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, 20 December 2011

Part 28 – Calling Cleft

Quite a dull piece, this – I confess it. But Anna will have Topaz escaping and being recaptured again and again until I give in and send Cleft to rescue her, so this is a necessary, functional interlude. Still, it’s a good chance to contemplate the turmoil that Topes has unleashed in Cleft’s hitherto hard heart. Just as well he doesn’t go for resourceful types.

Part 28 (by Oliver)

Sun was seeping through the thin curtains of the little inn’s bedroom, tentatively spilling milky light on to the crumpled bed where Cleft lay. He had not slept; his chin was shadowed with four days’ growth of beard and his clothes still lay where he had flung them the night Topaz had fled.

What had she done to him? No woman had ever possessed him as Topaz did. And no woman had questioned his actions as she had. A wrong had been done to the woman he loved; who better than he to avenge it? Calling Reuters had been a kinder course of action than the one he would have preferred – Cleft’s hands clenched involuntarily into fists as he thought about it.

Now he did not know what to do. He was a man of action, in life as in love, and this terrible not knowing had paralysed him. Not sleeping, barely eating, Cleft was merely being, unable to do more until he had Topaz back.

A scuffle at the door, and an envelope slid underneath. Almost reluctantly, Cleft rolled off the bed and picked it up. It was creased and limp, scrawled with a cheap biro and postmarked Spain. Who in Spain could know he was here? Suddenly forceful, Cleft ripped the envelope open and read the torn note within:

‘Dear Cleft, I am being held captive by a Spanish cab driver. A small house on a hill near Paradise Heights. Bring money. Topaz.’

No soft words, just urgency. Yet the ‘dear’ with which the note began smote Cleft as more fulsome tendernesses never had. She needed him now in a way she never had before; and that was all he needed to know.

Swiftly, energetically now that his life had a purpose once more, Cleft packed his few possessions, ran downstairs and flung a bundle of £20 notes on to the reception desk. As he leapt into his jeep he did not see a figure in a car opposite sit up and watch him intently. And as he slid the jeep down the lane, his frenzied mind saw nothing remarkable in the Ford Escort that followed him through the Berkshire countryside and sped behind him as he roared towards Heathrow Airport.


  1. Gosh, that note from Topaz stirred an emotional tumult inside me! How do you manage to capture so much pent-up passion, so much suppressed longing, so much naked human psychology and such raw animal need into two lines!

  2. Ooooooooooooo, who's following him? Intrigued.