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, 16 December 2011

Part 25 – Kidnapped

What can I say? Nothing that Anna’s writing has not said already in this sensitive and probing instalment. Her ear is perfectly tuned to the cadences and character of the exquisite Spanish tongue. Her careful nurturing of the plot is subtle and uncomfortably true to life. In Topaz she has created a vividly imagined character who lives and breathes on the page. (Raven locks? Weren’t they honeyed before?).

This looks disturbingly like a nascent sub-plot, which Mills & Boon does not encourage. Looks as though I’m going to have to get masterful again, plot-wise. And I certainly need to get Cleft back on the scene but quick.

Part 25 (by Anna)

‘Thena you comalonga me,’ said the man. His wrist jerked almost impercetibly and the end of the whip snapped about her bare ankles.

Topaz hauled herself stiffly to her feet, still half blinded by the unforgiving sun. The man laid moist hot fingers on her forearm, not ungently, but implacable, and pulled her down the dusty slope towards his battered, simmering car. He opened the passenger door, gestured her in, then, with an alacrity startling in a man so stout and overheated, he darted round to the driver’s side, leapt astride the seat and started the engine with a loud diesel-fumed roar.

Topaz clutched the sides of her prison as the car rattled down the rocky track and felt her hands dampening against the baked worn leather. Dust plumes smoked upwards from the bouncing tyres, almost obscuring the world beyond the window. She closed her eyes and concentrated on disciplining her stomach, which fizzed and seethed each time the car lurched round a hairpin bend.

‘Cleft,’ she whispered, almost involuntarily through cracking lips. ‘Cleft, if you love me, hear my pain now.’

There was a screech as the car braked, and a lingering stench as her chauffeur exhaled trapped air. Topaz pushed her unkempt raven tresses out of her eyes as she peered through the grimy window and she saw that they had reached a house – a small, low, scabby white building with a dead vine knotted around its corrugated roof. A door stood open at the end of a dried mud path, and through the gloom beyond it Topaz could make out a length of scarred linoleum.

Frenzied barking erupted as she extended a tanned, vulnerable foot from the car and she saw a demented shadow contorting on the mud and a frayed rope writhing around the corner of the house.

‘In here,’ growled her captor, prodding her in through the doorway. ‘No shout or I do bad thing.’

With outward docility and inner tumult, Topaz stepped into an almost bare room walled with unplastered concrete. A tangle of clothes and blankets lay on a mattress in one corner and the floor, of the same cracked lino, was striped with sun filtered through the closed slat blind. There was a wooden chair near the window and a bulky television, which looked 30 years old, stood on a cardboard packing case. The man motioned her to the chair and lifted one slat of the blind to peer briefly outside.

‘You nowa stay with me till I hava money,’ he said. ‘You write-a family and tell them for money. Then you go.’

He disappeared and Topaz heard a key turn in the lock before his feet tramped out of earshot down the hallway. Almost immediately he was back again bearing a scratched glass of luke-warm water, a slice of pitta bread and a sheet of frayed lined paper torn from a spiral note pad. Plucking a biro from his waist band he thrust it at Topaz. She could feel the sticky warmth of his belly imprinted in the plastic.

‘Youra daddy,’ he rasped with a grin that exposed bent yellow teeth. ‘You write youra daddy for send ten thousand euros in cash to here,’ and delving into a baggy pocket he produced a mail box address scrawled on the back of an envelope.

‘Youra Daddy. Howa he called?’

Topaz paused, then bent over the paper. ‘Dear Cleft,’ she wrote.


  1. Hair, like weather, is supposed to reflect the mood in a romance, isn't it. It was honeyed when life was sweet, now the clouds have gathered, it's black as pitch. It'll probably turn pink when everything comes up rosy towards the end. Talking of end - when do you think we should start winding this thing up? Can't quite see a destination.

  2. No, but I'm beginning to wish we could. I have so much more to give than cod Barbara Cartland.