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, 13 January 2012

Part 38 – Split Lit.

I love it when things write themselves. I got so carried away with this touching scene that Cleft’s interjection was quite spontaneous. Timely, though: Mills & Boon require a falling out and a separation. Trouble is, they also require a reunion, and while I’d like to think that means a catch-up over a nice cup of tea, I rather think that on Planet Romance it means Doing It.

Part 38 (by Oliver)

For a while in the silence that followed, the air seemed to thrum still with the roar of the BMW’s engine, the ground to throb with the whirr of its tyres. Somewhere a stone clattered gently, loosened by the whisk and scratch of a lizard’s tail. Then the stillness thinned, and Topaz spoke first.

‘I’m sorry, Terence,’ she said quietly. ‘I didn’t mean…’

‘I know.’ Terence’s face was set, staring down at the the yellow toenails protruding from his sandals. ‘But maybe it’s for the best. I need a new start, new challenges. And –’ his face breaking into a grin ­‘­– it’s time Dad learnt a lesson. I’m the one to teach it to him!’

Topaz reached out her hand and touched Terence’s arm, warmly, comfortably, and they smiled at each other gravely. Behind them, still towering against the azure sky, Cleft watched through his mirrored shades, his eyes shielded but his mouth suddenly tight.

‘Listen,’ Topaz said. ‘This is all my fault. It’s not fair that you should lose everything because of me. I’m going to make it up to you. No, there’s no going back,’ she said quickly, seeing hope spark fleetingly in Terence’s eyes, ‘but I’ll make sure you’re OK.’

‘Oh Topaz,’ Terence stammered, flushing with emabarrassment and self-consciously fingering his collar. ‘I’d really rather you didn’t…’

‘Ha!’ The derisive snort erupted from Cleft before he could stop it. Topaz and Terence looked up, startled.

‘I beg your pardon?’ Topaz’s voice was icy, even as the surges that she felt rippling through her inmost parts as she beheld anew his taut beauty sent heat flaming through her body. Cleft paused awkardly before saying: ‘Sorry. But if I’d realised how easy it was to touch you for cash, I’d have tried it myself.’

He had intended to indulge the jealousy that, for the first time, a woman was arousing in his breast: to deflate Terence and break the comfortable intimacy that seemed to be burgeoning between him and Topaz. Too late he realised that his quip had fired its poisonous dart into the wrong target entirely.

Topaz gasped and stared, her stunned face twice reflected in Cleft’s shades. She saw herself in miniature fixed rigid in that blind gaze, as memories of the shabby jeep, the flaking room at the inn, Cleft’s rootless – impoverished – existence came jostling in. Then she saw the tiny Topazes raise a hand and run it through their tousled tawny manes before the fists clenched with determined finality.

‘Get out of here,’ she said, levelly, low, crumbling silently within as the words came out almost without her noticing. ‘I never want to see you again.’ Knowing, even so, that every fibre of her being shrieked for his touch, his hard lips on hers, the enveloping warmth of that deep manly scent.

‘Please, Topaz, you don’t understand –’ Cleft began.

‘But I do. I have undertood people like you since I was old enough to know that my wealth makes me a target for every gold-digger on the planet. Daddy was right.’

‘No!’ Cleft did not hear the rising urgency in his voice. ‘It was just a silly joke. I’m sorry – I didn’t mean…’

‘I know what you meant. That’s why I never want to see you again.’

And Topaz’s voice was so flint-sharp, her face so terrible in its resolve even as inside she churned with anguish and loss, that Cleft knew that it was useless to respond. He held both hands up, palms outwards, and backed away slowly. Then, with a shrug that spoke too loudly of forced bravura, he turned and began walking.

Topaz watched numbly as the dust rose in ochre billows behind him, so that even before he descended below the lip of Paradise Heights Cleft’s figure was lost to her.


  1. What did you have to do that for? I thought we were on the finishing lap. Gotta life to lead, don't you know!

    1. You know they have to split up and get back together gin; it's in the Guidelines. You started this thing – don't start a-moaning and a-groaning now!