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…

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Part 36 – An Unexpected Arrival

I know, I know – I have no idea how Mr Dunkley got there either. But my self-imposed rules forbid me to make any revisions. Maybe if I’d never mentioned it you wouldn’t have questioned his appearance. So let’s pretend I never did.

Part 36 (by Oliver)

The pounding rhythm of Cleft’s tread was hypnotic. Every step was a shudder coursing through Topaz’s being, and as she drank in the tangy musk that simmered from his sweat-soaked body, her eyes remained fixed on the clenching tautness of Cleft’s denim-clad buttocks, flexing inches before her face.

Then a groan reminded her that Terence dangled alongside her. Glancing at him, she saw the pale face sequinned with sweat, the spectacles dangling absurdly in his sparse hairline and the whites of his eyes showing between his half-closed lids. And as he scrambled back to consciousness and caught her stare in his, a look somewhere between longing and loathing seemed to shimmer across his face. Then his mouth twisted into a kind of smile and he gasped ‘Oh, my dear!’

Such was the delight that shone through the parched croak of his voice, the pallour of his moist face, that Topaz was smote with a feeling she had never felt before: shame. The impact came not so much from the nature of her sentiment as from the realization that this was the first time she had ever felt anything forceful at all for Terence.

She gasped as she saw the truth at last: through years of childish friendship and family expectation, Terence had quietly occupied a corner of her being. No matter how fast she ran towards Cleft, no matter how the endgame played out, she would always have to accept that Terence was there, somewhere, in her destiny.

Terence’s cheek was growing red where it rubbed and knocked against Cleft’s denim buttock. Topaz began to feel sick from the swaying motion mingled with the heavy scent of Cleft’s man-musk. And whatever bond had appeared between Topaz and Terence, it was now strengthened as they looked each other straight in the eye, bobbing and swaying upside down – and both let the laughter come.

At once Cleft halted. ‘What’s up?’ he growled, breathless through effort and irritation. But as he swung them off his shoulders, Topaz and Terence laughed all the more, until Cleft had no choice but to join in. Lying on the rock-strewn Spanish dust, all three laughed away the weeks of confrontation, conspiracy and confusion.

Terence spoke first. ‘Look here, Cleft’ he said, weak from mirth and pain. ‘It’s time to end this ridiculous charade. We’re old enough to be frank with each other: I love Topaz – truly I do, dear. Topaz likes me, but she loves you. Nothing will change that, so I’m not going to try.’

‘Terence!’ gasped Topaz, catching her full lower lip between the glacier whiteness of her teeth. And for the first time in her eyes, he seemed to become something like a man. ‘But what about your father?’

‘Indeed. What about me?’ The voice cut in like a knife, and, looking up, the three saw the substantial figure of a sweating man, his white suit tightly buttoned against the Mediterranean heat, a crisp Panama shading his face and a glossy black 4x4 looming expensively behind him.

‘Dad!’ Terence paled still further and winced as he sat upright. ‘What are you doing here?’


  1. Like I said in the intro – I dunno! Might as well say 'what does Cleft see in Topaz?' I dunno!