Sally Thorne is probably the most successful Canberra author you've never heard of. Her debut novel The Hating Game was written in six weeks. The Washington Post named it one of the top 20 romance novels of 2016 and it was a top 10 romance finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards.
The film adaptation is currently in post-production in Los Angeles, directed by Peter Hutchings and starring Pretty Little Liars' Lucy Hale, and Fantasy Island's, Austin Stowell.
She followed The Hating Game with 99 Percent Mine in 2019, it debuted on the USA Today best-seller list, and now she's written Second First Impressions.
It's mainly set in a retirement home - not the most likely of settings for a romance novel. Ruthie is the young manager, Teddy is the handsome bad boy who is hired as an assistant to a mischievous pair of residents. Thorne breathes plenty of life into her characters, young and old, as the story unfolds.
"Every time you finish a book, you think, wow, how did I do that?" says Thorne.
"Even if you've already written a book, you still think that. This third one was definitely easier than the second one, that was the hardest.
"Because my first book was such a success, I was really taken aback by it, and with the second book there was a lot of anticipation, the pre orders were really high and people were genuinely expecting that it was going to be very similar to my first one.
"I think that's kind of a natural, human tendency, when you find an author you like, or you find a debut music album that you like, you think I love this, I want more of this.
"But someone told me once that a second book is your chance to let the reader know things might be different. And mine are always going to be different because I don't ever want to get bored at this."
Does Thorne believe the current discussion about such things as consent and gender equity makes it harder to write romance?
"Romance novels have usually kept up with the times pretty well, in my opinion," she says.
"If you pick up romance from the 1970s in a secondhand bookshop or something you might be shocked but modern romance is really well versed in explaining the parameters of consent and making sure that the characters, and also the reader, feel comfortable with things proceeding. It just doesn't have to be about sex either. But good editors are picking up on these things."
Thorne previously worked in the public service, one year she enrolled in a creative writing course at the Canberra Institute of Technology, and started writing for fun. A friend suggested she write her a story as a birthday present, threw the word "nemesis" at her, and the first draft of The Hating Game appeared six weeks later. She had befriended romance novelists Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, who write under the combined pen name of Christina Lauren, on some online forums and she took a chance and sent them the draft. The rest is history.
She doesn't care what people think of romance writers, what stereotypes there might be.
"I think romance has really struggled in the past to get a foothold as a legitimate type of fiction but it is the highest selling genre," she says.
"I make a good living off it. Historically, anything that women have enjoyed has been looked down upon a little bit. I don't have to explain what I do."
- Second First Impressions, by Sally Thorne. Hachette, $29.99.
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