When Ballymena woman Lynne Graham was just 15 years old, she had a dream of writing novels for world famous romance publisher Mills & Boon.
Most of us are familiar with the popular novels; and if we haven’t read any of them ourselves, we can be sure that our mothers and grandmothers probably have.
These stories represent romantic fanaticism at its purest; heroine meets hero, often disguised as handsome rogue with less than desirable qualities, hero pursues heroine relentlessly, heroine resists at first, before eventually succumbing to his allure, and falling into his open arms, ready and willing to embrace the happy ever after.
But as Lynne, now 59 and the proud author of no less than 100 Mills & Boon titles, stresses, beneath the romantic gloss, the basic concept of these iconic stories reflects normal life and normal relationships, in that at the heart of the story is a “man and a woman coming together and resolving whatever differences they have.”
And the mother-of-five adds: “I think all relationships are a balance of compromise and negotiating and that’s something I try to show in my books.”
As the author who has sold an incredible 35 million books over the course of her career with Mills & Boon - that’s more than the famous classic Gone With The Wind - Lynne knows what she’s talking about.
Last month saw the release of her 100th novel, enticingly entitled Bought for the Greek’s Revenge.
She was also the bestselling author on the Mills & Boon website three years running - 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Her debut novel, Bittersweet Passion, was published in 1987, and she went on to write a host of other titles, including The Desert Bride, The Vengeful Husband and Angel of Darkness.
“I’m delighted to have reached such an important landmark in my career,” admits the modest Co Antrim woman, who is actually quite shy and reluctant to give too much away about her self, in spite of her remarkable success.
“I’ve always been passionate about writing and I’m so lucky to be able to make a living from doing what I love most. Working with the fantastic team at Mills & Boon has been a dream and I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped me reach this point!”
Lynne grew up in Ballymena, and met her future husband when she was just 14 years old.
The couple got married after she finished her studies at Edinburgh University, and have five children, having adopted four from Sri Lanka and Guatemala.
“Now they’re all grown up and starting families of their own,” says Lynne, whose own parents are Scottish, and moved to the Belfast area when she was a child.
Ten years ago, her family moved to Ballymena, and today she is a proud granny to “three wonderful grandchildren.”
As a youngster herself, Lynne was constantly putting pen to paper.
“I was always writing,” she reveals. “Of course they were stories about small animals back then, but in my
teens I began to write about people and their relationships. I always wrote – but the confidence to reach out to Mills & Boon to become an author certainly came with age.”
She says that she started to write properly mainly to entertain herself when she was at home with her first child, who was a toddler at the time.
“It felt at first as if I was just writing stories, but as they began to mount up I began to think seriously about getting published,” she continues.
“It took several years and several rejections, but I was determined to write for Mills & Boon. The desire to write was always there even from a young age, it was just something I revisited when I was at home with my eldest child.”
Seeing her first Mills & Boon novel in print was an “absolutely thrilling” moment, she says.
“The first time I saw it was in a newspaper shop in the local village and I didn’t even have the guts to pick it up!”
When it comes to actually getting her ideas and plot lines on paper, Lynne says her writing processed has evolved over the years.
“I think that the longer you write, the more you learn your craft. When I first started writing, I just couldn’t let go of my characters. If she went on a journey, I’d describe the whole journey rather than just getting her there. But over the years and with editors I’ve cultivated my craft. Now, when I sit down to write I start early in the morning at 9 and I don’t finish until 5pm. I have a room in my house that is solely mine and it’s where I work. It’s lined with bookshelves almost double stacked!
“The only family members allowed in are my three dogs who are invaluable if I get stuck on a plot point. I’ll take them out in the garden and by the time I come back to my desk, I’ll have figured it all out.
“I also constantly re-edit. Normally before I start writing each day, I edit the work I did the day before. But sometimes, if I feel there’s something wrong, it’s not as straight forward as that. You have to work out what’s wrong and identify what needs to change before you can move on.”
‘I read newspapers and magazines every day’
As a writer, Lynn is constantly drawing inspiration for her stories from everything around her.
“Beautiful, picturesque views are something that I always find inspiring and try to feature in my books. As my heroines are usually English, in order to meet the ‘international’ man the series promises, my heroes tend to be from far flung destinations that are always new and exciting for the heroine.
“I spend a lot of time in France as I have a house there, and often travel through Europe on family holidays.”
But the author reveals that she doesn’t always need to be surrounded by scenery in order to come up with a new plotline for her books, or create a character her readers will relate to.
“I could look at a radiator and come up with an idea!” she says.
“That’s how instinctive it has become from me. I read newspapers and magazines every day and there are always bits and pieces that can contribute to a larger part of an idea. The ‘real’ life experiences that contribute to my stories tend to be emotions that I’ve experienced personally.
“Grief, loss, love and happiness, these are universal – there isn’t anyone out there who hasn’t experienced these huge, poignant feelings and it’s important for me to reflect on those.” And she admits that when it comes to choosing her own personal favourite M&B books, she’s a sucker for the roguish heroes. “I find that what constitutes my favourite book that I have written is always changing. At the moment, it would be The Greek’s Christmas Bride, which is coming out in December. Apollo Metraxis is a really quite a hero. When you meet him in the previous book, The Italian’s Christmas Child, you think that Apollo is so awful!
“But I do love redeeming the bad boys! As a reader, I was inspired by Violet Winspear. Her Sheikh romances were my one true weakness.”
Her own latest offering, Bought for the Greek’s Revenge, is a story of love, money and revenge.
“Nikolai Drakos is out for revenge against his arch enemy, and he thinks he’s found the perfect path to it. His enemy is hoping to make the beautiful Ella Davies his fiancé, so Drakos decides that he must have her first. He buys out her family’s debts in order to ensure that she agrees to his demands. But when he discovers the true extent of Ella’s innocence he realises that he must make her his bride!”
From her own perspective, what draws Lynne as a reader to the Mills & Boon books is the proverbial happy ending, the “successful resolution of relationship problems.” She says: “The warmth and the positivity. I want to say the ‘escapism’ but I do so with caution because that description somehow diminishes the story in some people’s eyes. ‘‘
‘I would encourage anyone to write’
So what’s it like to be a Mills & Boon author, to get the chance to actually write those happy endings that brought solace and reassurance to Lynne for so long?
“We have over 1,000 authors across the different imprints,” says Lynne.
“The Modern Series has 40 authors writing for it at the moment, but that can often change if a new writer is bought for the line. We have authors in England, Ireland, Australia, America, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, to name a few.
“I would be reluctant to describe a day in the life of a ‘typical’ Mills & Boon author because we’re all so very different. Some of us have families, some are single, some of us are still working on a day job, and some of us are lucky enough to write full time.
“My life is very family based so I’m usually writing by 9am and drawing to a close at 5pm, though if I’m coming to the end of a book, sometimes it won’t let me go that easily and I find myself working later.”
When she gets a chance to take time out from her writing, Lynne adores cooking, collecting - and of course, reading.
“Now that there are fewer of the children in the house, I’m able to cook more and more of what I love. My husband built our kitchen and it’s a special place for me.
“I’m also a collector! I often find new things to collect, but I have always collected frog princess with crowns, and animal figurines made from stones.”
And she would “absolutely” encourage any other young people with a love of literature to pursue the same career that she has.
However she cautions: “Writing certainly isn’t the easy route. Writing takes immense courage. Courage to make the first step, courage to pick yourself up from the floor after your first rejection, courage to listen to good advice and throw out half of the story if need be, and courage to rewrite.
“But if it wasn’t so hard to achieve, it wouldn’t feel so good when you make it!”
*Bought for the Greek’s Revenge is available to buy now from www.millsandboon.co.uk.