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…

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Part 40 – Reality Check, or Why Mills & Boon Have Unrealistic Expectations

Writing Desire Be My Destiny is heaps of fun, and I hope reading it is too. But I have my doubts about whether it will find a huge following among the genuine Romance afficionados out there. Not because it isn’t brilliantly written, witty and emotionally acute, of course, but because I have just read on the Mills & Boon ‘tips for aspiring authors’ these chilling words:

‘First, we expect you to enjoy reading romance fiction. If you are already a fan, your appreciation for this type of book will be apparent in the writing. If you have not done so already, we encourage you to read many, many books from each series.’

Many, many books? I simply can’t. I have read half a book – two chapters of one about a magic wedding dress, which was such drivel I felt my brain dribbling out of one ear as I read it; and about four chapters of The Greek Billionaire’s Lovechild’s Mother’s Revenge (or something), which, although well written and plotted, didn’t exactly strike an intellectual chord. Or any other kind of chord, come to think of it: I certainly didn’t clench any pages.

That’s not to say I’m not susceptible to the thrill of romance – one of my favourite films is Random Harvest, for crying out loud. But maybe I should have known that, being English, middle-class and male – not to mention having my own sister as a co-author – I faced an uphill struggle. Still, I’d rather have a laugh than clench a page. As long as you’re laughing with me…

Part 40 (by Oliver)

Topaz had moved away from where Terence sat in the dust. She stood facing the sea, rippling far below Paradise Heights like a great swathe of indigo silk, lace-edged with the tiny waves splintering silently on the beaches that swept out of sight towards Marbella. A view that she had dreamed of seeing from the windows of her marital home – until last week. A Mediterranean idyll that had promised a secure, luxurious future – until last week. All of this was what could have been. No more.

And the alternative? She had seen her true destiny marked for her in the sinewy arms of Cleft; a future of new promise and thrilling uncertainty, save for the knowledge that she had found that all-consuming love that she had never imagined would be hers. No more. And with a small sob, Topaz caught the full pout of her lower lip between her perfect white teeth and allowed a tear to moisten the corner of one eye.

A groan behind her, and Topaz turned, remembering Terence. He had slumped now, the anaesthetising effect of laughter, surprise and relief having evaporated in the merciless sun. His leg rigid against its makeshift splint, he had fainted again. Suddenly Topaz was confronted with the full force of the situation. Terence seriously injured. No food or water in the blazing Spanish heat. The i-phone out of range of a signal. And Cleft gone, and with him all her dreams of happiness and trust and love.

Never had Topaz felt so helpless, so alone. With a low moan, she leaned against the gnarled trunk of an ancient olive tree – the tree around which she had planned the central glass atrium of the villa which destiny was drawing inexorably away from her grasp.

In the shimmering heat she seemed to see a jumble of jagged images: Brinkworth Place, a swirl of gilt and crystal, tinted glass, white leather and mirrored walls; the dampness of the summer house and the musky trophy hidden within; her mother’s magenta gash of a mouth snapping ‘You will not leave this place until you are wed’; the darkness and fear of her flea-bitten mountain prison; Duncan Dunkley looming unexpectedly out of the Spanish sun; Terence, lessened by pain and betrayal yet so much more a man; and, through it all, Cleft, striding confidently into her destiny – and out of it, his broad back diminishing down the mountainside. And she ebbed into blessed unconsciousness.

So Topaz did not hear the firm footfall drawing closer to the the plateau of Paradise Heights; did not see the manly form mount the ridge, the sun’s rays fanning behind it like the alcove of a Baroque shrine; did not feel the hard yet tender hands lift her effortlessly, caressingly, from the stones beneath the twisted olive. She was oblivious to the cool, soft interior of the ambulance that waited on the track below, and to the efficient hands that immediately attended to Terence’s injured legs and swabbed her dust-caked flesh.

Perhaps there was some part of her inner being that thrust longingly upwards at the feel of the soft kisses planted on her yielding mouth, on the hot eyelids that were shut at last to the trauma of recent days, on the palms of her still-manicured hands. But she could not have known the newness of those kisses; their velvet tenderness, urgent no longer but profound and sobering in their depth and intensity.

She slept dreamlessly in the hospital bed, unaware of the tall, dark man keeping unceasing vigil by her bedside. It was only when her eyelids fluttered open and the room started coming into focus that he rose and, slipping an envelope onto the pillow among her tousled honeyed locks, walked silently from the room.

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