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, 31 January 2012

Part 43 – Men: who needs ’em?

Who needs a man? Well, every Mills & Boon heroine, naturally; and probably Mills & Boon readers too. But in the modern age it is not the Done Thing for a heroine to need a man. She can want one; she can adore one; hell, she can even buy one, what with escort agencies advertising in The Times these days. But she mustn’t need one.

So we are toughening Topaz up. For far too long Desire has been her Destiny. For the past 42 posts she has been Fate’s plaything. That won’t do. She must take control, be her own woman, live life on her own kick-ass terms, not Cleft’s musky ones.

Can you imagine Topaz doing that? Neither can I. But this is Modern Romance, and we need to up the modernity. So here Anna starts cutting Topaz free from the shackles of Desire to face a new dawn of independent self-fulfillment. Prepare to suspend disbelief.

Part 43 (by Anna)

For now there was a different priority, however. Her womanly contours were caressed once more in the silks and weaves to which they were accustomed. Her burned chafed skin was burnished by Eden’s expert fingers into a healthy apricot glow and there was a pleasing shimmer of silver from her new fibreglass nail extensions as she adjusted the Scheherazade gemstone necklace at her throat. But with her past sloughed off like her soil-stained rags and her future a pile of untamed breeze blocks on a mountain summit, she lacked one essential: a place to lay her newly coiffed head.

Topaz paused for a moment on the simmering pavement. She could see her reflection fragmented in the the lacquered quilting of her Marc Jacobs hand bag. It seemed an omen.

‘I must become whole again,’ she thought, and the resolve propelled her along the boulevard, through the milling crowds and across a square bleached white in the sun and clustered with shaded tables where expensively groomed couples sat sipping early cocktails. Topaz gazed upon them with momentary hunger, then swiftly looked away. Too long ago, it seemed, that she too was a careless, leisured creature browsing unpriced menus.

Plate glass flashed in the light on either side of a gilded marble portico on the other side of the piazza. Exclusive Estates wove in gold letters across the pediment. As Topaz crossed the threshold, shedding the heat like a mantel and subsiding, almost, into the tomb-like cool, a young man in an Armani suit rose from his desk in greeting. ‘Can I help you, Madam?’ Topaz eyed him levelly. Did he know what he was asking? Was this stranger equipped to point her along fate’s byways?

‘Yeah, I need, like, a crash pad to rent as soon as,’ she told him.

Minutes later she was enveloped in the black suede of a sofa, leafing through a sheaf of particulars. Apartments processed meaninglessly before her eyes. Vast apartments, intimate studios; apartments done out entirely in white, apartments balanced seemingly miraculously among the clouds with walls of glass and steel. Topaz stared tiredly, willing each one to spring to life; willing one of them to whisper ‘home’; willing the shadow of Cleft to be exorcised from the alien rooms she scrutinised.

‘I’ll look at this one,’ she said at last, plucking a sheet almost at random from the glossy pile. ‘Can I see it this afternoon? And can you get someone to book a room at the Guadalphin for as long as it takes?’

Involuntarily she fingered her sheaf of gilded credit cards in their snakeskin casing. ‘You’re my future,’ she whispered. ‘It’s just you and me now, and we’re going to take on the world.’

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