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, 21 February 2012

Part 47 – Muscling in

I’m on a bit of roll at the moment, and since Anna has been bogged down with half-term childcare (so have I, but I’m a worse parent than she is) I’ve decided to leapfrog her and muscle in with the next instalment. It’s my blog, after all.

Part 47 (by Oliver)

‘Is that the last one? Put it over there, next to the Vettriano.’

Topaz’s voice had a new authority as she directed the small team of workmen who were finessing the arrangement of artworks at Paradise Heights. ‘Look where you’re going! That’s an original Rolf Harris you nearly bumped into.’

With a small sigh, Topaz turned from the buzz of activity at the far end of the oval saloon that formed the social centrepiece of the new villa. She ran a careless hand through her tawny tresses, a habit of old that she found hard to drop, even now that her coiffure was sleek and businesslike beneath the Gucci glasses that glinted on her head. And, for the first time in weeks, she longed to tumble into one of the oversized Chesterfields, invitingly upholstered in magenta velvet, and nestle under the zebra-print throw that was draped artlessly over its pert-buttoned back.

What a mad few months it had been. Mad, but exhilarating. A ceaseless round of planning meetings, site meetings, logistical meetings – more meetings than she would ever have felt capable of attending just a year ago.

And just a year ago, who would have thought that her priorities would have changed so much? The newest gossip from Monaco and Dubai; private previews of the Paris Spring collections; anticipating the Duchess of Alba’s wedding one month, the Beckhams’ latest christening the next, Elton’s white tie and tiara ball come summer – a meaningless and empty charade, it now seemed to Topaz. How much more exciting were soil pipes, plumb lines and s-bends; lagging, soakaways and the cost of copper. Exciting and real, as the social whirl could never be real.

Topaz smiled a little to herself and left the workmen to hang the last of the pictures on the mulberry leather that covered the walls of the saloon. Clasping a glass of chilled Orvieto to her heated breast, she slipped through the Christian Clive kitchen, its black crystal chandelier glinting in the early evening sunlight, and out onto the wide marble terrace. She sank onto one of the faux leopard-fur floor cushions and idly dipped her hand into the cooling waters of the infinity pool which seemed to meld with the indigo Mediterranean far below the mountain bluff.

Paradise Heights was finished, and it was all her own work. With a surge of satisfaction – and pride, she admitted – Topaz surveyed her masterpiece through her thickly curling lashes, which were starting to close under the suns scorching rays and a heavy wave of drowse.

A sudden zephyr, skitting in from the sea, played soft but chill across her shoulders, and Topaz shivered slightly and opened her eyes. Had the sun gone in, or did Paradise Heights really seem slightly drearier?

Then she remembered. This ceaseless round of activity, of directing, leading and creating, had never entirely shut out those feelings, so close still, that were inextricably linked to this mountaintop. The villa was a thing of wonder – even now Elle, Vogue and Essex Life were jostling to schedule features and photoshoots. Yet was it really more wonderful than the flat-topped stone, the stand of prickly pears and that hallowed rut which had thrust Topaz into the muscular arms of – no, she still could not bring herself to breathe his name.

Would it always be this way? Pulling her vintage stole closer, Topaz thought of the times he had strode unbidden into her mind. That time outside the English church in Malaga, when the strains of an old, half-forgotten hymn drifted to her ears: ‘Rock of ages, cleft for me’. And, not understanding at first, Topaz had let out a low moan of mingled desolation and desire, until passers-by turned to stare.

Then there was the shopkeeper who, in thickly accented English, had gestured to the empty cupcake counter late one afternoon and said apologetically ‘Very sorree, is nothink left.’ Again, that stab of aching loss coinciding with the surging upward of something hot from deep within. When a friend had suggested drinks at the Treble Clef bar in Marbella, Topaz had been forced to decline: she knew herself too well to believe she could get through an evening in a place whose very named screamed to her of love, of longing. Of loneliness.

For she was lonely. At night, when she returned to the rented apartment and the heavy door swung shut behind her with a rubbery suck, Topaz felt as though she were in a deluxe vacuum. The apartment’s chill impersonality, its mass-produced luxury, made her feel as though she were in a tomb, severed from all those who made the world a living, breathing mass of warmth and excitement. Her father – how long was it since she had last seen him, that dove-grey, dew-dampened morning at Brinkworth Place? Terence – dependable, good-natured Terence who, in seeking the heat of her love, had won the warmth of true friendship. And him. Always him. Always, yet never again.

Even the unfathomable turns of destiny, constantly plaiting lives together only to hack them apart in the end, seemed locked out of this silent, double-glazed, en-suite tomb. Thank God, Topaz thought, that I can move into Paradise Heights next week and shut the door forever on that half-life of rented rooms. Now I can be me. Now I can look fate in the face as my own woman, and take what it deals me on my own terms.

Sighing, Topaz stood and ran her wet hand, coolingly, across her forehead. Suddenly, unbidden, a yearning for company, for laughter and delight, swept through her, and she knew what to do. Snapping open her iphone, she jabbed the speed-dial and waited, her fulsome lower lip caught between her teeth in anticipation.


  1. I think you should stop modelling her interiors on your own semi! Who's she meant to be ringing then? Give me a little clue...

    1. Actually, hold off on who's ringing because there's another chunk to come tomorrow... You're so slow I've written heaps waiting.