This is how it began. My sister Anna, a brilliant and witty writer, suggested that we should try to write a romance novel according to the guidelines published by Mills & Boon. Not as easy as it sounds, apparently. She created a finely judged opening paragraph and sent it to me. And, intoxicated by the stylistic possibilities that are simply not offered by my usual literary output of press releases on Bedfordshire’s latest social housing project, I have taken up the gauntlet. The idea is that we will take it in turns to develop the story, in full view of you, dear reader.

We are taking this project seriously, but I am already acutely aware that writing about simmering desire with one’s own sister might be possible only with tongue tentatively in cheek. We have agreed not to discuss our plot ideas, so the novel will unfold as unpredictably to us as to our readers. This could lead to trouble later on, but for now it seems a very liberating way to start.

Who knows where this project will take us? To the dizzying heights of publication by the world’s leading romance brand? Probably not. But wherever we end up, it should be fun getting there…

Monday, 31 October 2011

Part 8 – The Heat is On

Crikey, this is getting a bit near the knuckle. Womanhood? And curved?? I’ve always known, I suppose, that Sex will have to come into it at some point, but I was hoping we could put it off for a bit longer.

Siblings don’t normally talk about this kind of thing, especially when one of them’s a vicar’s wife. We’ve often said that Anna has got a lot smuttier since she married into the Church, although she calls it being a Woman of the World.

Part 9 (by Anna)

‘No need for words,’ growled Cleft, striding purposefully towards a tangle of bushes some way from the Jeep. Glancing over his  rippling shoulder she saw Terence a few yards behind struggling to extract his brogue from a rut. The same rut that had catapulted her into Cleft’s arms was now keeping her fiancé mercifully at bay as she was borne off to realms where she knew he could never follow.

A rock protruded from the middle of the bushes. It had a flattish top and Topaz noticed a flash of emerald as a lizard, disturbed by Cleft’s thrusting tread, darted for safety. With startling gentleness Cleft laid her down on the sun-baked stone. She closed her eyes, briefly blinded – whether by the beating sun or the raw maleness of the figure who bent over her she couldn’t at that moment tell.

Unseeing, she was aware of a hand sliding softly over the curve of her womanhood, fingering the flimsy cotton barrier of her sundress. She felt her flesh rise up in welcome. Time, place, future – all had melted into a single urgent flame that...

‘I say!’ said a voice. A checked sun hat prodded through the foliage, Terence’s perspiring face peering puzzled from beneath it. ‘I say, is anything up?’

Cleft straightened, his figure massive against the azure sky.

‘Checking her pulse,’ he drawled smoothly. ‘Your fiancée seemed a little overheated.’

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Part 8 – Dad displacement

I’m developing quite a taste for this kind of writing; at this rate I’m going to have to be careful that bubbling desire and lava-hot longing don’t work their way into an overview of the East Anglian farmland market, which is the kind of thing I write in real life. It’s also a marvellous displacement activity from the usual drudgery of stay-at-home-dadness at half term: today I have successfully ignored the ironing and failed to clean the recycling bin, all in the name of Art.

However, it has not been able completely to displace my role as Dad. Last night my eight-year-old daughter glimpsed the opening chapter of Desire Be My Destiny.

‘What’s it about?’

‘A lady who is going to get married but then meets another man she likes better.’

‘Why does he say “Gotcha”?’

‘Er – they’re playing Tag.’ And I hastily shut the laptop.

Part 8 (by Oliver)

Terence raised his head. ‘Ah, poppet. Feeling better? Clever girl. This is Mr Stone, our foreman. Mr Stone, my fiancée, Topaz Eversleigh-Brinkworth.’

The figure turned, black against the sun. That languid grace, those muscled shoulders, the broad chest – why did her heart race at the sight of them? The hillside was rocky, and as Topaz kept her gaze fixed on the manly silhouette towering above her, she didn’t notice the deep rut in front of her. Her foot slipped sideways, twisting her slender ankle and pulling the heel off her Gucci sandal.

Topaz gasped and swayed, until a strong hand clasped her shoulder.

‘Gotcha!’ The voice was deep, humour lurking behind the smooth, easy tone. And where the large hand gripped the burnished flesh of her shoulder, Topaz felt once again the burn of desire – or was it destiny? She knew at once that Fate had not finished with her yet, and even before she looked up to see those ice-blue eyes piercing into her from behind a rim of thick black lashes, she knew that last night had been just the beginning.

Cleft’s wide, arrogant mouth curled at the corners when he saw Topaz’s face, flushed and gently perspiring, looking up into his own, her eyes heavy with desire and her lips wet. Quickly, she pulled away, just as she had the time before, and said ‘Thank you, Mr Stone’ with a coolness he knew she did not feel.

She started to limp towards Terence – good, safe Terence – but with a small cry she stumbled again and reached out for Cleft’s arm.

‘I’m sorry, Terence,’ she said. ‘I've really hurt my ankle. Can you take me back to the jeep?’

Before Terence could answer, Topaz felt Cleft’s breath warm on her nape and his dark velvet voice saying ‘Allow me’. And before she could protest, Cleft swept her into his arms. She left his bicep bulge by her breast, his sinewy forearms clench behind her knees, and the hot longing that lay clamped deep within her began to bubble outwards.

‘Oh God,’ she murmured by his ear. ‘What have you done to me?’

Monday, 24 October 2011

Part 7 – Getting my goat

I am not sure what the significance of the goat is in this latest contribution from Anna, but who am I to question how artistic inspiration manifests itself? Perhaps it’s a touch of the gritty realism I pondered a couple of posts ago. In which case, should I be visualizing Topaz as an Anna Magnani type rather than as a more conventional romantic heroine? Come to think of it, I’m having trouble visualizing her at all…

Posts might be a bit erratic this week, what with half term and all. There’s nothing like a dose of concentrated childcare to focus the mind on escapist fantasies. This could be good news for Topaz and Cleft. On the other hand, there is also nothing like a dose of concentrated childcare to kill off any imaginings of an amorous nature. So whether half term is an aid or an impediment to romantic inspiration remains to be seen. Watch this space.

Part 7 (by Anna)

As Terence clambered awkwardly into the passenger seat and began the lurching ascent up the mountainside, Topaz was gazing at the wavelets lapping her sun-bronzed toes, willing them to give her a sign. Then suddenly, as though the sea had spoken, the answer came to her. A moment of moonlit madness could not imperil the future she had decided on.

‘I am your destiny,’ the stranger had said, and some slippery inward part of her inflamed at the memory. But her destiny was Terence – kindly, predictable Terence with his collections of floorplans and acne creams.

Swiftly she ran back up the beach. The hotel receptionist looked up startled as she flung into the lobby, her Gucci sandals clotted with damp sand.

‘Taxi, quick!’ she commanded breathlessly. She looked at the delicately bejewelled dial of her watch which Terence had bought for her upon their engagement. He’d been gone twenty minutes. She should have time.

When the battered cab rattled up to the front door she slid onto its sweaty leather seat and spoke urgently to the small bald man at the wheel. ‘Paradise Heights. Quickly please. Thirty euros if you can get this jalopey to the top of the track!’

The taxi lurched off and Topaz gazed at the fecund lushness of the summer landscape as it wobbled past the dusty windows. The ground began to fall away as the track mounted the lower slope of the mountain. Her mountain. Hers and Terence’s.

Then a screech of brakes. Topaz craned round the head rest. A goat straddled the roadway. It looked insouciantly at the intruder and turned away as the driver honked his horn. ‘I no can go far now,’ said the man helplessly.

Perhaps it was guilt that bestirred Topaz into action. In one fluid movement she emerged from the back seat and placed a manicured foot beneath the goat’s greasy rump. She thrust hard and the creature scrambled up, glanced reproachfully and shambled off into the undergrowth.

Topaz climbed back into the taxi and as it moved onwards a warm, raw animal smell arose from her sandalled flesh. At that moment the car reached the climax of the mountain and she saw Terence, half obscured by a drooping sun hat, surveying a cluster of prickly pears. Beside him was a figure that looked obscurely familiar.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Part 6 – Heroes: romantic fiction

What do you call a male floozy? Because I think Cleft is one. Somehow, though, that doesn’t seem to matter in romantic fiction: from what I can make out, it’s fine for the hero to be the sort of man most people would avoid like the plague in real life. Arrogance, ruthlessness and an unshakeable ego appear to be the romance-reader’s ideal attributes in a lover.

Note to self: check with wife that she’s fine with arrogance and ruthlessness (but only after have cleaned kitchen floor and tackled linen cupboard).

Part 6 (by Oliver)

Cleft sat at the wheel of the jeep, leaning an elbow on the sill of the open window and squinting down the track. Nearly nine o’clock – that jerk of a client would be there soon. An hour, maybe two, and he could return to the beach. That girl would be there again, he knew it: Cleft had long since learned how women react to an unexpected kiss on a moonlit shore. He had the afternoon free for fun; then in the evening there was sure to be another lovely strolling alone on the beach. Really, this site manager's job was working out very well indeed.

A plume of dust betrayed Terence’s approach, and Cleft swung his legs out of the jeep. Terence held out a damp hand.

‘Mr Stone? Terence Dunkley. How do you do?’

‘Fine, just fine,’ said Cleft. ‘Are you by yourself? I thought your wife was coming.’

‘She won’t be my wife until next week’ said Terence, flushing slightly. ‘And she’s not feeling well, poor poppet. Never mind, I know her mind almost as well as she does herself: I know what she’ll want in this house.’

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Part 5 – Keeping it real

My brother-in-law is convinced that Terence is modelled on him, because he, too, possesses a pair of longjohns and he brings Anna a cup of tea in bed each morning (see below).

The idea that any element of Desire Be My Destiny could possibly be based on reality seems extraordinary to me, but perhaps that says more about my love life than anything else. And about my attitude to writing romantic fiction. Maybe I should be approaching this as a work of gritty realism.

Part 5 (by Anna)

Terence awoke her as he always did, with a moist salute on her left ear lobe.

‘Rise and shine!’ he declared – as he always did. He placed a cup of weak tea near her head. ‘I’ve run your bath for you. We’ll need to be off in an hour if we don't want to be in a panic about time.’

‘Just gimme a minute.’ Topaz tried to smile sweetly as she dismissed him, but it was an effort to stretch her lips into a semblance of goodwill. As the door closed behind him, she slumped back onto the pillows and tried to assemble her thoughts.

Had she dreamt it – that electric touch, that massive yet suave silhoutte amid the frills of foam, the crush of a stranger’s lips on her own barely resisting mouth, the strange cold fire that had flickered through her as his warmth had pressed aganst the silk of her sun dress? Part of her wanted to believe it a fantasy.

This could not, after all, be happening to her, Topaz, daughter of a millionaire horse breeder in Berkshire, whose life, thus far, had coursed smoothly in accordance with the carefully inked predictions in her gold-rimmed engagement diary. But another, larger, disturbingly throbbing part of her wanted it desperately to be real. In less than a week – God, was it that soon? – she would be Mrs Dunkley, wife of...

The bedroom door bounced open and Terence’s painstakingly groomed head loomed round it. ‘Better get moving, treasure,’ he pronounced.

Topaz thought quickly. Her pulsing flesh told her that she had reached a crossroads. The rest of her life depended on which road she now chose. ‘Actually, darling, I’ve a bit of a headache,’ she said. ‘One too many cocktails last night.’

She watched his face pucker in concern. ‘You go, dearest. I trust you to make the right decisions.’ But, the thought stirred in her, could she trust herself to do the same?

As soon as she had persuaded him to go without her, his mouth adroop with disappointment, she showered swiftly, selected the white Prada sheath dress that her father had bought her for her twenty-first birthday and hurried down to the shore. She caught her own reflection in the glass doors of the hotel – slender but with the firm ripeness of youth, her fragile throat somehow elongated by her swept-up hair.

Determinedly she crossed the still-cool sands. She stood there where but a night ago her world had shifted to suddenly. She stared at the sea and the sea stared flatly back. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

Part 4 – Issues of integrity

It’s no good, I can’t have them sharing a room; it might raise too many questions about Topaz’s integrity later on. I feel protective of her already, even though all I know about her so far is that she has swelling breasts and long legs.

Mind you, talking of integrity, I don’t know how we’re going to get her away from Terence without making her appear fickle. I’m starting to feel protective of him, too, and don’t want him to be hurt. It feels like being the parent of a toddler all over again.

Part 4 (by Oliver)

No. The beach glimmered silver and the breezes still teased the bougainvillia blossom that fringed the shore, but the only thing that betrayed Cleft’s presence was a scuffle of sand and a trail of his large footprints leading out of sight.

‘Dear.’ Terence’s soft voice was surprisingly – annoyingly – close. Topaz turned and sighed at the sight of his pyjamas buttoned high, his eyes squinting slightly as they always did when he had taken off his spectacles.

‘Beddy-byes for you,’ he said. ‘We’ve an early start tomorrow, if we’re to get to the building site by nine. I’ve arranged for the foreman to meet us at the bottom of the mountain so that he can drive us up in his jeep. Mustn’t be late for him.’

Funny how suddenly things change, thought Topaz. Yesterday she had been excited at the prospect of seeing the site of the house Terence was building for her high in the mountains. Now that she knew what excitement really felt like, the house had lost its allure.

‘All right,’ she said, flatly. ‘Good night, Terence.’ And she went into the adjoining bedroom and closed the door.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Part 3 – In which I fret about floozies

Anna’s latest instalment, below, suggests that Topaz and Terence are sharing a room, and I’m suddenly worried about Mills & Boon’s guidelines. Does that make Topaz too much of a floozy for a classic romance? Isn’t Mills & Boon all about chaste heroines and an ellipsis instead of sex?

I check the Mills & Boon website and realise that my preconceptions are so last century. Desire Be My Destiny looks as though it’s shaping up to fit into M&B's Modern Romance marque – that is, jet-set glamour and red-hot passion. So floozies are fine.

Part 3 (by Anna)

Up in the bedroom, Terence was adjusting his longjohns. He felt the cold always and she noticed, as she surveyed him, how his pallid skin pimpled in the evening air.

‘You’ve been a time,’ he said, easing one skinny leg out of its thermal swaddling.

‘Things to do, people to see,’ she said easily, and she thought: is this how it’s going to be from now on? Lies and evasions, and underlying them a new sensation that she was already beginning to identify as a ravenous consuming longing.

Her shoulder still burned and she knew that it was not the kiss of the late summer sun, but the imprint of Cleft’s large hand on her tanned skin. She wondered if Terence could detect it in her eyes as she glanced almost compulsively towards the balcony. Was he there still? She could almost feel those ice-blue eyes disrobing her through the inky black night. She had to know.

Ignoring the clammy hand that Terence extended towards her, she passed lightly through the French windows.

‘Just getting a breath of air,’ she called. How effortlessly the lies slid from her. She leaned over the balcony, feeling the polished railing hard and cool beneath her breasts. Her eyes strained questingly through the night. Was he there still?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Part 2 – My Romance debut

Well, here goes. It’s fairly obvious what he wants of her, and I must go from nought to sexy with no time to fine-tune my literary engine. I have never written any kind of love scene before, and realise that I am cringing at the thought of my parents reading this. Thankfully, they are unlikely to be exploring the u-bends of the blogosphere any time soon.

Part 2 (by Oliver)

He stood silent for a while, his eyes narrowing as they swept appraisingly across her swelling breasts and long legs, her hair moon-flecked against the gentle surf. Saying nothing, he bent swiftly and, with practised ease, found her lips with his own firm and forceful mouth.

Topaz gasped, her lips parting despite themselves, yielding to his searching tongue. She swayed slightly at the shock, the suddenness of it all, and his arm cradled her, steadyingly. And then she pulled away, pushing him with a purpose that was almost genuine.

‘How dare you?’ she hissed.

‘Because you are a beautiful woman, and I am your destiny,’ he replied. The voice was low and manly, shot through with arrogance and desire. ‘You will be mine.’

‘Never!’ Topaz turned and ran unsteadily towards the hotel.

Terence still stood watching and Topaz glanced up at him as she passed beneath the balcony. He looked even shorter from that angle, and paler in the moonlight, and Topaz found herself looking round for another glimpse of Cleft. There he stood, tall and rugged with the surf playing around his calves. Just watching her.

With a sigh, Topaz turned at walked slowly back to the hotel, to the man she was to marry the following week.

Desire Be My Destiny: the Beginning

So here are Anna's opening paragraphs, crafted according to the guidelines. I have contributed the title, one that has been circling in my head for years. I know what you must be thinking. But I am glad to have the chance to use it at last.

Read the expert guidance on how to start a romance novel at

Desire Be My Destiny

‘Gotcha!’ A tanned, muscled hand clamped her left shoulder. Topaz turned. There he stood, his strong but sensitive jawline poised against the half moon, his ice-blue eyes twinkling mischievously into her own.

Topaz felt a shiver course beneath her flimsy silk dress, even though the breezes that stroked her skin carried the last warm breaths of a Mediterranean summer. She glimpsed the stooped shadow of Terence peering for her from the hotel balcony; hesitated, started to follow her own footprints back across the sands, then halted and turned again. He stood there still, unmoving, waiting...

Slowly, gazing up at him through long lacquered lashes, she moved towards him, wading almost through the pools of moonlight. ‘What,’ she asked, her voice sounding curiously husky, ‘do you want of me?’.