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Penelope Janu On Her Favourite Unlikely Couples From Pop-Culture


Penelope Janu On Her Favourite Unlikely Couples From Pop-Culture

Author Penelope Janu considers some of her favourite romance novels, movies and television shows as she thinks about why, when two people shouldn’t work well together, they can end up living happily ever after. Does every storm cloud have a silver lining?

Sometimes it appears that the kind of person we imagine falling helplessly in love with simply doesn’t exist. And maybe they don’t. It is invariably a beloved character’s difficult path to love – the confusion and heartache, arguments and misunderstandings, breaking up and making up – that keeps us spellbound. Often the last person a character imagined they’d fall in love with is in fact the one of their dreams.

In Clouds on the Horizon, Phoebe Cartwright and Sinn Tørrissen meet when Phoebe finds Sinn – frozen half to death – on a country track at dawn. Phoebe lives in a small Australian town and works with children as an occupational therapist. Sinn, a maritime geospatial officer and commander in the Norwegian navy, is running an investigation into an illegal horseracing syndicate, which threatens Phoebe’s sister. The fact that Sinn and Phoebe have so many reasons not to fall in love, yet go ahead and do it anyway, made me reflect on favourite books, films and television series where the same thing happens. I hope my selections help you to discover stories you mightn’t be aware of – or reminds you to enjoy them all over again!


Starstruck is a 2021 BBC series about a young woman (played by Rose Matefao) from New Zealand who’s living in London. On New Year’s Eve, she spends the night with a handsome man (Nikesh Patel), and only discovers he’s an international movie star when she wakes up the next morning. This warm-hearted and very funny series was one of my favourite shows this year. It’s a little like Notting Hill (which starred Hugh Grant as bookseller William, and the compulsively watchable Julia Roberts as the actress, Anna) but far more relatable, and everyone in my household loved it!

The movie Marry Me stars Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson, and won’t be released until February 2022, but the premise and trailer is enough to draw me in. Kat is famous pop singer who has arranged a fairytale on-stage wedding to her fiancé, Bastian (played by Maluma), before they embark on a world ‘marry me’ concert tour. When Kat catches Bastian kissing her assistant backstage, she plucks Charlie (who’s been dragged along to the concert by his teenaged daughter) from the audience to marry her instead. How do things turn out? Come February, I have to see this movie!

The Mindy Project is a television series about Mindy Lahiri (played by creator Mindy Kaling) and Danny Castillano (Chris Messina). While both characters are obstetricians, Chris is cynical, uptight and practical, and doesn’t believe in marriage. Mindy, friendly, chatty and into romantic comedies and pop culture, dreams of a fairytale wedding. They go from enemies to friends to lovers in a classic ‘will they or won’t they’ story. I won’t spoil the ending for those who are yet to watch the series, but let’s just say it ticks all my romantic comedy boxes!


Ever After, a 1998 movie starring Drew Barrymore, is a clever take on the Cinderella story. Danielle is a servant in her stepmother’s house, but way before she gets to the glass slipper scene, she is given many opportunities to impress Crown Prince Henry (an eminently swoonworthy Dougray Scott) with her intelligence, initiative and courage. She and Henry are equals in every way that counts, and this movie gives her plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that.


The 2001 movie Shrek was popular with adults as well as with children. Grumpy ogre Shrek falls in love with the slender, blonde Princess Fiona (a kick-ass heroine), who, as a result of a spell, turns into an ogress after nightfall. At the end of the movie, Fiona’s ‘love’s true kiss’ with Shrek transforms her into an ogress permanently. Which just goes to show, maybe Shrek and the Princess weren’t so different after all?

Another unlikely pairing (though I guessed it many Harry Potter novels before my children did!) is the slow burn romance between Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series of novels required Bella Swan to choose between two love interests – Edward (a vampire) and Jacob (a wolf). Quite a choice for a human! I started reading the first book at the same time as my eleven-year-old daughter (to check it was age appropriate) and ended up loving these books much more than she did! And it probably won’t surprise anyone who has read my novels (and penchant for a broody hero), that I was Team Edward.


Diana Gabaldon’s novel Outlander was published in 1991, but is now a phenomenally successful television series. The story deals with a romance between Scottish highlander Jamie Fraser and English nurse Claire Randall, and swaps between time periods – Jamie is from the 18th century, and Claire from the 20th century. The Outlander characters and their interwoven stories (despite the intricacies of the plot) are poignant and heartbreaking, complex and heart-wrenching, but ultimately uplifting. Brilliant books and a brilliant series to match!

To finish on an ‘opposites attract,’ classic, I can’t do better than Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel North and South. Margaret Hale is the middle-class daughter of a vicar from the south of England who travels to the industrial north, and John Thornton is a mill owner and self-made man. While the BBC television adaptation is amazing, I love the book so much too! Mr Thornton’s awareness of Margaret, his feelings of inadequacy, the way he expresses his love. Just… yes. John and Margaret are such a great couple notwithstanding their differences.


Mr. Thornton felt that in this influx no one was speaking to Margaret, and was restless under this apparent neglect. But he never went near her himself; he did not look at her. Only, he knew what she was doing – or not doing – better than he knew the movements of any one else in the room.

Some relationships look like they could never end happily, but when characters with similar hopes and dreams finally appreciate and respect one other’s qualities and they fall in love, there’ll be sunny days ahead. Storm clouds do have a silver lining.

About the author: Penelope Janu

Penelope Janu lives on the coast in northern Sydney with a distracting husband, a very large dog and, now they’re fully grown, six delightful children who come and go. Penelope has a passion for creating stories that explore social and environmental issues, but her novels are fundamentally a celebration of Australian characters and communities. Her first novel, In at the Deep End, came out in 2017 and her second, On the Right Track, in 2018. Up on Horseshoe Hill was published in 2019, a novella, The Six Rules of Christmas, in 2020, and then Starting from Scratch was released in 2021. Penelope enjoys exploring the Australian countryside and dreaming up travelling and hiking breaks, and nothing makes her happier as a writer than readers falling in love with her clever, complex and adventurous heroines and heroes. She loves to hear from readers, and can be contacted at

Don’t miss Penelope’s latest book Clouds On The Horizon

Clouds on the Horizon

‘A rural story that has it all … simmering romance, international intrigue, a complex heroine and a swoon-worthy hero. What’s not to love?’ Karly Lane, bestselling Australian author

Will a misunderstanding and past trauma stand in the way of profound attraction? Immovable determination meets irresistible charm in this delightful rural romance from an award-winning and much-loved author – for readers of Rachael Johns, Karly Lane and Fleur McDonald.

When Phoebe Cartwright finds Sinn Tørrissen, a naval officer and meteorologist, frozen half to death in the middle of a thunderstorm, she believes she’s saved his life. Sinn, unfailingly competent and infuriatingly arrogant, disagrees. In Phoebe’s small country town to track down the members of an illegal horse-racing syndicate, the last thing he needs is to become entangled with Phoebe.

A much-loved member of her community, the prickly and independent Phoebe is used to solving other people’s problems. So when she learns her younger sister could be implicated in their father’s dishonest accounting for the syndicate, she insists on working with Sinn to uncover the truth.

Sinn is both confused and entranced by the passionate Phoebe and in spite of her resistance, Phoebe finds herself drawn to him. But Phoebe is determined to protect her sister above all, and the secrets she cannot tell Sinn threaten to sweep his investigation – and their romance – way off course. With clouds building on the horizon, can Phoebe and Sinn weather the gale and find in each other a shelter from the storm?

‘Encapsulates everything I love about the romance genre and so much more. A go-to author for rural romance for the head as well as the heart,’ Joanna Nell, Bestselling Australian Author

Find it here