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…

Friday, 2 March 2012

Part 49 – Mourning morning

The vote – such as it was – was conclusive: kill ’em. I like death in a literary context: it can make things so much simpler by cauterising numerous worrying sub-plots.

It looks as though Anna has also incorporated another idea from one of our loyal readers, who suggested that Terence should discover his inner gay. Or am I simply jumping to stereotypical conclusions at the mention of a young man in a pink tuxedo cocking his hip?

Part 49 (by Anna)

There was that limbo feeling common to all airports. Air that was not quite air. Light that was not quite light. People neither coming or going, but waiting, passively, as though for Fate to give them a steer. The newspaper stands in the arrivals hall told of the real world, but not very convincingly. The frenetic headlines seemed no more than titles in a book of fairytales.

‘Nothing seems real any more,’ Topaz mused, adjusting her gilded iphone that jabbed at her denim thigh. Then the heat that flamed through her told her that she was wrong. There was something real. Possibly realer than she had ever known. Just not real enough to make it really... Topaz sighed. Her mind was twisting into knots.

Her Laboutin heels rapped the glossy floor as she veered towards a nearby coffee bar. ‘Can I, like, get a skinny latte to go?’ she asked in her newly perfected Spanish.

Her fingers pulsed against the flaccid cardboard of the cup, the warmth of the viscous white liquid within relaxing her flesh a little as she surveyed the arrivals board. The lines of writing clicked and scrolled as each new plane disgorged its human cargo.

Briefly Topaz removed her Prada sunglases to decode the hectic bulletins and briefly she felt unmasked, denuded, as helpless as the figures slumped on the airport benches, as though they had lived whole lives there. 1750 Helsinki. Arrived. 1755 Prague. Arrived. 1800 London Heathrow. Arrived. She flipped the coffee cup into a bin and resettled her sunglasses. Her father always travelled light. He should be one of the first through the gates.

The British passengers were easy to recognise. They wandered blinking through Customs, flesh as grey and lumpen as porridge and inadequately restrained in lurid holiday wear. Topaz gaze slid easily over them. Her father, his face a cheery scarlet and his dapper grey suit glowing with the same sheen as his silvered Lamborghini, always stood out from the crowd.

The human tide began to ebb. Topaz glanced at her Rolex. She’d been standing there for nearly an hour. She delved into her jeans and flicked open her iphone. Nothing. Worry flickered. With a last glance at the arrivals barrier she strode across to the British Airways desk. Her gold bracelet clinked as she laid her arms on the desk and awoke the woman behind it from a visibly absorbing reverie.

‘I’m looking for my father. Eversleigh-Brinkworth. He was supposed to arrive on the 1800 from Heathrow,’ she said rapidly.

The woman, fully alert now, rattled her fingers over her keyboard and there was a silence as she digested the list that she had conjured onto her screen.

‘No show,’ she said at last. ‘Your father never checked in. Neither did Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth.’

‘Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth?’

The woman looked confused. ‘Oh, sorry,’ she said hastily. ‘There’s a passenger of the same name who was booked onto the flight. I assumed that it was your father’s wife.’

Topaz felt something inside her shudder and slip.

‘Thanks,’ she said dully, and turned away. Fumbling for her iphone, she jabbed the number. Somewhere, her father’s phone rang out, then his familar voice sounded: ‘I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now...’

It was nearly two hours later as Topaz, loathe to leave the airport in case her father arrived on a later flight, was drooping over a cup of cold coffee, that a familiar figure loomed uncertainly over her table.

‘Terence!’ she cried, astonished, and barely registered the young man in the pink tuxedo standing close behind her ex-fiance’s shoulder.

‘I took the first flight I could,’ said Terence, and he sat down and knotted his fingers on the formica. ‘I’m afraid I’ve got something rather difficult to tell you.’

Topaz stared.

‘Your father,’ Terence went on, after a glance – was it for reassurance? – at the young man who still hovered, hip cocked, behind him. ‘There’s been an accident. A crash. On the motorway near the airport. A pile up. Your father didn’t make it, Topaz. And Topaz – I’m so very sorry, but the car behind was crushed into his car and both of the people in it were killed.’

Topaz, continued to stare. The only movement was a shadow of grey that crept over her tanned features.

‘In that second car –’ Terence swallowed – ‘was my father… And – I don’t know how to say this – but in the front seat beside him was… your mother, who they found clutching two plane tickets to Malaga.’

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