Australian author Stephanie Laurens at her home in Macedon.CHAPTER two of Stephanie Laurens’ latest worldwide bestseller The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae begins as the headstrong Angelica is bound and gagged in an 1830s London carriage, wrapped in a blanket, in transit to whereabouts unknown.
The chapter heading and the first letter of the first word are in ornate Gothic font. The book’s embossed cover has an English rose in regency finery draped winsomely across a chaise lounge.
This book is Laurens’ 54th. She has sold around 20 million in total, many more than fellow Australians Matthew Reilly, Di Morrissey and Tom Keneally and around the same number as Australia’s purported ”biggest-selling author”, Bryce Courtenay.
Laurens, ”nearly 60”, lives with her husband, a scientist, in an extraordinary eco-mansion in the trees at Macedon near Melbourne. She was a cancer research scientist herself until 1989 when she began writing the books she liked to read.
Her best-known characters are the Cynster sisters. They have been in 20 of her books. Poor blanketed Angelica is the third and youngest and, so far, the unluckiest in love.
”This is the house the Cynsters’ built,” says Laurens, showing me around. ”My books give me a huge royalty stream that goes on and on and on.”
Angelica Cynster wriggles in the blanket as the carriage rattles over cobblestones. But ”… it eased not at all; her fiendish captor had tucked the ends in tight.” Yet as the story goes on, in what is very much a strict trope in romance genre fiction, her abductor is also her hero, the dashing Scottish earl himself, who has in two previous books organised the abduction of her sisters in a cunning plan to save his castle.
This time, however, to quote Shakespeare, all’s well that ends well. The pair fall in love amid scrapes and high jinks and skulduggery, have lots of hot sex (”… her inner dam broke …”) and get married.
The book was a No. 1 on the New York Times ”mass market” best-seller list this year. Laurens has also won a RITA, the award given annually by the Romance Writers of America Association. Last month, Laurens was the keynote speaker at that association’s conference in California. In one email to me, she described herself as the CEO of an entertainment component rather than a writer, but she writes a lot more than most who throw that description of themselves around.
”She’s exceptional,” says Karen-Maree Griffiths of publisher HarperCollins. Laurens does her books through Avon, which is the American equivalent of Mills and Boon and HarperCollins owns Avon. ”She is an absolute superstar writer all over the world,” she says.
The reason Laurens isn’t a household name in this country is that she doesn’t sell many books in Australia. She estimates her home country as 40th on a list headed by America, Spain and Germany. Also, there are no specialist genre fiction publishers here.
The books are cheaper than your average Miles Franklin award winner and not sold in stores such as Readings. Genre fiction includes crime and westerns.
Within the broad genre of romance there are dozens of arcane sub-genres, including paranormal (romance with ghosts and vampires and stuff), medical (doctors and nurses and, at a push, firemen), inspirational (chaste Christians) and Laurens’ field – Regency romance, all set between 1800 and 1830 among the European aristocracy. It was a time, she says, of new freedoms. For the first time women could marry for love rather than dynasty. Or not marry at all. With such choices came jeopardy.
Women are Laurens’ primary readers. ”They have exactly the same questions and decisions to make now,” she says.
Laurens heads a panel tomorrow at the Melbourne Writers Festival called A Fine Romance.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.