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, 24 February 2012

Part 48 – We’re all in this together

I’ve never tried romance as a group experience before, but today I’m calling for a spot of audience participation. After all, it’s a odd business, writing Romance with your sis – we could both do with some company.

What I’d like you to do is vote for one of the following plot development options. Whichever gets the most thumbs up decides the fate of Topaz’s heart.

1            And mother comes too…

2            The plane crashes and Topaz loses more than she bargained for

If you fancy helping out, post your vote as a comment below. Thanks in advance for your input; let’s see if this eases Topaz’s path to fulfilment, or complicates it…

Actually, this instalment was written as part of the previous post, but it got so long that I didn’t have the nerve to serve it up all in one go…

Part 48 (by Oliver)

The man’s voice sounded at last. ‘Hello?’

‘Dad, it’s me, Topaz.’

‘Baby! How are you?’ The voice sounded pleased, but also tired, worn down.

‘I’m good,’ she replied. ‘But I’m kinda lonely. Want to come and keep me company, like, as soon as?’

‘You bet, bunnykins. But – er – I’ll have to see what Mum wants to do about plane tickets.’

Topaz was suddenly confronted with the apparition of her mother’s face looming close to hers. She could see the pale folds under her chin that the tanning spray had missed; feel the brittle brush of her hair, too brightly yellow; hear the moist unclamping of those vivid, magenta lips as they leaned in to whisper threats. ‘You will not leave this place until you are wed.’

With a shudder, she pulled herself back from the painful past, and when she spoke her voice was wintry. ‘Mum? She’s not to come. I don’t want her at Paradise Heights.’

‘Yeah, babes, but there’s a problem. She holds the purse strings now. I’ll need to ask her to buy me the ticket. And she won’t.’

Topaz’s mind whirled. Her mother, in charge of the Eversleigh-Brinkworth fortune? How could Daddy, so confident, so used to wheeling, dealing and sealing a deal, have let her take it all?

‘I don’t understand, Dad,’ she breathed.

There was a faint sigh on the other end of the line, and when the voice came again it sounded broken. ‘I had no choice, Topes. When Duncan Dunkley realised that our – erm – plan had fallen through concerning you and Terence, he called in his heavies to put the screws on me. But Terence tipped me off, and I had time to make a few arrangements. It meant putting everything into Mum’s name – the house, the horses, all the cash. I have nothing. Everything I worked for, in the hands of that woman!’

And he broke off, his voice cracking.

‘What do you mean, “that woman”?’ asked Topaz. ‘Dad, are things OK between you and Mum?’

‘They’re fine as long as we don’t see each other. And that’s not difficult, since she spends every spare moment with –’ and here his voice hardened – ‘Duncan Dunkley.’

Topaz’s sudden gasp hissed as if she had been whipped, but the shock of what she had just heard did not impair her quick intellect from deducing the masterplan at work. The man whose malevolent hold over her father, over her very body, had spurred on the juggernaut of destiny now saw the warped devotion of her own mother as the path to the fortune he was owed.

‘But Dad,’ she said quickly, ‘if Dunkley’s aim is to get his payment through Mum, he’s on to a loser. Brinkworth Place, the horses – even with all your other assets, the estate isn’t worth twenty mill.’

‘It’s not about the money any more,’ sighed Mr Eversleigh-Brinkworth. ‘It’s about revenge. When the news broke about our – ah – agreement, the press went to town on me. My name was mud. Oh, fluffbun, the humiliation! But that wasn’t enough for Duncan Dunkley. He wanted to make it personal. And what’s more personal than my home, my cash – my wife?’

And Topaz saw, for the first time in weeks, how love had blinded her; how desire had blinkered her from the tragedy unfolding back in Berkshire. She had responsibilities to those closest to her; debts of honour that must be paid.

Almost distractedly, she spoke into the iphone: ‘Don’t worry, Dad, I’ll fix the tickets for tomorrow. I’ll pick you up at Malaga airport.’ And with an absent-minded flick, she closed the phone.

Debts and responsibilities: what a woman of the world she had become! Still, the first was easily discharged. A few clicks on the ipad, and she had set up the standing order with Terence’s bank. ‘I’ll make sure you’re OK,’ she had promised that long-ago day at a very different Paradise Heights; now she had.

And responsibilities: they could no longer be ignored. So Topaz prepared herself as best she could to face them. Booking a stretch limo from Malaga Executive Motor Solutions and the Dream Gleam Colour Touch package at the Garden of Eden, she knew she was ready to meet her father once again.


  1. Kill 'em, kill'em! We've got to wind this thing up!

  2. If you kill'em you might get more curry time!

  3. I think the mother should come, and Terence should arrive with a nice new ciivil partner as this is a rather heterosexual story so far