Monday, November 10, 2008

Mills & Swoon

Feeling much better (thanks for your lovely comments) and finally got round to watching a programme I recorded on BBC4 last week, about literary novelist Stella Duffy taking on the challenge of writing for Mills and Boon, who are celebrating their centenary this year.

It was oddly fascinating. Probably because back in the day I - along with crime writer Mark Billingham, strangely, and lots of other people I suspect - thought it would be a doddle to write one too, and earn enough money to buy myself a flat. (I was young and stupid, okay?)

Anyway, Ms Duffy, who is extremely likeable by the way, was well out of her comfort zone as she normally writes about Gritty Real Life and The Seedy Underbelly (those aren't her titles by the way) but to give her credit she threw herself into it. She talked to the superfans - one woman admitted she'd spent over £20,000 on M&B novels over the years - met an established writer, went on a writing course in Tuscany, and forced herself to override her natural instincts. Mills & Boon novels HAVE to feature alpha males and a strong heroine who teaches the hero that love is all. Once Stella realised she could write for their supernatural imprint - albeit still within the guidelines - she started to care about her characters and the words flowed - although she needed a couple of stiff ones for the sex scene, as it were. The editor really liked what she'd done and would have asked for the full MS had Stella decided to continue, which I don't think she did.

It proved once and for all - if proof were needed - that it's nigh on impossible to write something for the sake of it. I can't remember what mine was about, but I know I called it The Valley of Clouds and my hero was a blacksmith I called Ben, because I fancied Ben Murphy from Alias Smith and Jones (shakes head at youthful self).

Actually, looking at that photo he wasn't half bad. I won't bother trying to find out what he looks like now...


L-Plate Author said...

Ohmigod, that so made me laugh. I can't remember if I had a title but I did try and write one (or plot one can't remember) in my teens for the very same reasons you said above! It was set on Gibralta! and the characters were called Coral and Jed. Bizarre. Do you think we all thought it was easy when we were in our teens?!

Glad to hear you are feeling better too hun x

Lane said...

Those book are harder than they look. Incredibly difficult in fact. I think any genre out of your comfort zone is nigh on impossible. You can't force what you don't 'feel'.

And I'm glad you said 'Alias Smith and Jones and not 'Alas':-)

Glad you're feeling better.

Pat Posner said...

Glad you're feeling better, Karen.

I hold my hand up to 8 attempts at Mills & Swoon (or as Robert Barnard called them in his book Death in Purple Prose - Bills & Coo)6 Tender, 1 Tango and 1 Medical. The Medical (with a few tweaks) found a home with DC Thomson and Linford. The rest are RIP-ing.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Yes I used to read those gems in my teens. There is ahuge lady in her fifties who live in our next village who writes them and is very successful. She is about twenty stone and bless her a real romantic underneath all that bigness!

Glad you are feeling better.


I watched that programme and I don't even write. Thought it was very funny and interesting. Cockatails are the answer to all writing problems methinks :) Tommox

Debs said...

I preferred the other one in Alias Smith & Jones, but now looking at the photo, I wonder what I was thinking. Mind you looking at my ex-husband I wonder at that too...

I loved the programme (Mills & Boon one).

Emerging Writer said...

I saw it too. I was fascinated to be allowed to watch Stella's writing process. It felt almost voyaristic.

Mickmouse said...

Never have read a Mills and Boon, however I hold my hand up to the 'romantic and slightly steamy' fantasy writing of my teens.
I think most of my romance stories centred around the lead singer of AHA, Morten Harket, at the time I was about 14, enjoyed writing stories and had hit puberty hard...guess this was not to be my market.
So glad you are feeling better Karen

JJ said...

I started to plot one years ago, but as is typical of me, that's as far as it went! I suffered the same illusion that they were a piece of cake, though.

Jan Jones said...

Glad you're feeling better, Karen. I've tried M&Bs too and have nothing but admiration for the authors who write for them regularly.

Like short stories, just because they're easy to read doesn't mean they're easy to write!

Dumdad said...

I've never read a M & B romance but anything easy to read is, as we all know, not necessarily easy to write. I'd like to see Martin Amis write a publishable Mills & Swoon book!

Word verification (I kid you not): Bednerdt.

Edward said...

Glad you're feeling better, and thanks for the laughs, and for reminding me of Alias Smith and Jones. Happy days. My word verification? Myxem. Couldn't have put it better myself.

juliemt said...

I'm a Mills and Boon reader (and reviewer) and proud of it! The books are warm, lovely, escapist and simply a joy to read!

Lorna F said...

I preferred Pete Deuel to Ben Murphy, Karen - sorry. Pete later shot himself, if I remember, which just shows how I can pick my men. Loved this post - and really enjoyed the programme. I really felt for Stella Duffy, who was very direct and engaging and tackled the whole thing with wry energy. Wanted desperately to be sitting in a Tuscan garden and writing - oh, anything! And yes, back in the mists of time, I too had a bash at a Mills and Boon. My hero bore a striking resemblance to Robert Powell. Oh, those piercing blue otherworldly eyes! My heroine, however, had had an illegitimate child by the RB lookee likee, which just shows how ahead of my time I was! Sexual shenanigans and bastard children NOT the thing back then. I hear they get up to all sorts now! Did you also see the play about Mills and Boon as well? It captured the different eras of the publishing house very well. Lorna :-)

Ernest de Cugnac said...

I don't think I ever read a M&B cover to cover, but I have dipped in. Anyway, I love the idea (and actuality) of being in love, lots of thrusting manhood, heaving bossoms, trembling thighs, ragged breath and all that stuff. Jesus, am I actually writing this or is it those effing fairy circles again?

Milla said...

oh dear, I tried writing one too. I thought it was really rather good myself. Strange that they didn't agree, the fiends.
(soming for me, these word verification jobbies are getting easier)

KAREN said...

l-plate - Coral and Jed! Very typical M&B names :o) Most things at least seemed possible when I was in my teens!

lane - Yes, Alas Smith and Jones didn't really have the 'handsome' factor! Not for me anyway...

Also I've tried writing other stuff I thought I oughta' and it definitely doesn't work. Learnt my lesson now :o)

patp - Eight attempts! I'm in awe :o) And you had a tweaked one published - I take my hat off to you. Will the others ever be revived?

mob - I've never met anyone who writes them, but they do give a lot of pleasure to a lot of people so fair play to her :o)

tommo - It was very watchable wasn't it? I doubt I'll ever be writing a sex scene in my book, but I might get some cocktail ingredients in just in case :o)

debs - Lol! I did like the other one best at first (I preferred the dark, handsome type normally) but switched allegiance for some reason!

emerging writer - It DID feel like snooping, but in a good way! I was inspired to get writing afterwards - NOT a M&B though :o)

mickmouse - Ah, Morten Harket! Definitely the stuff of teenage fantasies. I think he was too clean-cut for me, but I did have a weird crush on Meatloaf for a while. Don't tell anyone :o)

jj - I was always rather good at the plotting, although thinking back I think they were heavily influenced by whichever one I'd just finished reading !!

jan jones - Exactly. I've heard a saying that 'easy reading is hard to write' and that's so true. I have a new-found respect after watching the programme :o)

dumdad - Word verifications are definitely becoming naughtier.

I'd love to see Martin Amis try a M&S, or Ian McEwan. Salman Rushdie ?? Ooh, what fun!

edward - I'm rather glad I reminded myself of Alias Smith and Jones - I wonder if the programme has stood the test of time? Again, probably best not to try and find out!

julietemt - Please don't think I'm disrespecting M&B readers and writers! I have very fond memories (Anne Mather was my favourtie author)and still have a stack of really old ones in my cupboard I can't bear to get rid of :o))

lorna f - I didn't realise Peter shot himself...I'm shocked! And Robert Powell! I fell in love with him in Jesus of Nazareth - he would have made a perfect hero back then.

You definitely were ahead of your time with all those shenanigans - you'd probably get away with it now! Sadly I missed the other programme, but loved the Stella Duffy one :o)

ernest - Well, after that little ejaculation I think you should definitely try writing one. The mushrooms will probably help :o)

milla - It's so annoying when publishers don't appreciate our genuis.

And you're right - word verification is taking the mickey - mine was 'nested.'

MissC said...

Karen! Any chance of getting a copy if you taped it? I can send a cheque? I recorded this and then my boyfriend recorded something abuot great white sharks over the top before i watched it! Totally gutted. Thanx

February New Year's Resolution (better late than never)

Well, Christmas flew by in a flash - and lovely it was too - and January got off to a busy start as I had a deadline for the second book ...