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Gang-gang: Beige blush over purple prose

Responsible journalism, as represented by this respected broadsheet newspaper and so, of course, by this column, is written in sober, beige prose.

But how some of us in this profession envy those romance writers who are licensed to write not in beige but in deep purple prose! There will be an orgy of writers in purple (indeed in 50 shades of it) and of their purple prose-wallowing readers at this weekend's enormous Australian Romance Readers Association convention in Canberra.

Famous and fabulously best-selling romance author Rachael Johns is coming to the convention. She specialises in rural romance and is Australia's most popular exponent of the genre.

Even before she describes her character, Flynn Quartermaine (he appears in the opening paragraphs of her latest novella, The Road To Hope, and she is going to launch the book at the convention), you can tell from his name that he is a spectacular, Hugh Jackmanesque hunk.

So no wonder the book's heroine-to-be, Lauren Simpson, who has been in love with Flynn since they were children, is emotion-ravaged as she attends his wedding in the church at Hope Junction. It is a one-horse, one-hunk hamlet, and now that one hunk is beyond her reach.

"The minister beamed out at the congregation as a freshly kissed Ellie [Flynn's radiant bride] turned to face the guests. Her illegally good-looking new husband also turned, pulling his wife into his side and offering her the kind of smile that could set whole countries alight. Lauren couldn't deny the barbed wire of jealousy that wrapped around her heart – just looking at the happy couple made her feel physically ill." 

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How the barbed wire of jealousy wrapped itself around my heart, as on Wednesday, jealous of Rachael Johns' opportunities to write in 50 shades of purple, I spoke to her about her purple work. 

She says that Australian rural romance has become huge as publishers galore delight in it and new rural romance writers emerge all the time.

She and her readers love the genre, she thinks, because all Australians love and identify with the bush, even when we live in cities.

She thinks we love the way, in fiction, a small town (rural romance writers even have a sub-genre called "small town seduction") can have an intensely intertwined, easy to follow, "small cast" of characters. We love the bush men, like the illegally good-looking Flynn Quartermaine, who are "so hot-looking and who know what to do with their hands".

Speaking of which, heat and hands, we wondered if modern romance fiction contains explicit sex.

Johns explains that romance fiction comes in so many forms, 50 shades of explicitness.

There is "sweet, inspirational romance, often with Christian themes" and then other authors one looks to for everything from mild eroticism to "the very explicit, threesomes, male to male sex".

Indeed, there is a session at the convention called "Hard And Fast" and when, blushing, we asked Johns if that means what it suggests, she confirmed that, yes, it does. The authors at that forum are well-known for their unblushingly lubricious prose. 

She, herself, is a bit middle-of-the road with her sex scenes.

She says that the tortured Lauren (that's long-legged, short-shorted her in the background on the cover) appears in a previous novel as a bit of a small town slattern.

The cover of The Road To Hope calls her "The Bad Girl of Hope Junction". But you will have to read the book to see if she is bad enough to engage in threesomes. 

Johns was so lovely to talk to that I developed quite a crush on her. Although I couldn't see it, I was sure she had a smile to set whole countries alight.

The Australian Romance Readers Association convention is at Rydges Lakeside Hotel this Saturday and Sunday. 

But enough of this unhealthy preoccupation with humans and their sexuality. It is time to turn to again to Canberra's birdlife.

We resume with Tony May's terrific picture of fowls of two very different cockatoo species.

This gang-gang cockatoo and sulphur-crested cockatoo (the latter exhibiting the famous left-handedness of its species, much discussed here) are dining together in a tree in a Pearce garden. 

Not that nature is all sweetness and light.

In Tuesday's column, we rather naively shared in readers' joy (with photographs) at the arrival of four pelicans on the new(ish) wetlands in Lyneham. We thought this had to be an influential endorsement of the wetlands, and a kind of "If You Create It They Will Come" testimony.

Now another wetland-watching reader, noticing our item, begs to differ. She thinks the pelicans have brought ecological catastrophe to the place.

"You were right to mention [in the piece about the pelicans in Lyneham] some passing concern for the frogs. Since the pelicans arrived a couple of weeks ago on Lyneham Pond, the local birdlife has vacated the premises and the frogs can no longer be heard.

"The wetland's ducks have all disappeared with the pelican arrivals. We dog walkers were watching the breeding cycles and counting the ducklings and watching them grow in little batches of 4-8-12, but now there are no more ducklings. I suspect the pelicans ate them all and the breeding pairs have gone elsewhere.

"The pond was jumping with galaxids and tadpoles until the pelicans arrived. These big scoopers have cleaned the pond out and the waters are still. There are just now a couple of cormorants fanning their wings as the pelican patrol, too big for the pond, eats up the remaining wildlife. The rest is silence. I hope the pelicans leave soon."