Robyn Donald (born 1940 in Northland, New Zealand) is a prolific writer of romance novels from New Zealand.
She writes for the English Mills and Boon romance series, and all her books have also been reedited under Harlequin Enterprises Limited series.
Her first romance titled 'Bride at Whangatapu' was published under the exegesis of Mills and Boon in 1977. In the 1978 publication under Harlequin, the publishing house noted that the readers would recognize a bright new talent in the absorbing story and lively, memorable characters that Robyn Donald created.
Robyn Donald cannot remember ever being unable to read. She learned the skill at a very early age; and today she claims reading remains one of her greatest pleasures "if not a vice."
Robyn, her husband and their two children make their home in a small country village in the historic Bay of Islands in the far north of New Zealand. Both the climate and the people are friendly, and her family enjoys sailing in particular and the outdoor life in general.
Her other interests include cooking, music, and astronomy. And she finds history and archaeology especially fascinating because "they are about the sum total of human experience."
When she writes, Donald visualizes scenes that she knows and loves. The actual germ of a story arrives "ready-made from some recess of my brain, but," she adds, "it takes quite a while to work out the details."
She grew up in her father's dairy farm at Warkworth, met her future husband when she was fifteen, went to Auckland to train as a teacher and then came back to be married.
After the birth of a son, the family moved to Auckland. A little lonely and housebound as she waited the birth her daughter, Donald began the first tentative steps that set her on a path to writing. Her first attempt was, she said, "appallingly bad." But she was determined to keeping at it. Another move took the family to the far north of New Zealand. Donald returned to teaching but she still found time to write; with her husband's encouragement she submitted a manuscript entitled Bride at Whangatapu. It was accepted and became Harlequin #232 in 1978.
For reference, Donald keeps a file of clippings, jotting of ideas, and a diary, which she laughingly says, "is useful in my work as well as for settling family arguments."
She lives today with her husband and one Corgi dog. Resigned from her teaching position when she found that she enjoyed writing romances more, she now spends her spare time reading, gardening, travelling, and writing letters to keep up with her two adult children and her friends.
In Bride at Whangatapu (1977), Fiona comes to Logan's sheep station in the Northland Peninsula, of North Island, New Zealand. The Maori place name Whangatapu means 'Sacred Harbour' or 'Forbidden Harbour'. Like many maritime old homesteads, the station overlooks the sea because ocean ways was the main route of communication at that time. It intimates Robyn Donald's enthusiasm for New Zealand's history and landscape, which is a staple of her fiction.
A four hour flight of over Tasman Sea separates Sydney from Auckland. In Return to Yesterday (1983), Catlin makes this crossing on board Air New Zealand jet, which finally comes in over the isthmus separating Auckland's twin harbors. On one side of the harbor is the Manukau with its exquisite gradations of color, which opens across a ferocious bar onto the turbulent Tasman Sea. On the other is the Waitemata harbor, island-sprinkled, a passage way to the enormous Pacific Ocean and the South Seas.
The sprawling metropolis of Auckland is the jumping off point for the Northland Peninsula jutting out to the Pacific ocean. Bay of Stars (1981) has its inspiration the Bay of Islands, once a great center of Maori population, made "the hellhole of the Pacific" by European whalers and sealers, and now a world famous aquatic playground. In Dark Abyss (1981), Luce finds refuge in peaceful Whangarei City, a two hours drive north from Auckland. In Captives of the Past (1987), Raffe and Jennet go on an outing in picturesque Kerikeri. Quite a distance from Kerikeri, Morag comes home to 'the long valley' of Wharuaroa in Shadow of the Past (1979). And in Country of the Heart (1988) Finley finds Blake in Motuaroha, Maori for 'Island of Love'. Robyn Donald references many such places, which often stand out for their Maori place names, in her books.
The love affair in Iceberg (1981) takes off in the historical Kawau Island. A flight in a seaplane from Mechanics Bay from the heart of Auckland to Kawau offers the scenery below of Rangitoto, Island of the Bleeding Sky, which boasts the most recent volcano.
In Shadow of the Past (1979), Thorpe's younger brother Graham moves to the Waikato dairy country.
Her second novel, Dilemma in Paradise (1978), takes place in the South Pacific island of Fala'isi. Her love for the tropical South Seas is evident in some of her other stories such as Darker Side of Paradise (1991), Storm Over Paradise (1992), and Paradise Lost (1993) that also take place in Fala'isi. Her use of the term paradise is synonymous with the gems of the South Seas, an expression she uses in her book Summer at Awakopu (1979), for the innumerable islands dotting the Pacific corridor with their musical names of which Rarotonga, Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti are only a few.
To all New Zealanders, they are simply known as 'the Islands' - islands of enchantment and tropical magic, near enough to fly to for a forthnight's holiday, yet a different world.
The group of islands that comprise the country of Fiji becomes home to Meredith in Interloper (1980). Lautoka lay spread beneath the sun, a small immensely attractive town, the second biggest in Fiji. On her way there, Meredith stops over at beautiful Hibiscus island on the dry side of Fiji. The palm shaded, coral firnged Hibiscus island is a jewel set in a sapphire and jade sea.
The location of all her stories, except for Wife in Exchange (1979), are thus divided into North Island and the South Pacific. It establishes Robyn Donald as the quintessential writer of these particular locales after another such author Flora Kidd who was inspired by Scotland.
Late Loving (1988) is yet another testament to her faithfulness to New Zealand. Here she introduces the readers to her version of the Greek hero, a character familiar to romance readers of all generations, who nonetheless whisks the heroine off to a nearby New Zealand island.
Wellington is as far south of the North Island as Donald is prepared to go in Bride at Whangatapu (1977).
The South Island of New Zealand gets some cursory mentions in her books. In Shadow of the Past (1979), Morag flies in from Christchurch.
Like the British Isle, New Zealand is an island nation. As in No Place Too Far (1991), one important observation Donald makes is how small the country is, where chance meetings are a matter of fact and not always pure coincidents.
Flora and fauna
In her writings, Robyn Donald extensively uses the Maori names retained for much of the flora and fauna of New Zealand. It makes for a familiar yet otherworldly reading of her novels in the style of Violet Winspear, and gives credence to the escapist root of the genre.
The enormous Pohutukawa with scarlet blossoms and gnarled barks grows in Waiwheta Bay in the north as far south as Taranaki and Poverty Bay, which is halfway down the North Island, and becomes part of the vocabulary of anyone who read Bride at Whangatapu (1977).
A Tui preens at the topmost branch of a tall Kowhai smothered in gold blossoms. Its black feather is shot with blue-green; the absurd bobble of white feathers in his throat visible when he lifts his head for a carillon call. As it plunders the yellow and orange clubs of the torch lillies for necter, the flowers move and sway .
A Riroriro warbles its soft plaintive notes; the shy grey warbler, a bashful harbinger of rain, is the tiniest bird of the New Zealand bush.
And a Morepork calls morepork, morepork.
There are the bellbirds and the native pigeon; the carillon of endangered Kokako; a shriek of a Pukeko in the swamp. Pukekos are lovely blue-purple birds with red beaks with a habit of flicking tuft of white feather on its tail.
Everywhere there is perfume of camellias, freesias, jasmine, tiny lilac thyme flowers and bright orange marigold; of the bushy fragrant branches of manuka and kanuka with their pink cloud of flowers, and starry white blossoms honey scented against the grey green foliage.
The casuarinas smell spicy in the damp air. Logan makes his way through the casuarinas to Fiona awaiting under a Japanese Walnut tree in Bride at Whangatapu (1977).
The leafless Jacaranda comes into vivid lilac-blue flowers in the summer.
There are the lovely pink and white orchid flowers of the bauhinias; the hibiscus with their petals like silken bells.
It might be the depths of winter, but here, there are always flowers - the golds and reds of the day lilies, daisy bushes in the finery of yellow, pink and white, their scent freshly sweet. Earliest daffodils nod in the thin pale rays of the sun.
A Puriri tree crouches in the grass. While Eden's grandparents and mother rest in peace under the Totara tree in Golden Mask (1992).
A small wind from the sea set the branches of the Paulownia tree swaying against the sky.
There are the pine forests of Waitangi and subtropical fruits growing in area around Kerikeri. The fruits from the citrus trees hang like the golden apples of Hesperides. The Karaka and Karo trees dominate the forested hillside.
In the ocean, the Kahawai follow a shoal of the tiny fish they feed on.
The impatient 'pink-pink' of some small bird wakes up Linnet in Iceberg (1981).
In Interloper (1980), the only noise Meredith hears upon waking is the liquid trilling of some small bird.
In the beautiful South Seas paradise native orchids bloom cream and pale, lilac and gold, their delicate flowers emitting a sweet, slightly lemony scent.
There is the riotous exuberance of growth from the rough trunks of the coconut palms, immense, spreading banyan trees, to tall tree ferns.
And the flowers! Hibiscuses from all shades of red and yellow, the trailing bougainvillea in lilacs and pinks and mauves, frangipani of all colors, zinnias and the wide golden blossom of allamanda vine.
The lush foliage is replete with mass of flowers and wide leaved plants.
In Storm Over Paradise (1992), Fenella is made wise about tiare aloka, flower of love, a potent aphrodisiac known to natives of Fala'isi.
If in her evocation of a formal garden Robyn Donald rouses a 'surge of emotion' in Bride at Whangatapu (1977), she does so again in the 'piercing of emotion' evoked by the bushy crowns of the massive, elemental Kauri trees in Color of Midnight (1994).
The Winterless North
The North Island has nice, temperate climate. There is no snow, no great heat, not much difference between summer and winter. It sounds like California weather except that there is plenty of humidity, Northland being notorious for its sticky days and nights.
And more than enough rain as spring is pretty wet. Blade calls it lousy spring weather in Golden Mask (1992).
The chances of unseasonably wet and wild weather increases if tropical storms chase down from the Pacific as far afield as Fiji. In Northland if there is more than four inches (102 mm) of rain a day, the hills start to slip away. Stranded by a flash flood, an exhausted Oriel finds refuge with Blaize in Summer Storm (1991).
Summer is the time when holiday makers make the most use of the Northland Peninsula. This is how Lorena meets Bourne in Bay of Stars (1981). However, turning a sleepy seaside into a modern holiday resort puts Guy and Mike in a collision course in Island Enchantment (1994).
The warm sunshine of the far north is welcomed for a sick boy from colder Wellington in Bride at Whangatapu (1977). Country of the Heart's (1988) exquisite Finley sleeps off the after effects of a bout of pneumonia under the silver and green canopy of a Puhutukawa tree. Back in Auckland, she can already feel the evenings cooler than they were in the island.
But the warm temperatures can soar to unprecedented heights. Then it becomes too hot to eat, almost too hot to sleep.
Autumn is one weather that not only Northland but also all of New Zealand does really well.
Summer in the tropical South Seas share in the occasional jolts of rain and storm. Reigned inside by treacherous weather, Tamsyn can't escape but face off Grant in Dilemma in Paradise (1978).
But the eye of another storm, a deadly cyclone that rips through Fala'isi, finds Fenella safely ensconced with Dominic in Storm Over Paradise (1992). When they make their way across to the window, the dark day has gone, swallowed up by even darker night. There are stars! If it was daytime, they'd be seeing the sun. But the stillness was uncanny as was to look out and see stars and know that the island was surrounded by belts of cyclonic winds shutting it off from the rest of the world.
“Summer people, summer people, busy, busy summer people. Sailing, swimming, biking, golfing, having parties all the time. Island people, island people, busy, busy island people. Cooking, cleaning, mowing, running, making summer people fine.” This is a description that made Hampton beaches on the shore of New York famous. Robyn Donald's winterless North comes very close to this description except for the business associated with these activities.
Morag remembers her old life in Wharuaroa in Shadow of the Past (1979) with wistful nostalgia. They are days spent on the sea - skin diving or water skiing, followed by barbecue on a convenient beach and singing around a bonfire, the long summer evenings when it is hot until eight, tramping across the coastal hills or canoeing down the small rivers, sailing - the list is endless and the long easy days follow each other like a pearl on a string.
It's not only Auckland that is proud to be called the city of sails because most major bays and harbours in the Northland Peninsula are covered in boats and yachts of all types. When an ocean going yacht makes anchor at Awakopu, its owner and occupant Theo steals the heart of innocent Janey in Summer at Awakopu (1979).
Being a New Zealander means that Theo doesn't despise physical labor. He takes to haymaking in Summer at Awakopu (1979); a hot and dry and hard work; but still he enjoys using a few muscles. In Country of the Heart (1988), Blake, too, gets down to mending a fence post, his shirt becoming wringing wet in five minutes.
In Bride at Whangatapu (1977), the whole set up is foreign to Fiona's conception of how New Zealanders live. And all of the people she meets there take it for granted. These people have grown up in conditions of luxury and it shows in the sophisticated way they talk and act. At times Fiona feels like a foreigner. Fiona's own parents lived a fairly retired lives. She had a stay at home mum and her school teacher dad loved his job and the area where they lived, so he never tried for promotion. Growing up, she didn't know that there were people who lived like this.
The antidote to Fiona's feelings of inferiority comes from none other than Jinny, the feisty housekeeper loyal to the Sutherlands. Not a bit put out by her role as a housekeeper, Jinny instead sincerely counsels Fiona that they are all human and they all have usual needs and desires and failings. By thinking of them like that Fiona wouldn't be quite so self conscious.
It is a shock for Finley, too, in Country of the Heart (1988), to realize that there were people in New Zealand who live in such beauty and opulence. She thought that such wealth only existed overseas! Feeling out of her depth, she didn't belong on this enchanted island, a little kingdom touched by magic. For 'magic' read 'money', Finley's thought turns cynical. These people are larger than life. The women elegant even in their informal clothes, the men with the unstressed authority which came with total self confidence. They speak well, share in-jokes, know the ramifications of each other's families, and attended the same schools.
However, Alick of Some Kind of Madness (1991) vehemently denies that the rich of New Zealand can be anything but snobs. He doesn't care how much money someone has or hasn't. What he does take an issue with is a person's track record. Quinn in No Guarantees (1990) also explains that unlike livestock, people are not hinged upon breeding, where character and ubpringing wins out every time.
In Wharuaroa the Cunnighams are the big people, the station owners. Their children go to boarding schools. They holiday in the ski fields of the Southern Alps or overseas. Invitations to a function there indicates that you have arrived socially in their district. Despite the glamorous details, however, Morag thinks tolerantly in Shadow of the Past (1979) that this is after all rural New Zealand and she doubts if Thorpe was a snob.
Robyn Donald shows New Zealanders of varied walks of life except for Maoris. Although she gives a lot of anecdotes from M?ori culture and from the once turbulent history between them and the p?keh?, M?ori for New Zealanders of European descent, she doesn't create a Maori character in any of her novels.
This is in contrast to her delineation of the South Seas islands because here she always reserves an episode where the settlers comingle with the native islanders, their interaction formal yet friendly.
In the midst of a festivity thrown by the Polynesian islanders in Fala'isi, a small child, his dark eyes gleaming comes running and flings his arms around Grant's legs in Dilemma in Paradise (1978). Grant reciprocates by picking the child up. The latter's black head rests confidently against Grant's cheeks as one chubby arm curls around his neck.
In Paradise Lost (1993), Blair and Hugh get to her place of residence one afternoon to find a young Polynesian waiting for Blair with a request to draw a picture of his grandmother from a photograph. Blair accepts and in return receives from him freshly caught fish from the ocean.
The immense dignity proferred to the old men is referred to in Dilemma in Paradise (1978) and also in Storm Over Paradise (1992).
Fijians' love of their children, even the little hooligans, is clear in Interloper (1980).
The islanders light up their faces with big grins and the retainers for house hold work offer a casual but healthy respect to the owners.
However, the only kind of islanders walking around the homestead are the retainers. Although Grant and Tamsyn in Dilemma in Paradise (1978) and Dominic and Fenella in Storm Over Paradise (1993) participate in the festivities of the islanders, the same invitation is never extended to the islanders to attend a party at their respective homes.
Music and poetry, cooking and astronomy
Robyn Donald's other interests include music, poetry, cooking and astronomy and all four find their ways into her stories.
In Return to Yesterday (1983) Catlin looks up at the clear sky to see the gauzy band of the Milky Way. In the east, the Scorpius, winter's constellation, was rising, sting poised as it chased Orion the summer hunter below the western horizon. Glowing redly in the Scorpion's body was Antares, which the Maoris call Rerehu. In the southern hemisphere when Antares is overhead before midnight, it is winter.
Meeting up with Alex again in rugged Northland sanctuary of Rangitatau (1986), a nervous Christabel prepares a country lunch of quiche and salad with stewed peaches to follow. And there's custard for the peaches. When she punishes herself by refusing his advances, a fragment of poetry floats through her brain. The Song of Solomon had said it all, thousand of years ago: 'Love is as strong as death; jealousy is as cruel as the grave.'
Dangerous men and adventurous women
Robyn Donald creates self-sufficient men replete with rock solid confidence. The women show stamina and fighting spirit.
In establishing her thesis as to what kind of attraction transpires into love, Donald, like Harlequin author Kay Thorpe, looks for leaping sexual awareness between men and women. Since men are quick to acknowledge this vital force, Donald casts them into the role of hunter and as women label it as a weakness to despise and overcome, she makes them the prey. This is the adversarial set up that drives the plot forward.
As women are reluctant to submit to physical needs, in occasions where that does happen as in Guarded Heart (1983) for instance, they accept it on sufferance. In Gates of Rangitatau (1985), when sexual intercourse is a willful act, the woman later chooses to pretend that she never knew her alleged partner as a way of coming to terms with her action.
Although no man outright shows preference for non-sexually experienced women over experienced ones, the women by and large turn out to be inexperienced. This state of being enables men to decide if marriage is a viable option for them. The sexual uninhibitedness of Venetia In Smoke in the Wind (1988) leads Ryan to categorize her as promiscuous. Venetia is then spurned over a virgin, an iconic image of marital fidelity. On the other hand, Paradise Lost (1993) is a story where Hugh not only expects Blair to be sexually experienced but also is excited by her wealth of knowledge which he accepts without any undue scrutiny. But it is later revealed that marriage was not an option for Hugh.
Separation is a key to a whole array of her stories. While some titles give this away as in Long Journey Back (1988), others are not so obvious. In Donald's very first novel Bride at Whangatapu (1977), Fiona and Logan are separated for five years before reuniting again through a chance meeting. In Shadow of the Past (1979), Morag leaves voluntarily and it is only by chance that she returns to Wharuaroa. In Return to Yesterday (1983), Catlin flees Conal and decides to return only under pressure. Merrin flees Blackrock in Old Passion (1984), and is persuaded to return against her better judgment. The time spent apart works as a wedge that enables men and women to gain new perspectives on their past relationships.
When the time of separation is a matter of years, it is preempted by women who harbor misgivings about their past intimacies that need resolutions. The interval benefits the young women so to gain much needed emotional maturity, which they eventually need to re-evaluate their past sexual choices and to enter into new ones, a process that they otherwise would have found traumatic to deal with.
On the other hand, where the separation lasts only mere months as for example in Gates of Rangitatau (1986), and in Country of the Heart (1988), women appreciate their sexual involvements without making any emotional commitments, which is later achieved in a shorter span of time.
In Paradise Lost (1993), intermittent separation is accepted as a fact in their relationship. While, in Golden Mask (1992), the separation is instigated by Blade on purpose so that Eden can gain a broader foundation in life to analyse her emotional needs.
Separation is carried on to its logical conclusion as in the finality of death, the prospect of which, is often thrown into the lives of the men and women so to face up to their actual potentialities in life. In Return to Yesterday (1983), for instance, a car accident that results in death for others makes Catlin realize that it could have easily been Conal lying there in the grip of death, and pangs of this final separation forces her to acknowledge the depth of her love for him and to accept with resignation a life without love, which she up until then fought against.
Donald also portrays women from different looks and backgrounds who are experiencing a personal crisis that gives movement to their lives. For instance, Cressida in Sweetest Trap (1988) is shipwrecked and has nowhere else to go. In Bitter Homecoming (1989), Alexa is dogged by a scandal. In this tense background, Donald re-enforces a stock characteristic, namely tenderness and protectiveness, in men's treatment of these women. By adhering to this mode of behavior for all men, Donald is inversely intimating to her readers not only what is to be expected from men but also what is it that women find fulfilling in them. Nevertheless, as pity can be mistaken for love, so can possessiveness be mistaken for protectiveness. Cressida in Sweetest Trap (1988) sets out to make this distinction clear to her benefactor Luke. On the other hand when Ryan in Smoke in the Wind (1988) falls short of both these virtues, it results in grief for all parties concerned.
Children often play a role in the stories which allows the evolving love affair to assume a compassionate face at the same time barring it from becoming a caricature of self-centered emotions. In Iceberg (1981), Donald contrasts the previous unhappiness of a child who is now comforted by her new playmate who would become her future mom. On the other hand, Denise in Bride at Whangatapu (1977) uses Jonathan's youthful affection for her as a tool to ensnare Logan.
In the confessional stage of their relationship, men admit to love with depth and sincerity and women, who now have achieved complete emotional security from men, feel confident in their role as sexual partners, and thus look forward to years of successful marriage.