the kind of story you’d love to read. Try to read quite a lot of similar books beforehand. You’ll start to get a sense of what the characteristics of those stories are and what the readers are looking for when they read them. Then, just start! Have a go and see what happens. The onus is on us to make our own dreams come true, and there are no limits”.
Married to an author, Barbara also champions the benefit of having a great writing ‘partner’ to bounce ideas off. “I’m really lucky, he’s really supportive,” she says. “I may not have kept going if he hadn’t said ‘yeah, these are great, you can do this’. He brainstorms with me, which is great too”.
Barbara’s latest book The Sister’s Gift is available now. Grab a copy here.
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