I've always been a daydreamer. I often seem to live inside my head. I couldn't read until I was seven, but once I learnt I devoured everything. I've now been writing romance novels for more than three decades. In my twenties I worked with an agent who was keen to find "the new Barbara Cartland", and soon after my 30th birthday, I was taken on by Mills & Boon – along with several other writers – to write for a Regency romance collection under the alias Caroline Courtenay. Since then I've written in excess of 200 romance novels, under five pen names, selling more than 67 million copies worldwide.
Even though I'm a widow, I'll always remember what it means to be in love; to experience certain emotions. As my grandmother once rightly told me: "In your heart, you'll always be 17" – and I can readily draw from my past. As well as my own experience, inspiration comes from real-life events. I'm always reading magazines and newspapers, and deal with the issues I come across. My latest work is about a woman whose interior design business is suffering due to the economic downturn, and the effect this has on her relationship with her husband. I'm interested in the issues that people face in relationships, not just the relationship alone.
I like to take loose inspiration from friends but I'd never base characters on real people: they always get in the way. I'm forever seeing couples who though deeply in love, cannot make their relationship work because of obstacles they are unable to overcome. There is nothing I can do about that in real life, but in my books I'm able to find a resolution; to find a way of allowing my characters to let go of the support structures people rely on to get through in life. I like the idea that love can help overcome life's hurdles.
My favourite books have never been literary greats. I like those that use words as bricks to build a story. Books about families fascinate me; I loved Sense and Sensibility for the social commentary; the nitty-gritty, the details of everyday life. This is what makes me smile. I don't much enjoy the big drama of the Brontë sisters.
I'm not actually a born romantic. I'm a realist: I understand that love alone is not always enough. It can take a lot of hard work. How you treat your loved one in your everyday life is what really matters, but I can't deny that romantic gestures can add a little extra sparkle. Having a day set aside for romance, like Valentine's Day, gives us a rare chance to stop and evaluate our relationship; to consider what we value in our partner. Everyone has a different idea of their perfect Valentine's Day, so it's important to sit down and think about what the person we love would most like. The gift of showing how much thought went into your partner's needs is surely the best gift anyone could hope for.