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, 7 November 2011

Part 14 – A Guilty Secret

Killing time at the school gates, I wonder how many of the thronging mothers (and they are mostly mothers) have a secret romance novel habit. Because it always is a secret habit, isn’t it? In women under 50, anyway.

And I wonder what they would say if they knew that the lone dad over there was not mulling over the multi-million-pound international deal he struck in the City that morning, nor thinking about the beers he was to have with the lads later on, but was pondering the permutations of passionate prose.

I consider turning to the mother I vaguely know who is sitting on the wall beside me and saying brightly ‘Did you know that I am blogging a romance novel with my sister?’. Then I think about how warped that sounds, and about how it would dent my daughter’s playground-cred. The jovial smile withers on my lips and I say nothing.

Which begs the question: if I am afraid to admit it to fellow parents in the social no-man’s land of the school pick-up, why am I willing to share it with the global blogosphere?

Part 14 (by Oliver)

‘Who’s this, dear?’ Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth’s voice splintered onto Topaz’s consciousness, rousing her from dreams of longing, piercing her sense of stifling oppression. ‘Cleft Stone. Do we know a Cleft Stone? I don’t remember inviting him.’

‘Nor me,’ said Topaz, resignedly. ‘Probably one of Terence’s.’

But then a thrill ran through her. Stone! Of course she knew the name; it had barely left her thoughts since arriving back at Brinkworth Place. The sheer unexpectedness of hearing it from her mother’s magentaed lips had taken her unawares. Cleft. Cleft. She ran the name round her mind, savouring it. At once that old longing surged back, washing Topaz in a wave of fresh yearning. Was he to follow her even to her wedding? Could it be as he had said? Could he really be her destiny?

And with a stab of realization, Topaz knew that she had to run to meet her destiny. She had felt the plucking hands of Fate ever since she heard Cleft’s voice saying ‘Gotcha!’ on that sultry, moon-washed shore. No matter how hard she had tried to cling to Terence – to security, to understanding, to honour – Fate had constantly tried to pull her away. So she would give in. She would embrace Fate in all its fascinating, unfathomable loops and twists. Who knew where it would take her in the end? But at the beginning, she knew, it would take her to Cleft’s arms.

She ran from the room, into the huge circular hall. For a moment the sound of the fountain sprinkling diamond fragments of water into the white marble basin, which stood in the middle of the lofty space, soothed her thoughts and she paused at the bottom of the staircase, lightly fingering the glossy chrome of the banister. Then, galvanized, determined, she turned, and instead of running up the shallow, white-carpeted stairs she slipped furtively through the dining room and through the glass doors into the garden.

No one saw her as she ran, she was sure of that. Along the terrace and down the steps to the parterre; across the sweep of lawn and past the pool, where the underwater lights still gleamed pink and blue in the burgeoning daylight; and so to the screening glades, where nestled the old summer house.

Panting now, her tender ankle all but forgotten, Topaz slammed the summer-house door behind her and peered through the gloom. Behind the table, under the bench: was the loose plank undisturbed? Heart beating, she slid closer. Yes, all was as she had left it the evening she had arrived home.

Gently, almost gingerly, Topaz slid a pearly, polished nail beneath the floorboard. It raised easily, and she felt in the void below. Thank God, it was still there, undiscovered. In her relief, Topaz, slumped backwards against the wall, and, relaxed now, caught once again the faint odour of musk, of Mediterranean heat. Of him.


  1. Do you know I was at a girlie coffee morning recently with friends I have known for years and would have sworn had never read a Mills & Boon in their life. I took a deep breath and confessed my addiction to the historical genre. I was astonished - they all joined in with their favorite genre!! Spooky. Bet lots of those school gate Mums could surprise you!!

  2. Yes, I must try to tempt them out of the Romance closet.