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, 23 January 2012

Part 41 – In for a Penny...

I feel I should pay some kind of tribute to Penny Jordan. No, me neither, but apparently she was Mills & Boon’s most prolific author, and I’ve been reading her obituary.

It raises two points which are relevant to the work in hand. First, and I quote from the obit here, ‘Penny Jordan admitted… that she found it difficult to write the sex scenes (Mills & Boon couples usually do it at least twice per book), observing that it is difficult to find new ways of writing about male and female genitalia without sounding silly. In any case, the sex was not the most important aspect: “The appeal of romance is love,” she declared. “And that’s universal.”’

My point exactly. If she couldn’t do Doing It, how am I supposed to? And TWICE? I know M&B is supposed to be escapist, but that’s pushing plausibility, surely? Anyway, Penny’s reticence has vindicated my own coyness.

Second, reading samples of Penny’s prose makes me think that, spoof though it may be, Desire Be My Destiny is actually pretty spot-on, stylistically. Take this typical passage, for instance:

‘She risked a second nervous look at the strong, almost cruel lines of his face, the nose that spoke of a lineage that went back to the days when Wales was the birthplace of men born to lead others; the tight aristocratic line of his jaw; and most of all, that almost shockingly sexual, rich, thick hair that for some reason had her fingers curling into protestingly protective small fists as she fought against their instinctive urge to reach out and touch it.’

Maybe I have a future with Mills & Boon after all. Just as long as they don’t expect me to read any more of their books.

And now, on with the show…

Part 41 (by Anna)

Later, much later, when the sun, a swollen red orb, had slithered behind the brown rim of mountains, when Topaz’s charcoal lashes had dampened with memories, when the wall-eyed nurse had checked the bedside monitor and crept from the room, Topaz’s weary fingers found the square of paper. The words on the envelope, penned in an unfamiliar hand blurred and danced before her. Unfamiliar, and yet only one hand could have scrawled those powerful thrusts and curves.

A manicured forefinger twitched at the seal, then stilled. Fragments of remembrance, jagged, tortured, seared through her mind. Her head burned on the white pillow and the envelope slipped to the floor. She knew what must lie within it, could feel the heat of the unread words, but she knew that if she were to be true to herself, to become the woman she must be, she must wean her heart of its intoxication.

As she lay there in the gathering dimness, the sound of other peoples’ busy-ness clattering down the corridor, faint forms shaped themselves in her mind. The past tethered her. She must throw off its bonds. She had shown herself that she could live without her parents’ wealth. Now she must prove that she could live without Cleft.

And Terence? She had promised she would compensate him for his sacrifice. She would keep that promise, but her flesh would not be the currency. As for the future, she would forge her own destiny. Half smiling as she made her vow, she reached for her iphone and began to tap in a number.

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