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…

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Part 37 – Very Terry

I am now worried that Terence is far too prominent a character for the Mills & Boon guidelines to countenance. He’s also far too likeable – mainly, I think, because my brother-in-law got the idea that Terence was based on him, so we felt obliged to treat him gently.

So I think this must be the last of Terence. From now on he needs to withdraw gracefully. Oh heck, that means we’re left with only the panting and the moaning…

Part 37 (by Anna)

Duncan Dunkley made no reply. Instead he bent slightly, the shadow of his Panama eclipsing the pale gleam of Terence’s face. A bony hand reached out and prodded Terence’s injured shin. Terence let out a cry and his father straightened. There was a silence, briefly, on the moutainside save for the itchy whirr of insects and a metallic exhalation from the huge BMW.

Terence subsided into the hot dust, his gaze fixed on his father with a mixture of alarm and defiance. Topaz’s eyes darted between the two men as she rose slowly to her feet and Cleft stood waiting, his muscled legs planted wide on the rocky ground and his face inscrutable behind his sunglasses. When Duncan Dunkley spoke his voice cut the humid air like ice.

‘I assume,’ he addressed Terence, ‘that this cheery little outing is to check the progress of your marital home.’ He smiled mirthlessly.

Terence shivered, whether from pain or fear Topaz could not tell. She put out a hand to touch his hunched shoulder, then turned calmly to face her intended father-in-law.

‘I know what your game is,’ she told him. ‘And I’m not playing it. There will be no wedding next week and you’d better accept it.’

Mr Dunkley turned as though she had not spoken and fixed his gaze on his prostrate son.

‘Do not confuse spinelessness with nobility,’ he said quietly. ‘Dunkleys never surrender. Defeat is not in our blood. How do you think we got where we are today? Through backbone and initiative, that's how.’

A flame of anger ignited Terence’s face.

‘And where are we now?’ he asked bitterly. ‘Near bankruptcy. Stealing the freedom and fortune of an innocent young woman to get us out of the hole. You call that backbone do you? You call that initiative? I call it cowardly, invidious skulduggery.’

Duncan Dunkley froze. Topaz watched disbelief turn to fury in his cold grey eyes.

‘Fine words,’ he said contemptuously. ‘And that’s all they are, Terence – words. I don’t need to tell you what’s at stake here. If there’s no marriage, there’s no family business and those words are going to sound pretty hollow to you when you have to give up your private suite, your comfortable allowance, your social standing.’

Terence snorted. He was half upright now, his face blazing with emotion.

‘It’s you who worships wealth, not me,’ he said. ‘I don’t give a toss for any of those things. Oh sure, it’s nice to have a soft bed and a string of servants, but I don’t need any of it. I went along with your dirty little scheme because I didn’t realise then just how unimportant those things are, but I’ve changed.’ He glanced at Topaz. ‘Life’s not about what you have and who you are; it’s about what you give, and I pity you, Dad, because that’s a lesson you've never learned.’

The old man’s stillness was frightening. He stood there cool as stone under the burning sun and even his lips seemed barely to move as he spoke.

‘You need to understand, Terence, that if you disobey me, you are no longer any son of mine. You will no longer have your rooms at The Winnings and your allowance will cease forthwith. Do you comprehend me? No home, no income and precious little talent for earning one.’

Terence swallowed hard. Topaz could see the conflict that crippled him. She stepped forward.

‘Terence has nothing to fear,’ she said levelly. ‘You are the loser in this, Mr Dunkley. One day you’ll realise that.’

Duncan Dunkley’s mouth twitched beneath his Panama.

‘You’ll regret this,’ he replied. ‘All three of you will. One day, sooner than you think, you’ll be begging me for mercy.’

He turned his immaculate shoes, incongruous against the gritty dust, and climbed smoothly into his 4 x4. The engine belched into life and with a lurch that shot a billow of dust over the trio the vehicle roared away down the track.


  1. 'Under the burning son'? Don't think there's any fire in Terence. Is that our typo or mine?

  2. Yours, I'm sure; I just lift your bleeding chunks and shove 'em in (although sometimes I improve your punctuation). I shall now amend it. And 'our' in your comment is also your typo...