Romance Writing Heroine? Yes please! Penelope Janu's Prize-Winning New Novel

I am so, so excited to talk to Australian author Penelope Janu about her new romantic comedy, On the Same Page – winner of the 2017 XO Romance Prize. Partly because I adore rom coms, partly because the book’s heroine is a romance writer, and partly because Penelope’s debut novel, In at the Deep End, was one of my absolute favourite reads in 2017.

About Penelope...

Penelope Janu is an Australian author who writes stories about clever and adventurous women who don’t mean to fall in love, but do. She has a background in law, and lives on the coast in Sydney.

Connect with Penelope via her website, Facebook and Instagram  

Sometimes a girl just has to do 
what’s in her heart … 

 By day Miles Franklin, named after the famous author, is a successful lawyer. But by night she writes historical romance novels under the pen name Emma Browning. When Miles’s assistant covertly enters her boss's novel in one of Australia’s biggest literary awards—and it wins—Miles’s perfectly ordered world is torn apart.

Lars Kristensen smells a rat. As the CEO of Iconic International, the company publishing Miles’s prize-winning novel, he’s determined to meet the author and uncover her true identity.
But Miles is equally determined to protect her privacy—and to keep writing—even if it means mastering pole dancing, and choreographing a love scene in the back of a horse-drawn carriage … Well, she is a romance writer, after all.

Miles has the grit to keep her secret, but Lars has the smouldering looks and arrogance of any romantic hero she has ever imagined. 

Hmm. Sometimes a girl just has to turn the page …

Read a little...

My briefcase flies out of my hand and whacks him in the knee.

‘Christ!’ he says, grasping my arms above the elbows, steadying me.

If I look up I’ll blush, so I keep my chin down. Navy suit, burgundy tie, white shirt. He has broad shoulders and narrow hips. And he smells nice.

‘Are you all right?’ His voice is deep. English accent? He squeezes my arms.

‘Yes. Sorry about …’ I look up. Early thirties, well-defined jawline, determined chin. Remarkably blue eyes with steel-grey flecks. He has a perfectly shaped mouth to match the rest of his face.

He reaches for my briefcase at the same time I do, but he gets there first. As I straighten, I hit him in the chin with the top of my head.



He rubs his chin. Our gazes lock. I’m vaguely aware of people walking around us. Of exhaust fumes and the rumble of a bus engine. A car horn blasts and I jump. He pushes me off the road backwards, hesitating briefly as I negotiate the kerb to the footpath. When he smiles into my eyes, I’m so busy gazing into his that I don’t notice he’s trying to give back my briefcase. Our hands touch. His fingers, long and lean, tangle up with mine as I take the handle.

A flush warms my chest and moves up my neck to my face. I’m suddenly breathless.
And I know exactly how I’ll look. Like a giant red condom’s been pulled over the top of my head. 

‘Oh!’ I snatch the briefcase out of his grip. ‘Sorry again.’

When I take a step sideways, he holds out his hand. ‘There’s no need to apologise. It was unintentional.’

‘I’m very clumsy.’

He opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something else, but then he shuts it. His lips firm and he takes a step back. Has he only just realised I’m red like a beetroot? That my briefcase may have crippled him and his jaw might be broken? He nods brusquely. Is this a dismissal?

I turn sharply right and walk quickly along the footpath, as if I actually want to go in this direction. It would be foolish to turn around to take one more look. I must be imagining he’s following me with his eyes. Even so, I will not turn around.

I turn around. He’s at least twenty metres away. I can’t possibly see the colour of his eyes from here. Can I? He swipes his dark-brown fringe off his forehead as he continues to stare. Why is he staring?

Buy the book on Amazon, iBooks and Book Depository.
Sydney Harbour

Let's talk... 

Avril: Give us the low down on your path to becoming a writer. 
Penelope: I worked as a lawyer for many years, and had six children along the way, so didn’t have a great deal of time to write until relatively recently. But once I’d started writing, I couldn’t stop! My first novel, In at the Deep End, was published by HarperCollins in 2017, and my second novel, On the Right Track, was published not long afterwards. On the Same Page is my third novel.

I’ve been really lucky to have two careers, particularly as creating characters and plots and all the other wonderful things writers get to make up is such a joy. I’ve told my family that from now on, they have to compete for time with the characters buzzing around in my head.
Avril: Tell us a little bit about how On the Same Page came together for you, and about the XO Prize.
Penelope: I wrote the first draft of On the Same Page while doing a creative writing course at university. I was the only student who was working on a romance novel, and one of the few who identified themselves as readers of romance. By the time I’d finished my draft, quite a few fellow students were totally invested in the outcome of the tussle between Miles and Lars, the writer and publisher in On the Same Page, and it inspired me to keep working on it!

The XO Romance Prize is offered annually by the Australian publisher, Brio Books, and I was delighted when On the Same Page won the prize. The novel has elements like blog posts, correspondence, and extracts from the historical romance novels the heroine, Miles, is currently writing (these extracts mirror Miles’s thoughts about the hero, Lars, who starts to bear a startling resemblance to the heroes in her novels!). As Amy Andrews says on the front cover, this novel is ‘endearingly quirky.’ It explores what it can mean to be a writer, and looks at quite a few literary pretensions as well.

Avril: Lars isn’t your first Scandinavian hero. What’s the attraction?
Penelope: Norway was a particularly memorable part of a year spent in Europe, because my husband and I camped there in the northern autumn. Notwithstanding the majestic scenery, we were generally the only people camping at the time because it was freezing! The Norwegian camp owners and rangers treated us with good humour and generosity, often giving us a hut for our overnight stays, and hot breakfast in their homes the following morning. I’ve met many Norwegians since. Typically they have a certain reserve, tempered with sincerity and humour. Many Norwegian men are tall, handsome and adventurous as well … These traits have always made a positive impression!

The Norwegian men in my novels so far have been a naval commander (and climate scientist), a diplomat, and, in On The Same Page, the CEO of an international publishing company. I give my Norwegian men interesting things to do (besides falling in love with their heroines!)

Avril: What’s your favourite kind of heroine?
Penelope: On the Same Page let me have a lot of fun in terms of taking the characters out of their comfort zones. Lars is compelled to read historical romance novels and give meaningful feedback. Miles takes on pole dancing in order to appreciate how one of the characters in her book might climb to a second story window (as you do!). By the end of the novel, Miles learns to appreciate that some conflicts, including those with her parents, need to be met head on. Many women in their late twenties are clever, independent and resourceful. They’re happy to fall in love—but won’t settle for men who aren’t worthy of them.

Australian wildflowers
Avril: How would you describe the attraction of Australian settings?
Penelope: My novels have all been set primarily in Australia, but have had very different settings—coastal, country, and, for On the Same Page, inner city Sydney. And I guess that diversity in the Australian environment might answer this question.  As I’ve lived in Sydney for many years, it was a lot of fun to write settings I was very familiar with in On the Same Page. I regularly go to the ballet and theatre at the Opera House, spend lazy afternoons enjoying dog and horse activities at Centennial Park, and enjoy sitting at footpath tables in restaurants and bars all year round.

Avril: What does 2019 hold for you?
Penelope: A lot of writing! I have a novel with HarperCollins that’s scheduled for a December 2019 release, and I’m hoping to get started on my next book, a romantic comedy set in a university. On the personal front, in addition to being kept busy with my family, I’m planning another long walk. Although I hike a lot at home, I’ve set myself a few European challenges lately. Two years ago I walked with a group of friends 300km across England, and earlier this year walked over 200km around Mt Blanc, taking in Switzerland, France and Italy en route. Next year, my husband is keen to walk in the Dolomite region in Italy, but I think the Dingle Way in Ireland sounds pretty fabulous. We meet many intrepid American travellers on our walks. As this is my first book with US distribution, it will be great to let new friends know On the Same Page will be available in the US.

Penelope is giving away a print copy of  On the Same Page! Just let us know in the comments what your favourite book settings are!


  1. Hi Ladies

    I love your stories Penelope and I keep hearing so much about this one cand it is calling to me can't wait to read it.

    Fabulous interview

    Have Fun


    1. Thank you, Helen! You are such a wonderful reader of Australian - and other - authors. I do hope you enjoy On the Same Page. Your reading pile is so tall! Penelope x

  2. I'm happy to travel the globe, be inside or out, summer or winter. Just recently my armchair travels took me to Iceland, Canada, Outback QLD, English moors and Baghdad. (Not all in the same book obviously.)


  3. And isn't that the wonderful thing about reading, Mary! We can be transported anywhere and experience so much in our travels. I hope you venture somewhere exciting over the weekend! Penelope

  4. any

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  5. I enjoy books set in different countries. England is one of my favorites. I also like the old west and small town romances.


    1. I'm a sucker for a book set in England!

    2. I love a book set in England too and... heroes with English accents (cue Lars from On the Same Page!). I hope you get plenty of reading done in the Christmas break, Rita. I find it's always a time to work on my 'to be read pile,' with confidence that it will build up again in no time!