Romance novelist Valerie Parv, 53, is one of Australia’s best-selling international author with more than 25 million books sold around the world. The State Library of NSW has been archiving her papers since 1994. She has been married to her own romantic hero, a former crocodile hunter, cartoonist and layout artist, 79-year-old Paul Parv, for 34 years.
“I think we are an odd couple: Crocodile Dundee meets Barbara Cartland. I’m a bit of a disappointment as a romance writer unfortunately. We don’t live in a fancy house or have a heart-shaped swimming pool. We haven’t even owned a car for 25 years. I get up every day at four or five in the morning and just write.
I was the child bride and he was the cradle snatcher when we got married. It was March 1971, in the registry office in Sydney. I was the junior copywriter at Nock & Kirby’s and he was the senior layout artist.
Our first date was to celebrate that I passed my advertising exams. Paul wanted to take me to his favourite fishing spot, Ashton Park, at the bottom of Taronga Zoo on the harbour. It sounds terribly civilised to say that now, but back then it was wild and you had to plough through bush to get there. We caught a ferry and then a bus and we walked for miles. The papers had reported that a decomposed body had just been found in the park. I was a teenager and here was this man of the world taking me into the bush. As we battled our way through more scrub, I realised that this was the sort of man – and situation – my mother had warned me about.
He’s always been determined to turn me into an outdoor adventurer. We’ve been camping to all sorts of wild places. He used to sleep with a double barrelled shotgun beside us in the tent. It was a monster of a gun. I’d be terrified if he did it now, but back then it seemed normal. I think it even made me feel safe.
Paul is still the most fascinating person I know, even after 34 years. I suppose he is my muse. I steal bits of him for all my characters, but it’s not always the bits you think. A lot of the time it’s the courage he shows. He’s a survivor. He’s been through war, hunted crocodiles. He is larger than life. The romance of his life definitely infects the characters I create.
I don’t regret not having children. To be honest, I was so in love with Paul that I didn’t want any substitutes. That’s the absolute truth. Having an older husband meant there was a good chance I would be left with a child and that would be no substitute for him.
Growing is a good word. We grow together. I have thrown him out on more than one occasion. Relationships always require work, especially to keep romance alive. Very soon after Paul was retrenched from Nock & Kirby’s in the 1980s, he started drinking heavily. There I was at the start of my Mills and Boon career, I had published my third book and my books were starting to earn serious money. Overnight we went from equality to me being a big breadwinner. It was a very hard adjustment for him to make. And painful. I suggested he leave to give us time apart. Naturally he came back and we sorted it out. He’s the only man I’ve ever truly loved.
If there was one thing I could change about him, it would be to make him 20 years younger. It would give us more time together. I don’t want to think about losing him. Six years ago he had a dreadful accident. It was truly frightening and awful. He’s had to use a walking stick since then. We were on quad bikes on a beach in New Zealand and I just looked back and saw him miles down the beach. He was only a blob under a machine. I raced back to him. Adrenaline just took over. I lifted the machine off him. Horrific. He was bruised all over from the neck down. He’s had troubles since then.
He does get jealous. He doesn’t like my affection for William Shatner. I am a huge Star Trek fan and have a collection of Hallmark figurines. I often walk into the room and find that Paul’s arranged Captain Kirk to be in the line of the phasers.
Living romance is more important than writing about it. It’s not just chocolates and candelit dinners. I think you always have to remember what attracted you to your partner. A lot of people forget that and turn into their husband’s mothers. We never let an occasion like an anniversary or birthday pass unnoticed. Paul gives me a Wish Day every now and then. Whatever I want to do, whatever I want to eat, whatever I fancy is all mine. The last Wish Day we had was a hot air balloon ride. We had to be there before dawn, which was fine for me, but not so easy for him to be up so early. Then we had a champagne breakfast afterwards. It was perfect.”
“I used to be conceited but now I’m perfect – I think the accident is the only thing that shows otherwise. That quad bike was my own stupid mistake. Being as I am, I took unnecessary risks. It’s terrible to grow old, but it’s better than the alternative.
Now I have to use this walking stick. The stick is the best birthday present Valerie ever got me. It is solid timber with a great handle that has a telescope in it. It has already come in very handy. We were at a book sale the other day in this great big hangar and I lost her. It was a hell of a big place so I just looked around with my telescope and found her at the other end of the building.
I think the best gift I ever gave Valerie is myself. When I first met her, I thought she was a cute chick. Such life in her. I kept saying to myself ‘don’t be so silly’. She is so young and we are from different cultures, a different race. When I first kissed her, it was like a peck from my mother-in-law. I had to tell her to put some feeling into it. She’s improved since then.
I am from Estonia. I arrived in Australia in 1948. I was put into what you would call migrant camps and they gave me a job as a gardener. I tried everything to sabotage that job. So boring. A notice appeared for workers in the Northern Territory to work for the Department of Defence, so I signed up. The contract was for two years, but I stayed for five. I must have liked it.
To me, the Northern Territory was like a huge Disneyland. It was the first time in my life I had seen live crocodiles and buffaloes and snakes. I had a great teacher, Ginger Palmer. Back then I didn’t consider crocodiles animals – to me they were monsters. To my surprise I learned from older crocodile shooters that there was money involved in their skins. This job just became better every day. The Greeks would pay so many shillings per inch of a 10-foot crocodile skin. We would shoot dozens a week and get 10 pounds a crocodile.
The novice hunters would get into scrapes because they would try to hunt in the day. And they would use long shots because they didn’t want to get close. But it was best to go out in the dark, in the dug-out canoes. You would take the torch and shine it in the crocodiles’ eyes. Then you’d shoot them. And tie them to the back of the boat.
It was a great life. I had a dingo friend. Unfortunately I shot his mother and the puppy was left so I took him home and trained him. I called him Dingie. One day the police came knocking. There was a bounty on dingoes and I think you got two pounds for a dingo scalp. The police were going to shoot Dingie. I told them I would do it and I put Dingie on my motorbike and drove to the bush. I said ‘Go, Dingie, Go’. I had to throw rocks at my lovely pet to make him run away. That was one of the rare times in my life I cried. I just took myself off to the nearest pub and got terribly drunk.
I don’t think marriage is hard work. You feel a sort of happiness when you see your partner. If Valerie was to go first, I would buy a gun cheap. I would make a short trip to go up and see the boss. It will be no good living without her.
I read all of Valerie’s work. She gives a lot of talks about writing. I go with her to everything. I am sitting at one of these talks and the lady next to me says ‘Isn’t she wonderful’. I tell her, ‘I know, I’ve been married to her for 30 years’. She turned to me and said ‘oh, you must be Mr Valerie’. So I hit her with my stick.”