Paullina Simons doesn't have to look far to find inspiration for her best-selling novels.
Her own life has been filled with as much struggle and romance as any book.
The author of The Bronze Horseman trilogy grew up in Russia during the Iron Curtain years when life was restricted and difficult.
She was just a child when her dissident father Yuriy was arrested and sent to a prison camp.
"My dad was a 'life of the party person'," recalls Paullina.
"He and his friends had been getting together too often, drinking vodka and talking trash about the Soviet Union, not realising that the guy next door had his glass to the wall – he was an informer."
During the years her father was imprisoned, Paullina and her mother were forced to continue living next to the informer in their cramped communal apartment.
Thankfully, once released, Yuriy managed to get his family out of Russia and to America. Once there they had to adjust to a very different way of life.
"As a kid it was the little things that made me instantly recognisable as being different," recalls Paullina.
"I didn't have a pair of straight-leg Levi jeans, I'd never had potato chips or chewing gum."
While she'd always dreamed of being a writer, Paullina first had to learn English and over-come her culture shock.
By the time she started writing her first novel, Tully, she was a mother.
"I had just left my first husband and the company I was working for had gone bankrupt," she explains.
"Perhaps a good single mum would have gotten another job to support herself and her child. Instead I saw it as a sign that I was meant to write Tully. So I worked part-time in menial jobs for cash and even though I wasn't sure I had the skills to do it, the most important thing was to finish the book."
Tully was a huge hit and published in 20 countries.
Since then, Paullina has established herself as a hugely successful writer of romantic sagas. Today at 56 she lives in Long Island, New York, with her second husband Kevin Ryan, also a writer, and has four children.
Sadly, in the past few years she has lost both her parents in quick succession. That experience led her to write a new, very different series of books, The End of Forever trilogy.
It's an epic love-at-first-sight story about a man, Julian, who falls for a mysterious young actress, Josephine, and whose passion is so great he travels through time to pursue her.
The first book, The Tiger Catcher, tells of how the pair meet and if anyone questions how rapidly their love develops, Paullina reminds them of her own parents and their love story.
"They met on a beach on the Black Sea," she explains.
"They were both so young and beautiful and they completely fell for each other. They were married two months later and remained together for 47 years.
"So when people say Julian and Josephine's romance seems unrealistic, I tell them, 'That's my own life, I'm writing what I know, what my parents had.'"
Paullina spent five years working on the new trilogy so all three books could be released this year.
The second, A Beggar's Kingdom, is available now and the final instalment, Inexpressible Island, will be out before Christmas.
"Every day I would get to my office at about 8am and stay there for 12 hours," she says.
"When the story was flowing I would hardly move from my desk. But sometimes it wasn't a flow, it was just a tiny drop and I had to force myself to ignore the outside world."
Despite her success, Paullina is often full of self-doubt when she is writing.
"My husband has walked in and found me on my knees on the floor of my office with my head pressed to the ground because I can't get something right. I really do suffer for it."
For a long time Kevin was the only person she allowed to read The End of Forever books.
"I trust his opinion and he thinks they are the best things I have ever done."
Fans will be pleased to hear that Paullina has four more books in the planning stages, including a return to the world of The Bronze Horseman and an adventure romance set around the invasion of Normandy, inspired by a exhibition on the Second World War that Paullina saw while on a visit to London.
When describing the moment the idea struck, it's with all the drama and passion of one of her stories.
"I was in the Imperial War Museum looking at these photos on the wall and something gripped my heart and drove its talons into me and it hasn't let me go," says Paullina.
A Beggar's Kingdom by Paullina Simons is available now. Published by HarperCollins, RRP $36.99.
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