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, 17 February 2012

Part 46 – Respect!

I remember once at university incurring the incredulity of a (very right-on) tutor by commenting that I thought most younger people were feminists these days. You know, in terms of supporting women’s suffrage and the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act and equal opportunities and maternity leave and stuff.

‘Do you honestly think,’ she asked, aghast, ‘that a man can be a feminist?’ And I don’t think she was merely trying to stimulate scholarly debate.

Well, this’ll show her. See how in tune I am with the female respect agenda?

Part 46 (by Oliver)

The jeep juddered to a stop as Cleft’s foot slammed on the brake. It couldn’t be! The dusty swathe of virgin mountain that had seen the shaping of his destiny, barred behind a forbidding rampart of hoardings and portakabins. In the thin darkness of the waning night, the site loomed black and hostile, an ugly obliteration, it seemed, not only of Cleft’s recent past but of his dreams – quicksliver dreams, precious and beautiful yet ever-harder to contain, slipping through his fingers every time he tried to realise his destiny at last. Paradise Heights was barred to him, as he was barred from Topaz’s inner recesses.

With a low moan, Cleft dropped involuntarily to his knees, not feeling the scrape of the stones through the rough denim of his jeans, heedless of the chill dawn breezes that skirled around the mountain and tousled the thick dark hair that hung over his bronze forehead. As he knelt, vainly trying to gather his scattered thoughts and understand this latest loop of Fate, the first gleam of sunrise picked out the rough ground before him, and the planes of a flat rock that lay across his vision.

Almost unknowing, Cleft reached out to the stand of prickly pears that partly screened that sacred stone; the altar on which he had offered his love for Topaz; on which she, almost like a sacrifice before the Dunkley stratagem, had lain helpless, beseeching him for his strength – and his love.

Cleft’s fingers toyed thoughtlessly with the rubicund tips of the prickly pear, deftly twirling the swelling orbs until a milky sap leaked through his fingers, its sticky unctuousness recalling him to here, to now. And he understood. He could not build Topaz’s home: Paradise Heights was not his to give. If he was to feel Topaz’s velveteen body supple in his arms again, search out that firm yet yielding mouth with his own once more, he had to meet her as his own man. Not as a penniless adventurer, working day-to-day in an aimless series of jobs. Nor as Destiny’s plaything, existing only as a recepticle of a woman’s desire. How much more would she respect him if he had achieved tangible success!

And – the thought, pleasingly surprising, took him aback – how much more would he respect her if she asked for him back on her own terms! No more the certainty that his questing tongue and a glint of his ice-blue eyes would be enough to secure a woman’s love; he had to deserve Topaz’s desire, her heart… her body. He had to earn happiness.

His torso rippling lithely and with a new certainty in his gait, Cleft rose and turned his back on Paradise Heights, the brightness of a new day now gleaming on its hoardings and fencing. And with a determined smile curling the corners of his wide, sculpted mouth, he strode back to the jeep and drove away from Paradise Heights without looking back.


  1. I hope Topaz isn't in a hurry to get some nookie then if she's got to wait until our Cleft makes his fortune. I can see this story turning into a self-help strive for success business bible, and/or an account of Topaz's fun and games with a bit of rough whilst waiting for our Cleft to make something of himself.

  2. Let's be honest: with Anna and me writing this thing, how likely is it that there'll be any nookie on offer at all? I think Cleft might have to make something of himself off-stage, as it were, since business is not my forte and spreadsheets and balances of payments might get in the way of romance...

  3. Oh, blimey, I thought we were drawing to a close. Can't you just let him build the thing, take her on the marbled floor and then we can be free to go and write about farmland revenues in Lincolnshire.

    1. This is Art; you can't hurry Art. Or you, come to that.