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, 5 December 2011

Part 22 – Bling It On

Milling & Booning is supposed to be as far removed as possible from my real life – write about what you know? Bah! But it occurs to me that even the restricted existence of stay-at-home dads can feed into Topaz’s thrilling world.

This week I am writing (properly – i.e. paid to) about the prime London lettings market, wrestling into submission market reports on the blingiest, most vulgar, most over-gadgetted properties that Russian gazillions can rent. And I sense Topaz close by, drooling over  the gold-mosaic bathrooms and stainless-steel kitchens which are far too smart to contain a kettle or a toaster. Of course: it’s Brinkworth Place! Funny how Literature will keep muscling in when I’m trying to be serious.

Part 22 (by Oliver)

Pain flamed through her already tender ankle, and at first Topaz wondered how she could make it to the garages, built to resemble a stable yard on the other side of the house. But by clutching at the gleaming white walls of Brinkworth Place, grasping at the massive bronze elephants that flanked the entrance, she managed to drag herself there and called out to the mechanic to fetch the keys to her Ferrari.

Sitting in the car, her forehead resting against the fluffy leopard-print cover of the steering wheel, she gave in to her pain at last. The sobs ground upwards from somewhere deep within, tearing like glass at her throat, and a mosaic of jumbled images beat on her consciousness: Terence, meekly bringing her weak tea in bed; a flat, sun-baked rock, fringed with prickly pears on a mountain far away; the broad red face of her father leading a prize thoroughbred mare to the Dunkley stables; the eyes glaring suddenly from her mother’s caramel face.

And most of all – most wrenching of all – the massive, dark presence of Cleft, always brooding with tantalising ferocity in the periphery of her mind. And as each thought of him forced its way almost unbidden, that familiar heat glowed in Topaz’s stomach, and the small of her back tingled where she could still feel his gossamer touch strengthening into something more urgent.

Moaning softly now, Topaz let the maelstrom break through her mind. But as it receded, just one thing remained. A rock. The whiplash dart of a lizard. The screening stand of prickly pears, their swelling ruby bulges ready to burst with one touch against the tautness of their green stems. And, beyond it all, the azure Mediterranean, calm, utterly placid in the late afternoon sun.

Topaz held her breath mid-moan, catching the full pout of her lower lip between her gleaming white teeth as she felt once again the hand of destiny leading her on to Paradise Heights. There, everything would fall into place.

The site, she realised with a sudden gleaming clarity, would be paid for with her money; her father’s wish was for her to live there. Above all, the mountain was imbued with Cleft’s presence, as if the very essence of his musky masculinity had entered each rock, each crevice. She would not see him again, she knew. But how could she forget the slow burn of his touch, the electric pulse of his questing kisses, the warm weight of his body looming over hers? Why should she forget?

Clear-headed now, Topaz started the car and, as the electronic doors of the garage slid open, she revved the engine at full throttle. The roar of scarcely contained power throbbed through her body as Topaz sped down the drive, and an almost poignant feeling of freedom swept over her. She had lost Cleft, and her parents were now as strangers to her. Yet she still had her trust fund and the irrepressible vitality of youth, and as the Ferrari shot like a golden arrow along the leafy Berkshire lanes her bronzed face broke into a genuine smile for the first time in days.


  1. The glass-light sobs and the caramel complexion are good. I was going to thrust her in a similar direction. That man musk has made our minds pulse as one...

  2. Glass-light? D'you mean glass-like? Less of the man-musk, if you please; I still haven't recovered from the boxer-shorts fiasco.