VALENTINES SPECIAL FEATURE
Bodice ripping arns
Read it and weep. Kathleen Morgan discovers the secret of the eternally popular Mills and Boon romantic novel.
ove at first sight is the bottom line for a Mills
and Boon editor. It is the essence of a boy
meets girl genre which has lasted 80 years, surviving the scepticism of the 60s love revolution and the ravaging effects ofAlDS. It has crossed continents and political barriers, ﬁring the imaginations of incurable romantics worldwide, from Moscow to Milngavic. Love it or hate it, the Mills and Boon formula is more enduring than Barbara Cartlaad‘s face powder.
‘What generally happens in the books is the hero and heroine meet and immediately know they are the one person for each other,‘ says Mills and Boon editor Sue Corran. She should know. she earns her living wading through what is endearingly termed the sloshpile: screeds of writing from prospective Mills and Boon authors. The publishing company receives about 5000 uncommissioned manuscripts a year from people who believe they hold the key to a Mills and Boon reader‘s heart.
Although the genre has adapted slightly to suit contemporary tastes. it holds dear the basic principles of the regency Mills and Boon romances of the 20s and 30s. Heroines might get to show a bit of leg, perhaps even in the bedroom, but there are some tenets which just cannot be
Love is not always aboutjumping hormones and sweaty palms. It can be engineered with a dose of bra very and a personal ad in The List, discovers Kathleen Morgan.
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tampered with. ‘Love at first sight has been a theme which has developed.‘ explains Curran. ‘We’ve had heroes and heroines who‘ve actually slept together at first sight — quite a development from the early days when people used to just look at each other.
‘The thing we guarantee our readers is that the relationship will continue and will end up as a happy ever after. life-long love affair. There’s certainly no promiscuity in the books and we will have cases where the hero and heroine do little more than kiss. Some people prefer less sexually explicit books. some prefer us to open the bedroom door.‘
Most Mills and Boon readers are female. but Curran has had letters from women who have discovered their husbands — not partners. husbands — reading the novels. Some men. no doubt used to wearing rose-tinted specs. are shocked at what goes on between the covers of the more contemporary Mills and Boons. Others have been inspired to write their own: ‘We have had
love through a letterbox
t is hardly the stuff of your average Mills and
Boon novel. but love born from a personal ad
can lead to a lasting relationship — even the tinkle of wedding bells. For some. using the classified section is the most convenient way to inject love and companionship into a hectic life.
With a career in Glasgow‘s media world and a circle ofthirtysomething friends — many of them attached — Veronica had become increasingly conscious of her single status. She decided she should let her fingers do the walking in pursuit of love. They got as far as The List‘s classified section. prompting her to scribble her own ad. The result was a pile of replies from prospective partners. friends. lovers and soul mates. Sixteen months later. she is preparing to marry Roy. :1 35—year-old academic whose reply hit her door mat with all the others.
‘Every now and then I have to keep reminding myself how we met.’ says Veronica. ‘We think it’s kind of amusing.’ She and Roy have told their close friends and family how their paths crossed, but are more reticent when others ask the inevitable question. ‘Sometimes I‘m quite
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male authors who must have been readers at one time.‘
Anyone with ideas of making a quick buck from a tired old genre saturated with saccharine kisses should read the novels first. Curran dismisses the popular conception of a Mills and Boon romance as the book industry's easy lay. ‘People always think: “I could do that.” she says. ‘Sincerity is the most important thing. Anyone who writes romantic fiction for cynical or financial reasons, or just because they think it's easy. their work will never get past us and certainly not past our rcaders.‘
Fantasy is the fodder of the romantic novelist. Reality doesn‘t get a look in. ‘We tend not to dwell on the less appealing aspects of life.‘ says Curran. ‘We don't feel it‘s our business to be lecturing people on drug abuse.‘
Which is why Harlequin Mills and Boon sell 15 million books a year on the UK and export market — a staggering one book every two seconds. Somebody out there must be reading them.
shy about telling people.‘ she explains. ‘We don‘t think we‘re sad. lonely people — we’re very brave. positive people.‘
It nearly didn't happen. Initially. Roy wasjust another reply Veronica might or might not follow up. ‘l-le wasn‘t the first person out of the replies that I went out with. I got really busy and had to keep cancelling. Eventually we had Sunday breakfast at the Cul de Sac. l fitted him in between twelve and two. I saw him standing at the door and was relieved because he seemed my sort of person.‘
A year later. Roy took her for brunch at the scene of their first meeting. ‘I expected to read the Sunday papers.‘ says Veronica. ‘I got a ring.‘
She dismisses the stigma traditionally attached to personal ads and points out it they could open doors for people who. like her. have a busy career and an address book full of married couples. "l‘he older you get. the more difficult it becomes to meet people and friends tend to be paired off.‘ she says. ‘I would advise other people to try this.‘
The names have been t'lmngerl.
The List Ill-.3.i Feb I‘NS 9