Local creative Lee Burgess walked from her home in Cooks Hill into the office at Villager Property to have an afternoon drink and chat about her adventures in writing, and how her career has evolved.
Lee played the saxophone as a teenager and studied at the Newcastle Conservatory of Music. At eighteen, she joined a band and this is when she started writing, adding lyrics to their music as they cut their first LP.
It was here that a love for writing developed but it would be some time before it became her career.
Lee met her husband Damien, a lawyer, during a settlement while she was doing legal work. The pair went on to open their legal firm in Newcastle and Lee has used her experience within this industry in her writing.
After working in Newcastle for fifteen years as a corporate software trainer and raising two children – Danielle and Adam – Lee decided it was time to focus on writing.
“I always had an urge to write and it was time to get it out, ” Lee says.
While most of her characters and stories are based on real life experiences, Lee’s first book was a young-adult novel for which she was offered a publishing deal.
However, she knew that writing for young adults was not her calling.
“I want to write books that I want to read, what I love and enjoy – not what I think other people will enjoy,” Lee had told herself. And so began her first novel in the romantic suspense genre In Safe Hands.
She had heard that a great way of getting noticed by publishing houses was to enter competitions, so she did, to great success.
In 2012, her then unpublished manuscript In Safe Hands won the Romance Writers of America Silicon Valley Gotcha Contest, The RWoA Smoky Mountains Laurie Award and the RWoA East Texas Southern Heat Contest for Romantic Suspense.
This lead to Harlequin Escape offering Lee an incredible opportunity to be their launch author and kick start their online presence, following the boom of Kindle and other devices. The launch came with excellent exposure for Lee.
After the publication of In Safe Hands, A Dangerous Arrangement was Lee’s next title – a fast paced read set on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Shadows of the Heart followed – a small town rural romance set in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales .
A Dangerous Arrangement went on to be a finalist in the 2015 Australian Romance Readers Awards for Favourite Romantic Suspense and more recently, the prestigious Romance Writers of Australia ‘RUBY Award’ for Romantic Book of the Year.
One of the aspects of Lee’s career is the research of different industries so that she can accurately write about them in her books. This takes her from studying about Italy to talking to truck drivers about their escapades in outback NSW.
“People who don’t read romantic fiction generally don’t know a lot about it,” Lee tells us. “There is sci-fi romance, crime romance, historical romance – lots of different types of sub-genres within the genre.”
“Women are front and centre in romance. The woman is a strong character and though she may have a conflict, there is power in how it is overcome. It’s about strong, modern heroines,” Lee tells us proudly.
“Romance writing is one of the most feminist things you can do,” she asserts. “It’s an industry written, run and read by women.”
“And we aren’t at all like Barbara Cartland. Romance has come a long way since the days of Mills & Boon and Fabio,” she laughs. “Our writers group is full of doctors, a pilot, university lecturers and lawyers.”
“The Hunter is teaming with creative writers and there is lots of support here,” Lee tells us of her experience as a member of a local writing group.
Lee contributes to a collaboration of stories surrounding a fictional town as a project within her writing group. They meet at the Greenhills library once a month and support each other, offering critique and advice.
For Lee, every book has a different soundtrack and each story has had a musical accompaniment while she had been writing. So what is the next book going to sound like?
“I’m listening to a lot of Lady Gaga for the current one,” Lee smiles. “Alejandro – I just love the vibe of that song.”
Romance is the highest selling genre out of all fiction publications: sci-fi and crime selling around 780 million books each year, while romance tops the charts at 1.5 billion.
Lee loves romance because it focuses on people and emotional growth, “Romance is a universal story. Hope for the future is a common thread the world over – people want optimism.”
Lee will be speaking at the upcoming event Meet The Villagers, a fun community event where 6 speakers each have 6 mins to speak about a fun and engaging topic to raise money for charity; find out more and buy your tickets here.