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, 15 November 2011

Part 17 – Corporate Failings

Anna’s given Cleft some great dialogue in this one. Dialogue is Good, according to the Mills & Boon guidelines, and I think perhaps we don’t have enough of it in Desire Be My Destiny. But then there is a lot in the guidelines that we don’t have much of: a strong, purposeful heroine, for one. And a fast-moving plot, presumably with no boxer-sniffing dead ends in it. And Sex, of course.

M&B also tells us to go easy on secondary characters, and what with Terence and Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth, who I feel are infinitely more vivid than Topaz ’n’ Cleft, I think we’ve failed on that score too.

Still, you’ve got to get your inspiration where you find it, and in my case that’s old films and Victorian sensation novels. I now fancy myself as the literary heir to Mrs Braddon, and am looking forward to more improbable lurches in the plot and pithy, film noir-esque dialogue. It may not be in the Guidelines, but it’s a lot of fun to write.

Part 17 (by Anna)

She awoke to a ceiling. An unfamiliar ceiling. It hung low and white and she found her gaze latching compulsively onto the stains and cracks that mottled portions of it.

‘Hey baby!’ The voice was also unfamiliar. And yet, and yet, she felt she had known it from birth. A hand clasped hers with a tenderness at odds with the sun-hardened skin and rock-like muscles that moulded themselves round her fragile fingers. Cleft stood there, his massive bulk stooped against the sagging eaves, a sardonic smile playing across his lips.

She shifted, bewildered, and found that soft pillows were heaped beneath her and a quilt covered her cashmere jersey.

‘Where am I?’ she asked, her own voice sounding curiously remote. ‘What are you doing here? Where’s Terence?’

With a ripple of sinews like a breeze through wheat, Cleft moved towards the bed and the mattress tipped her involuntarily towards him as he sat down on it.

‘Listen, baby,’ he drawled, and she could feel the heat of his body searing through the quilt as he leaned in. ‘Time enough for explanations. I’ve come to take you.’

‘Take me? Take me where?’

‘To Paradise, baby.’


‘Paradise Heights. Your little love nest. Only you won’t be nesting there with that knock-kneed loser. I’m here to take you away from all that.’

Topaz let her head fall back onto the pillows. She felt dizzy with the whirling tempest that her life had suddenly become.

‘Not there,’ she whispered feebly. ‘I can’t leave him. I want... I can’t!’

‘Listen, baby!’ Cleft thrust towards her, his breath hot and sweet against her porcelain complexion. ‘We don’t belong here.’ He gestured widely round the unknown room and the dripping greyness of Berkshire beyond the casement window. ‘We are creatures of the sun and the sea and the maquis, you and I. I know it and I know you know it too. I knew it from the moment I first laid eyes on you on that beach and I'm not going to let all this get in the way of Us.’

Topaz emitted a long shuddering sigh. She could not deny it. There was something that bonded her to this towering bronzed stranger, something stronger than words; stronger even than flesh.

‘I’ll go check us out of this goddam inn,’ said Cleft, rising, as though her silence were acquiecence. ‘We need to get out of here now before the little man makes trouble.’

‘I can’t, Cleft,’ Topaz sobbed, although her quivering flesh told otherwise. Terence’s words rolled like stones around her bruised mind. Her father had bartered her like a sack of meal and yet, and yet he was her father. He had seeded her in her mother’s womb, shaped her childhood, been there always, cheque book empathetically poised, when she had needed him. A memory came to her of his face reflected in the gold-plating of the Ferrari he had commissioned for her; his look eager and vulnerable, willing her to be pleased.

‘There are things you don’t know; things I can't tell you,’ she murmured at last. ‘I feel that we are meant, you and I, but some things just can’t be!’

In one easy stride Cleft was beside the bed and with a lunge so quick she barely noticed it he had torn of the quilt and wrenched her into his arms.

‘Don’t dice with destiny,’ he breathed. ‘And don’t dice with me.’

And Topaz understood that this perilous new current was carrying her too forcefully for resistance. Even as she heard the familiar screech of the Ford Escort braking outside the inn she knew that she could only, gloriously, submit.


  1. I am officially doomed! I now have to find a big ol' chunk of time to sit and read your previous posts so I can bring myself up to date on your Mills&Boons adveture so far......Ah well, there are worse things I could be having to do ;-))

  2. This is a fun project. Just come over from Twitter. Not a great M&B fan, but I love the idea of doing it tongue in cheek. The best way, I reckon!

  3. With a name like Cleft, I feel there should be more references to his jaw. Is it chiselled? Is it clenched? Is it set in determination? Jaws are very important to emoting. Kiera Knightley made a career of it. ;)

  4. Haha! Brilliant idea for a project. Unfortunately I've never read a mills and boon novel so don't know how much help I'd be. However, they make money so someone must read them and write them.

    Perhaps Terence and Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth can be the main characters of the next novel if they seem more vivid.

    Good luck with the next part. Hope you've got lots of innuendos ready.

  5. Thanks, Here come the girls. It will probably come as no surprise to learn that I've never read a Mills and Boon either. Or I have, but only half of one. Maybe this'll give you a taste for it...