Monday, November 10, 2008

Can Boys Write Mills & Boon?

I meant to put this blog up a week ago, but with the whole Presidential Election and the fact I have had some new responsibilities at work and have two magazines to get done not the normal one, I got held up.

Last Sunday saw one of my favourite nights of TV in ages as BBC3 had a Mills and Boon themed night. You might be sat thinking where has this come from but it has always been a well hidden secret that isn’t that well hidden that I have a secret fondness for Mills and Boon. Yes I know, but I am sorry I have.

There were two brilliant shows, which if you missed… well you missed out, the second was a fabulous drama celebrating 100 years of Mills and Boon with a brilliant cast including my favourite actress Olivia Colman. Get watching it on iPlayer now. The previous first show saw the delightful and fabulous Stella Duffy take on the challenge of writing a Mills and Boon. She looked into the whole Mills and Boon phenomenon, and got to enter its hallowed halls, me jealous, never! She also met some fans and writers, it was fabulous. She also spoke to a man who had tried to write Mark Billingham, who now writes best selling crime. Helen Fielding started off trying to write Mills and Boon, did you know that? I didn’t think men could write Mills and Boon, a fact that stopped me trying to write ‘The Emancipation of Love’, now I know (I asked Stella) that men can. Well that’s opened up a whole new world to me and given me hope. I have dug out my old piece and I shall put below but first let me tell you how my love of all things Mills and Boon happened…

I can actually remember the first time I bought a Mills and Boon, I was about twelve or thirteen - my mother will be mortified I am posting this as she is an English teacher - I was allowed to buy any book in an odd antique market in Newcastle, I think I was having a major mardy and so Mum didn’t really give a monkeys what I bought. This wasn’t the same when aged eleven I bought a porn version of the Greek Myths accidentally, the irony being that my mother also teaches classics. So I chose a delightful red covered 70’s Mills and Boon the new covers have nothing on golden old era. I don’t think they had the ranges and spin offs that they had then they just varied the range with different colours, I have never seen a yellow one yet though. Other children got into Agatha Christie, Robin Jarvis etc, I got into Mills and Boon.

I have wondered if buying this book set the ‘he’s gay’ alarms going off in my mothers head at all. I wouldn’t have been obsession with the Spice Girls or dressing up in Polly’s Princess dresses aged five, or singing the whole Erotica album at the top of my lungs aged ten would it? Sorry I digress.

I don’t remember the full ins and outs of it or what the name of it was but I could guarantee I would recognise it if I saw it in Oxfam etc now. It featured a heroine with her perfect blonde bob pearl earrings and a black lace dress resisting the powerful domineering man, some could say it changed my life in one look I had learnt if you lean away from a man he will lean in. This has never worked but at the time I thought it must be an alluring pose… or something. I do remember a very racy scene where he tore her lace bodice with the force of his thumbs on her nipples. Until this point the most I had seen At aged thirteen that was quite something. I hadn’t really discovered sex quite yet then, I had discovered Madonna but I didn’t really know what she was banging on about.

After that it became a little secret obsession of buying secret copies (it felt a bit illicit at the time, I was living in Marlborough for god’s sake not much happened there) and divulging them, this stopped when I was about 15 and my pocket money was banned frequently as I was a toe-rag. I forgot all about this until at Milkround I met the lovely Michelle, we bonded at a work do where no one was speaking to either of us as we were knew, we then bonded on Mills and Boon… and Colin Firth. We even thought of writing one and eventually I started one, more of that later. Michelle and I became slightly obsessed and most lunch times would head of to Oxfam to see what new ones were in for the all too good price of 49p. How can you go wrong?

We also came up with the rule behind a Mills & Boon which were:
- The man must be rapacious, arrogant and possibly loaded they can also have an evil streak making the heroine question him, herself or the world in general.
- He must be gorgeous; in fact everyone in a Mills and Boon should be frankly.
- Mentioning a mans thighs in some sensual way must happen at least once every chapter.
- Women can be independent, not too independent though, unless they are the ruthless love rival.
- The ending needs to be happy tied up, not in a bondage sense, that’s Black Lace a wholly different title, if its not happy or inconclusive then its not a Mills and Boon.
- There can be a villainous man or a scheming vixen, no gay sidekicks but that should be rectified.
- Sex scenes are now welcome however these edge on Silhouette or simply porn, we like to leave the bedroom door firmly closed.
- Titles with alliteration like ‘Sensually Savidge’ and titles ending in ‘tion’ are bought more often.

So under these rules I started ‘The Emancipation for Love’ back in 2007, I have now dug it out again and here it is, it has been compared to early Jilly Cooper by Dom Agius, which I think is a compliment ha. While you read that I am off to read a copy of the superb ‘Queen of the Castle’. Enjoy!

Geraldine Day looked at the headline aghast; she was tearful and somehow also verging on rage in one complex emotion that she wasn’t sure that she liked. ‘McPinto Takes over Publishers Botherworthe Books’ she had heard rumours in the office, yet these had been flatly denied to all members of staff. That was the corporate world for you. I mean one minute they will tell you that you are getting a promotion and yet somehow its two steps down the career ladder from where you thought they were going to hoist you, she shouldn’t be bitter, it was unattractive, she just couldn’t help herself.
It was here however, the facts right in front of her very eyes, the words broke her heart in two; yes Geraldine Day was almost having a nervous breakdown in her late twenties over a headline. Oh, and the future of her job too. The small lovely independent company, she had worked for since she graduated in Fine Arts & Literature from Oxford with a first, had sold out and that meant she might have to. Worst of all was to whom they had sold themselves, had they no soul? McPinto Corporation a filthy capitalist institution that played with money as recklessly as it did peoples lives. She wouldn’t stand for it; the Germaine Greer in her soul suddenly reared its ugly head and didn’t stop for the remaining twenty minutes she was sat underground.
As soon as she got into work she ran up the four flights of stairs in her killer heels, thank goodness for her gym classes and athletic figure. She was heading straight for her bosses’ desk and she would tell Timothy Trothemheim exactly what she though of the whole debacle. I mean who the hell did he think he was lying to everyone saying nothing was going on and then letting her see (and her co-workers) some cast off part of the Financial Times telling her that her career might be over?
She barged through the door feeling high on her anger to find two people in mid conversation, neither were her boss, these were two people she had never laid eyes on before. The woman stood directly in front of her was dressed in the latest pinstripe Dior suit, sunglasses by Chanel were perched on her tightly pony tailed auburn head. She eyed Geraldine icily up and down as if assessing that the Primark dress and jeans combination was from hell and definitely should not be seen in the office. The words ‘and you are’ gently seeped out of her red lipstick coated mouth it was like poison webbing its way through the air.
‘I actually had the same question for you frankly’ Geraldine blurted out her words stumbling all around the room while she thought what to say next ‘where is Timothy I demand to speak to him now’.
The woman eyed her like a python eyes a mouse before it strikes ‘oh, you must be Geraldine, Geraldine Night or something like that’. Geraldine squared herself up to her new opponent; she wouldn’t be intimidated by anyone let alone this woman. What was she corporate Barbie or whatever children cut the hair off these days? ‘It’s Day actually’ she snapped ‘Geraldine Day, where is Timothy? I need to talk with him urgently’. Her voice faltered, the woman’s gaze however did not.
‘Timothy no longer works here… I would have thought you would have known that, but maybe your research skills need to be looked at in your next appraisal’ Geraldine could here the sneer in the heart of the woman’s tone ‘he has been made redundant with immediate effect… I am his replacement, your new boss so it would seem. My name is Stephanie Stark and I will be bringing this place up to scratch’ she looked Geraldine straight in the eye as she said ‘it seems this place is lacking in… well almost everything. Now if you don’t mind I am in a very important meeting, I think we will be having words later.’
With that she turned her back. Geraldine was unable to move, she felt like she had been winded, tears started to well in her eyes where had that empowered feminist speech disappeared? Stephanie turned to face her once more.
‘Anything else Miss Day? Maybe you could actually turn your computer on and get on with something rather than looking like a fish gasping for water as it flounders on a shore.’
Geraldine turned to leave speechless. As she did so she made direct eye contact with the other figure in the room. An electric bolt ran straight through her. He was tall dark and handsome. He was smirking at what he had just witnessed with a dashing audaciousness. His suit was cut to perfection and she couldn’t help but blush as her eyes were drawn straight to the cut of the top of his trousers and what seemed like a rather predominant mound. The fact that this man was devastatingly attractive which only made her blush more as her surveyed her a little longer than would seem fit.
‘Goodbye Geraldine’ he muttered.
‘Is she still here?’ Stephanie snapped, and Geraldine closed the door behind her thankfully covering her rosy cheeks as the hot flush swept over he body, her blood pulsating through her veins.

***

Several hours later in her local Sainsbury’s Geraldine reflected over the meat section at what a pig of a day it had been. Nothing had gone right from the moment she had left Stephanie’s office. All day she had been on tenterhooks waiting to be hauled into her office and fired, it never happened, in some ways she wished it had.
It was a game of power; Geraldine could see that, Stephanie had her exactly where she wanted… in limbo. Even her normal lunchtime gossip had been no fun. She would meet Charlie in the lift on the way down at 1pm sharp they would sit in the nearest park or coffee shop and put the world, and more importantly their careers, to rights. Charlie worked in HR and was undoubtedly her best friend in the company and her gossiping partner. They had bonded in a Fire Warden course the year before they both discussed just how unsuitable they were as responsible adults in a crisis. Charlie adding that ‘It would be most likely to be me setting the fire alarm off having a crafty cigarette in the toilets, or just being offsite in the smoking area and not being able to get in and save everyone, I shouldn’t be here.’
The only gossip that anyone wanted to discuss during the torrential down pour in the glass walled canteen over there creamy prawn salad was the take over and worst of all Stephanie.
‘Charlie I may have to leave’ Geraldine stated a prawn almost falling from her luscious lips. Charlie looked at her straight in the eye through the brown curly hair that Geraldine secretly envied. Who wanted long sleek shimmering blonde hair like hers? Charlie’s was so much more unusual and special, really eye catching if Geraldine was honest.
‘Geraldine honey, if you leave now you are only cutting your nose off to spite your face. You’ll receive no wages as we’re paid in advance and the merger could be really good for us all. I know, I know you hate McPinto Corporation and you would rather die than work for them but look for jobs over the next month, bide your time, you may even find yourself liking the new changes and systems.’
That was all very well for Charlie and her natural perm to say, Geraldine said nothing, just bit into that Chocolate Cheesecake and the fake canned cream a little harder than needed. That would be all she needed having to go to Stephanie and request for some time off to visit the dentist.
After lunch it only got worse. The glass walls meant Geraldine could see Stephanie watching her every move. This resulted in her tripping over her chair and sending files flying through the air, spilling coffee down someone else’s dress, sending emails to the wrong publisher eight times and dropping her paperweight on her toe and chipping that No.7 nail varnish she’d taken hours of coating on the previous Sunday to get it just perfect. Well she didn’t have any dates so there wasn’t much else to do, maybe read a book about how awful men were but that hadn’t become much fun over the last twelve months of celibacy.
Feeling like a meaty meal would only add to her problems Geraldine bought a large ready made Caesar Salad she certainly wasn’t going to cook. As she pushed her trolley through the vegetable section her eyes were drawn to the cucumbers and her memory to that dashing man in Stephanie’s office. Who was he? What was he doing working for McPinto Corporation? What was his relationship with Stephanie Stark? Why was she at the checkout with no alcohol in her trolley?
She arrived home to find two messages on her answering machine. One was from her sister Penelope who worked for high flying recruiters in New York. ‘Geraldine... where the hell are you? I have been trying you all day but the new receptionist says you no longer seem to be on the list of staff at Pinto Publishing? I have some urgent things for you, firstly Mum is back in hospital the prosthetic leg has been causing her problems, you really should be looking after her better, I am miles away what can I do. Plus with a marriage and children to keep control over I am flat out here. Secondly, are there any vacancies going? We could do with a recruiting deal on a merger like yours; it’s really most selfish of you not to have told me. Maybe you could ask that Charlie friend you spend an unhealthy amount of time with? Bye.”
Since her mother’s accident and father’s death Penelope and Geraldine had not had the best of relationships. Penelope had taken the first chance she got and flown to another country to work her way into the pants of her boss and now husband. She had left Geraldine to pick up the pieces of the crash that had left her father dead and her mother a grieving wheelchair bound widow. Now that she had children and a rich and successful husband, not only did Penelope like to tell her sister how busy she was and how she simple couldn’t help look after her mother, she also liked to tell her sister regularly how amazing having children was and how perfect her marriage had been and remained. Geraldine begrudged her mother nothing, but she hadn’t had the time to grieve her father, and her sister earning triple what she did and only work part time had built up resentment in her so strongly she no longer answered the phone to her. There relationship was now built upon angry voicemails and accusing emails.
The second message was from Charlie. The one person in her life who meant a lot to her and also the woman that Penelope felt her sister was having a lesbian affair with ‘well she does have a boys name and you haven’t had a man in over a year’. Charlie had phoned with news that she obviously hoped would cheer Geraldine up. ‘Hi Geri, its Charlie, oh you would know that. I am just phoning as I have heard that in honour of the merger McPinto Corporation are throwing a ball to help us interact and mingle with new and old faces. Better get your glad rags out sweetheart. Bye for now… phone me if you wanna talk clothes.’
That was all she needed. A party. What did she have to celebrate? She would have to mingle with the enemy, and no doubt Stephanie Stark would be there to watch her balls everything up. She’d have to go to the effort of making herself look impressive, buy a new outfit and not one from Primark; this would have to be special. She’d have to be on her best behaviour with the people that she wanted to see the least. Then a thought occurred to her, if everyone was going to be invited then maybe that mysterious gentlemen would be there. A smile crossed her lips as she put the TV on; ironically she turned on a very relevant film ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’.

***

The ball had been announced the next day and was to be held a fortnight later. To say the time flew by for Geraldine would have been an understatement. All she had heard day in and day out was who was bringing who, what person would be wearing what and who might pull who from whichever department. She was thoroughly unimpressed.
It had had a slightly positive outcome, dealing with Stephanie day in day out had built up so much aggression in Geraldine that she had taken up extra classes in Kick Boxing at the gym. As she surveyed herself in the mirror before work that day she had noticed her toned arms, still feminine, and her ample bosom looked fuller and perter. She had to smile at herself, tonight she would shine, let them try and grind her down, and she would show them all.
The positive attitude she’d had in front of the mirror was soon shattered. It seemed Stephanie had been biding her time. ‘Geri darling, could you come into my office please’ she cooed. Geraldine knew this was all an act, letting everyone see her being so nice was just an act before the sting in the tail followed.
‘Geraldine’ Stephanie snidely looked at her once the door was closed ‘tonight as you know is a big night for everyone at McPinto Corporation, and you and I are no exceptions. I hope you will be tastefully attired as I am going to want you to introduce me to everyone. I don’t have a PA as such and so would like you to do me the… well the… honour, I suppose of being my assistant for the night. I know we didn’t hit it off to start with, however I have been watching you and I think, well yes think, you have signs of promise. I may even need a PA one day, who knows.’ Geraldine was speechless all the way out the door and to her desk.
The sting in the tail had been there of course. Geraldine having the job of a PA would possibly mean more money in the short term, but would be a huge demotion in terms of her role now. How could the Deputy Fiction Manager go to being the Fiction Managers PA.? Geraldine felt numb, if Stephanie wanted her to play games with her she could. This however was pushing her to the edge. ‘She is trying to get rid of me’ Geraldine thought to herself. ‘I am not going anywhere.’ She would play PA for a night, she wouldn’t bite the hand that fed her, more like pass it on to a deadlier animal, something that would really devour the whole arm that fed it, if only she knew what or who that animal was.

***

A few of the girls had gone back to Charlie’s to get ready for the nights events. Geraldine however had to go home via the hospital to see her mother. Her mother had gotten progressively worse over the last few weeks. The doctors said she just didn’t want to get better, she wasn’t dying she just wasn’t living.
Her mother had also noticed the physical change in her daughter but there was also sadness in her that she had not seen before. She had pressed the issue but Geraldine had stayed firmly tight lipped about anything to do with work. Her mother had said she felt no ill will towards McPinto Corporations for the accident, but Geraldine would not listen. She was just like her father, stubborn as an Ox.
Geraldine arrived home, shoved a Korma for one in the Microwave and wallowed in some good old self pity. A bottle of Buck’s Fizz later and the food still in the microwave and she felt a great deal better. She applied her make up with care but a slight drunken finesse, she suddenly realised she was late threw on her dress ordered a taxi and made her way to the ball. Tonight she would be Cinderella and she would have her prince without all that losing of shoes nonsense, she certainly wasn’t losing these shoes in a hurry they were Dior.

3 comments:

Marilyn Shoemaker said...

Great oist, So how do we in the US get to see the celebrating 100 years of Mills and Boon? Went to the site but couldn't find it!

Marilyn Shoemaker said...

Sorry, meant to say "great post"! The Iplayer site I shared with my UK co-worker and she's so homesick it made her smile!

Simon said...

Awww thanks Marilyn very kind of you!