The First Harlequin Novel I Ever Read

Veronica sez: Pulled this post from the 2011 Archives: Australian rural romance has come a long way from this vintage romance I read many years ago! Today I’m interviewing some of the top rural romance authors over at USA Today Happily Ever After. That sent me off to find this old post about my first-ever Harlequin read. Hope you’ll check out the modern rural romances we talk about over at USAT/HEA!

Begin the Archived Post:

003Subtitled “When I Fell in Love with the Idea of Australia”

I still remember the first Harlequin romance I ever read – The Outback Man by Amanda Doyle. It was 1966, which is such another era, I don’t even want to go there, but oh wow, did I fall hard for the whole romance genre. Ms. Doyle and Henrietta Reid were my two must buy HQN authors in those days, but I enjoyed many of the others as well.

 Recently I tracked down a copy of Outback Man and read it in one sitting. I have to say I hadn’t retained much of the plot all these years – an alpha male, a shy but gutsy heroine, a blond bad girl with perfect nails, on a sheep ranch in the Australian outback. That was about it for my specific memories, other than fondness for my first…romance novel.

 I quickly remembered how much I had enjoyed all the secondary characters as well – the jackaroos, the old nanny, the well meaning Other Man who of course didn’t stand a chance of winning the affections of our heroine Lou, not when up against alpha male Steve. I had been entranced by the descriptions of Australian countryside and life in the Outback. (My apologies to all my Australian friends but that’s still sort of the image of the entire country I have in my head, for which I have to thank or blame Ms. Doyle!) The dances and picnics and gatherings sounded like such fun. I’m not sure I really absorbed how much hard, hot work went on at the station in between those events. And something about a daunting, giant, complicated stove. Wasn’t there always a scary stove for the heroine to master in this kind of novel?

And wow, talk about your skills – not only was sweet shy Lou amazing at sewing her own dresses with no pattern, apparently by hand, from random scraps of gingham in the storeroom, she was a trained accountant as well. I liked that, made her a good heroine for the time, I think, when women’s roles were in transition. A woman could balance the station’s books in the morning, conquer the scary stove at lunch and whip up a new frock by dinner in the 1960’s!

I did have a literal double take moment on page 65 though, when Lou “…faced it with all the miserable honesty in her miserable heart…she was in love with the Outback Man…” There was next to no development of this burgeoning emotion in the pages preceding page 65. Or else I missed it. Or else Lou got to have one of those rare bolt of lightning moments as to who the love of her life was. I don’t think my excellent Carina editor Alison would let me spring that on my readers quite so out of the blue today. Times and writing styles change!  But then the story moved forward rapidly of course.

Lou hung in there, even as the scheming, perfectly coiffed villainess tried to put her in the wrong, tried to strand her in the middle of the night with the Other Man, tried to make Steve lose interest in her, tried to frame her for theft…all to no avail as we arrived at the HEA, fade out on Steve and Lou in pure, chaste bliss, planning an outback wedding. Wish we’d gotten to see the wedding dress she was going to stitch up in her spare time! Yup, I still enjoyed it in 2011, can you tell? A fundamentally good story keeps it charms, even when time has moved on. Thank you again, Amanda Doyle!

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5 comments on “The First Harlequin Novel I Ever Read

  1. I don’t remember the titles, but I used to read the Janet Dailey ones. I clearly remember going to the local 5 and dime in the 70s, and browsing the wire racks. I am sure I picked them because they had horses on the cover. I’d devour them and be ready for the next trip!

  2. This tickled me. Thanks. I’m an Aussie by birth but now live in California. I can remember my Mum whipping up a dress for the me to wear to the Saturday night dance while doing laundry, cooking, and watching over my six sibs. But not while tending to a sheep ranch. The Aussie women are strong. ; )

    • I remember when I first read the book it opened up a whole new world to me, not just the romance. Always been fascinated by Australia ever since and I’m with you – Aussie women ARE strong! Thanks for the comment!

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