The days leading up to my interview with romance phenom Lucy Parker are fraught with nerves. Not only have I read and enjoyed all five of her published contemporary romances, but I will be placing a call from the U.S. to New Zealand, many hours ahead. Pretty much every worst-case scenario I can imagine joins a list of possible obstacles that will keep this chat from happening.
It all goes fine, of course. (Pretty fantastic, in fact!) Parker has a soft voice and bubbly demeanor. She is gracious about my praise for her London Celebrities series, which deals with real-life problems but still manages to feel warm and welcoming. When asked what it feels like to publish her fifth romance in five years, “surreal” is the word that immediately comes to her mind.
“I wanted it to have that fast-paced vibe of old screwball comedies.”
She admits that her first book in the series, Act Like It, was written in a bit of a frenzied blur. “Things happened quite quickly. I sold it . . . quite fast, and even leading up to its release [in 2015], I really had no expectations. I don’t think anyone had,” she says, laughing.
The London Celebrities series is set amid the U.K. theater and entertainment industry and has thus far featured actors, directors, theater critics and makeup artists as romantic leads. (When asked to pick a favorite book from the series, Parker says, “I love and despise them in equal measure, especially when I’m on a deadline.”) There’s an insular quality to the setting that appeals to Parker, who notes that it very much feels like a “play within a play,” with all the forced proximity and community such a form implies.
The highly anticipated fifth book in the series, Headliners, builds on events from Parker’s previous novel, The Austen Playbook, but with formerly supporting characters—two rival TV presenters—now in the spotlight. After Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport both experience career setbacks, they are forced to co-host a struggling morning TV show. If ratings aren’t higher by the end of the year, they could both be out of a job.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Headliners.
But working together isn’t easy. Both Sabrina and Nick are used to harder-hitting assignments than showcasing the hottest holiday toy of the year. And without spoiling too much, Nick has a lot of groveling to do to get back into Sabrina’s good graces.
“[Nick] does begin Headliners with some serious apologies to make and an emotional journey to travel,” Parker says. “It was important to me that he acknowledge that some of his past behavior was wrong and that he is genuinely regretful about that and would never make that mistake again. He does work to win back the trust that he broke.”
But Nick’s not the only one with issues to address. “Sabrina, too, has to work past some preconceived notions she has about Nick,” Parker says. “Both have known each other for a long time, but neither has seen beneath the public personas they’ve built through their careers. They have to peel away the layers of their professional masks.”
This is one of the many reasons Parker’s romances resonate: Her characters’ communication styles evolve to allow them to truly understand each other. She knows how to bring characters together in ways that show how they complement each other, rather than having them change for the sake of love. The result is a smart, kind, witty romance that is a balm to the soul.
“I think the book deals with some severe subjects but overall is a positive, feel-good read,” says Parker. “I wanted it to have that fast-paced vibe of old screwball comedies, combined with things that are more affective and romantic.”
There was one element in particular that Parker knew she wanted for Nick and Sabrina, and that was for them to remain childfree. She wanted to push against the idea that “happily ever after” means raising children together.
“They both have children in their lives who they adore, but they have no desire to be parents,” Parker says. “It’s not the path they want in life. I think they will enjoy every moment of their full and happy life together as a nuclear family of two, or three if you count Nick’s dog.” (Parker also doesn’t rule out the possibility of them getting a cat at some point.)
She continues: “There are so many people that either do not want children or are unable to have children. In any forum, whether fictional or otherwise, I don’t think their lives should be considered any less full. A person’s right to happiness isn’t dependent on anyone else, whether it’s a child or a partner. You are a whole and complete person within yourself.” And that’s an absolutely perfect Valentine’s Day affirmation.