Rural romance feels US embrace

HELEN CROMPTON
1 / 2

Rural romance feels US embrace

Rachael Johns.

There's a paddock 45km north-east of Northam in the small town of Goomalling where a pretty, dark-haired woman stands behind a trestle table as she chats to a stream of passers-by.

It's Field Day in the Wheatbelt town and Rachael Johns, married to the bloke who runs the local IGA supermarket, is manning her stall in what is a big date on the country calendar.

But it's not breads, spreads or crocheted bedspreads that Johns displays on her table: it's books. Her books. And for those who enjoy a pacy, polished romance in WA's own backyard, Johns is the author to go to - after all, the 33-year-old mum of three was the winner of the Australian Romance Readers Association's top award last year.

It's not bad going for an author who still helps out in the family store while raising small children, grabbing what time she can to meet her deadlines from a desk in her small home, on to which daily detritus gets dumped.

In the 40 minutes of talking to Johns while she takes a break from her bookstall, she tells me good news. She has finally broken into the US market with her bestseller Jilted - although Americans prefer up-beat messages, so it will be retitled Hope Junction.

Better hopeful than abandoned, perhaps. This signals that our American cousins are intrigued by what goes on in small Australian rural towns and their appetite to know more is apparently growing.

It's a huge step for a WA author who has written only three full-length novels and who is clearly modest about her achievements.

"On my desk I've got a little pink 'doubt demon'," she said. "My friend gave it to me to overcome those times I think I can't write another word."

While Johns' last bestseller, Man Drought, was her raciest book, she says anything more graphic isn't her thing.

"I actually find it amusing when people read my books and say something like 'I can't believe a sweet girl like you could write that stuff', because my stories are pretty tame."

Johns is clear about not writing "literature". Her stories are always relaxing-at-the-end-of-a-long-day reading. It's also a genre publishers are more interested in for the compelling reason that it sells.

Outback Dreams is the first of a trilogy based in fictional Bunyip Bay, WA. It's a girl has met boy, girl doesn't realise boy is soulmate, girl stuffs up due to her confusion, boy stuffs up due to his, scenario.

We know what is going to happen but what keeps readers engaged is Johns' natural storytelling ability, honed over years of practice.

"I started writing at 17 so it took 15 years to get a publishing contract," she said. "I have a writing degree but I attribute any success I may have to Romance Writers of Australia that I joined in 2006. That was pivotal. I have learned so much from them."

Yes, even light romance is unadulterated hard graft unless you get 50 shades of pure luck.

"It's true," Johns said. "You really have to love this writing business."

And, obviously, the business of writing about love.