Natasha Oakley - British Romance Author

Writer of tug-at-the-heartstrings, feel-good romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon

Friday, December 28, 2007

Trish is back - and other good news

Whilst it's lovely to have her at the other end of MSN - the best thesaurus in the business - it does mean my fun on her blog is over. And I'd found the most perfect research trip for her. Such a shame.

But here it is! The spa town of Lisdoonvarna in County Clare, Ireland, hold an annual matchmaking festival. There has to be a book in that. She ought to go, don't you think!

I've had some lovely news. My contribution to the Niroli series, 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride', has been nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award. The full listing is HERE.

Fellow Pink Heart Society pals Trish and Ally are nominated in the Harlequin Romance category. I'm over in Harlequin Presents - which is kind of fun. It's a particularly nice award to be up for because you don't have to do anything to enter. The shortlist just appears. And, like Trish, it's my third year running. It's just the most lovely feeling.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Trish's blog

I still have control of Trish's blog. Hee. And it's Boxing Day so my feelings of festive goodwill have largely evaporated.

I'm having fun. Go see.

Now it's back to work on my book. I do wish I'd been able to take a research trip to the middle east. My dad spent a huge chunk of his working life there so that's helping - but there's nothing quite like walking the ground for yourself.

Hey ho!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Twelve Days of Christmas Letters

Okay - well I'm blogging everywhere. Trish's new internet cable hasn't arrived yet which means I'm still minding her blog. Oh the responsibility!! And the temptation!!!!!!!!

But, today I'm feeling festive and I've decided to be kind. Go see the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' I found on You Tube. Here's a written down version. Different, but it still makes me smile.

December 25th

Dearest John,

I went to the door today and the postman delivered a partridge in a pear tree. What a delightful gift. I couldn't have been more surprised.

With dearest love and affection,

December 26th

Dearest John,

Today the postman brought your very sweet gift. Just imagine, two turtledoves. I’m just delighted at your very thoughtful gift. They are just adorable.

All my love,

December 27th

Dear John,

Oh, aren't you the extravagant one! Now I must protest. I don't deserve such generosity. Three French hens. They are just darling, but no more. I must insist.... you're just too kind.


December 28th

Dear John,

Today the postman delivered four calling birds. Now really! They're beautiful, but don't you think enough is enough? You’re being too romantic.


December 29th

Dearest John,

What a surprise! Today the postman delivered five golden rings. One for each finger. You're just impossible, but I love it. Frankly, John, all those squawking birds were beginning to get on my nerves.

All my love,

December 30th

Dear John,

When I opened the door there were actually six geese a-laying on my front steps. So you're back to the birds again, huh? Those geese are huge. Where will I ever keep them? The neighbors are complaining and I can't sleep through the racket. PLEASE STOP!


December 31st


What's with you and those birds? Seven swans a-swimming. What kind of joke is this? There's bird poo all over the house and they never stop the racket. I'm a nervous wreck and I can't sleep at night. IT'S NOT FUNNY. So stop with the birds.


January 1st

OK Buster,

I think I prefer the birds. What the hell am I going to do with eight maids a-milking? They've even brought their own cows. Now there is cow poop all over the lawn and I can’t move in my own house. Just lay off me. SMART-ASS!


January 2nd


What are you? Some kind of sadist? Now there's nine pipers piping. And man do they pipe. They haven't stopped chasing those maids since they got here yesterday morning. The cows are upset and are stepping all over those screeching birds. No wonder they screech. What am I going to do? The neighbours have started a petition to evict me.


January 3rd


Now there are ten ladies dancing. I don't know why I call those women ladies. They've been with those nine pipers all night long. Now the cows can't sleep and they've got diarrhea. My living room is a river of cow dung. The commissioner of buildings has subpoenaed me to give cause why the building shouldn't be condemned. I've called the police. They know where you are.

One who means it,

January 4th


What's with the eleven lords a-leaping on those maids and aforementioned "ladies"? Some of those girls will never walk again.

Those pipers ran through the maids and are now after the cows. All 234 of the birds are dead. They have been trampled to death in the orgy. I hope you're satisfied!

Your sworn enemy,
Miss Agnes McCallister

January 5th

From the law offices of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe

This is to acknowledge your latest gift of twelve drummers drumming, which you have seen fit to inflict on our client, Miss Agnes McCallister. The destruction, of course, was total. All correspondence should come to our attention. If you should attempt to reach Miss McCallister at Happy-Dale Sanitarium, the attendants have instructions to shoot you on sight. With this letter, please find attached a warrant for your arrest.

Dewey, Cheatem and Howe
Attorneys at Law

Be warned! Sometimes romance is best in small doses.

And now I'm off to a Christmas Drinks Party. Most years I have to run the gaunlet of men who sneer at romance generally and women who feel they should. Oh well! I shall search out the kindred spirits - oh and maybe take a copy of my tax return. That usually silences most people! Solvent authors are a rare breed.


Monday, December 17, 2007

I'm going to live!

Well, the world is still fuzzy but I'm now upright. Still can't drive - which I suppose has a few advantages. Can't get to the supermarket, can't do the school run .....

I've just put the phone down on Trish Wylie who is without an internet connection at the moment. She wondered if I'd like to post an update on her blog for her ....


Well I have. Go see.

Now I have absolutely no time to update my own. I'm so irritated at having lost a week on my book. You know, it's when you can't write you really understand how important it is that you do it!!!

Can't talk now. Have a sheikh to sort.

Here's my boy ...

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

I'm sick!

I feel dreadful - and have done since Monday. I appear to have an inner ear infection and I'm not able to sit up for long without the world spinning. I can't even read.

I'm so not a good patient. And I have soooooo much to do.


Friday, December 07, 2007

It's an ill wind ..

that blows nobody any good. Isn't that how the saying goes??????

This week's Guardian piece on Mills & Boon has proved the truth of that. I've had lots of fun. First off, I discovered a really amusing blog on the subject which you can find here.

And a beautifully reasoned response here.

Then I got to listen to Trish argue 'our' case on BBC Radio Ulster. Now you've got to really picture what was going on to get the full enjoyment out of that situation. She's ill. Bird flu she says. (Obviously that's not funny.) And she's had a bit of a fight with the dentist and he won! (Again, not immediately amusing.) But follow it all through. There she is dosed up to the eyeballs, new plate in pocket so there's some possibility of speaking clearly ...

Let's pause for a moment and appreciate the glamour of that!

Then she's forced to read something from one of her books. Ha!

Now I like reading aloud. It returns to me my first love and, even though I say it myself, I do it well. But I do not like reading from my own books. It's so embarrassing. Add in to that the fact Trish was asked to read from her next release - which is a Modern Heat. Read any of those recently??????

I must be a really horrible person because I thoroughly enjoyed that. Very difficult, apparently, to find something suitable for late tea-time consumption.

And then there was the interview itself. My absolute favourite bit was the part where Finola Meredith said that she 'liked romance', books like 'Jane Eyre' for example.

What a gift!!!

Even with Toby Stephens as Rochester I do feel there's a need to suspend disbelief just a tad. Rochester????? Is she serious?

Now stand up and be counted all women who fantasise about falling for a potential bigamist. Let's be clear about this, that's a man who is lying to you.

Back to the typeface. I have steam coming off the keyboard ....

Oh - and I'm blogging over at the Pink Heart Society. Come see.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Here we go again ....

As I've said here before, with Mills & Boon's centenary year just around the corner I'm braced for criticism as the media spotlight shines on us. What's so particularly annoying is that the negative swipes usually comes from people who haven't read a M&B for years, if ever. To date not one crass remark about my career choice has come from anyone who has read anything I've written.

Anyway ...

The Guardian newspaper here in the UK is today carrying the article below. Actually, I quite like it because Abby Green, as her real-life alter-ego Daisy Cummins, does a fine job in defending what really shouldn't need to be defended.

Get a coffee and settle down!

Mills & Boon: 100 years of heaven or hell?

Mills & Boon enjoys a huge readership, but has attracted furious critics during its 10 decades in business. Daisy Cummins explains why she is proud to write for the company, while Julie Bindel just wishes the books would go away.

Daisy Cummins and Julie Bindel
Wednesday December 5, 2007
The Guardian

A fine romance

Mills & Boon books have long been an easy flogging horse. Many assume they are only read by the hopelessly unfashionable and out of touch, desperate for tales of helpless heroines swept off their feet by dashing, mildly brutish heroes.

In fact, though, the person reading an M&B is far more likely to be a successful, highly intelligent woman in her 20s or 30s. And neither these women nor the heroines they love are waiting for a man to come and rescue them. M&B has moved on and sexed up.

Next year sees the firm celebrate its centenary and high sales figures continue to speak for its success. Two hundred million books sold worldwide per annum; 13m shifted each year in the UK.

As the daughter of a single-parent feminist, I was hard-wired from an early age to balk at the merest whiff of sexism. Yet, after finding a M&B in my Irish Catholic grandmother's room one summer, I was hooked. I had discovered an exciting world of feisty heroines and hard-muscled heroes. Sexual tension simmered and exploded. And there was always a happy ending. The hero and heroine were equal partners and every conflict was happily resolved, not necessarily in a marriage but with a firm commitment for the future. For me, the child of a revolutionary and somewhat bohemian background, it was a welcome - albeit, at first, slightly guilt-inducing - contrast to the anger at men I had witnessed growing up.

My mother knew I read them and said nothing, giving her tacit permission. She understood the need to balance things out. I now write for M&B myself, and am supremely proud to do so. My last book, The Kouros Marriage Revenge, was about a devastatingly gorgeous Greek. I write under the name Abby Green purely for the thrill of having a pseudonym.

Let's start with the first old chestnut that's used against these books: that they are pulp fiction written in purple prose. Well, they have never been presented as contenders for literary prizes and therefore need not offend anyone who would denigrate them on this basis. These books started out as serials, novellas written to appeal to women who would pick them up for an exotic, escapist treat. And, as with any successful business venture, the original formula has stayed largely the same. Man meets woman, they fall in love, there is a conflict and, ultimately, a happy ending. It is the paradigm behind every great literary romantic work.

Detractors believe that these books perpetuate the stereotype of the doormat woman, taken by a boorish hero, crushed in his arms and transformed into a newer, different type of doormat. They suggest that this fiction encourages women to subscribe to a mythical fairytale, in which men are always the saviour. What drivel. The women who populate these books come from as disparate and wide-ranging economic situations as the women who read them. To say they are all mindless romantic illiterates yearning to be saved is lazy ignorance.

I consider myself a feminist. Not perhaps in the sense that my mother would have called herself a feminist. That fight was fought, and necessarily. For me, feminism means being economically independent; able to pursue the career of my choice without being thwarted; free to make decisions concerning my body, or my vote. I have never struggled with sexual discrimination.

Lovers of romantic fiction, of M&B, know our own minds, we know our own expectations of love and romance. We can separate fantasy and reality. We are not stupid. So go forth in public, ladies - and gents, if you like - take your copy of Bought for the Frenchman's Pleasure or The Italian's Captive Virgin and read it with a smile on your face, cover held high, proud in the knowledge that you are sticking two fingers up to the begrudgers of romance.
Daisy Cummins

To find more about Abby Green and her books visit her website here.

In the opposite corner is freelance journalist, Julie Bindel.

Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist. She writes for the Guardian newspaper and Weekend magazine, and various other British and European newspapers and magazines. She is the co-editor of The Map of My Life: The Story of Emma Humphreys (Astraia Press, 2003) and several book chapters and research papers on sexual violence and the criminal justice system. A founder member of the feminist law reform campaign Justice for Women, Julie believes that doing paid work, however ethically and responsibly, is not enough, and remains a committed political activist. Julie has written investigative features on international prostitution, sex tourism in Jamaica, stalking and harassment, transsexualism, being a lesbian schoolgirl, the beauty industry and serial killers. For a bit of light relief she has written on the death of the hostess trolley, female orchestra conductors, fancying Camilla Parker Bowles and hating vegetarians.

Detestable trash

Fifteen years ago, I read 20 Mills & Boon novels as research for a dissertation on "romantic fiction and the rape myth". It was the easiest piece of research I have ever done. In every book, there was a scene where the heroine is "broken in", both emotionally and physically, by the hero. Having fallen for this tall, brooding figure of masculinity, the heroine becomes consumed with capturing him. The hero is behaving in a way that, in real life, causes many women to develop low self-esteem, depression and self-harming behaviour - blowing hot and cold, and treating her like dirt. But all comes right in the end. After the heroine displays extraordinary vulnerability during a crisis, Mr Macho saves the day and shows her he cares.

By this time (you know how uppity women can be), our heroine is so fed up that she does not comply when he grabs her inevitably small frame in his huge arms, and attempts to take her to bed. And so begins the "gender dance" - man chases woman, woman resists, and, finally, woman submits in a blaze of passion.

My loathing of M&B novels has nothing to do with snobbery. I could not care less if the books are trashy, formulaic or pulp fiction - Martina Cole novels, which I love, are also formulaic. But I do care about the type of propaganda perpetuated by M&B. I would go so far as to say it is misogynistic hate speech.

Why do I care so much about books that few take seriously? Are there not more important battles to fight? Challenging the low conviction rate for rape certainly seems more urgent than trashing novels that perpetuate gender stereotypes, but there is no doubt that such novels feed directly into some women's sense of themselves as lesser beings, as creatures desperate to be dominated.

One argument from M&B apologists is that the heroine has moved with the times. True, she is now more physically active and sexually imaginative. The modern-day character often dares to have sex before marriage, knows what she wants in terms of her career and personal life, and even has a sense of humour.

As a result of the changing heroine, the hero has been required to catch up. But rather than becoming a "new man", it seems he has become even more masculine and domineering in order to keep the heroine in line. This is how the rape fantasies so integral to the plot have been able to persist.

Take this description of a recent M&B novel, The Desert Sheikh's Captive Wife: "Tilda was regretting her short-lived romance with Rashad, the Crown Prince of Bakhar. Now, with her impoverished family indebted to him, Rashad was blackmailing her by insisting she pay up ... as his concubine! Soon Tilda was the arrogant Sheikh's captive, ready to be ravished in his far-away desert kingdom."

Or Bought: One Island, One Bride: "Self-made billionaire Alexander Kosta has come to the island of Lefkis for revenge ... He doesn't count on feisty pint-sized beauty Ellie Mendoras to be the thorn in his side! ... There's a dangerous smile on Alexander's lips ... As far as he's concerned Ellie's a little firecracker who needs to be tamed. He'll seduce her into compliance, then buy her body and soul!!"

Or Virgin Slave, Barbarian King: "Julia Livia Rufa is horrified when barbarians invade Rome and steal everything in sight. But she doesn't expect to be among the taken! As Wulfric's woman, she's ordered to keep house for the uncivilised marauders. Soon, though, Julia realises that she's more free as a slave than she ever was as a sheltered Roman virgin."

The first two were published this year, the third comes out in January.

In 1970, one of M&B's regular writers, Violet Winspear, claimed that her heroes had to be "capable of rape". Another, Hilary Wilde, said in 1966, "The odd thing is that if I met one of my heroes, I would probably bash him over the head with an empty whisky bottle. It is a type I loathe and detest. I imagine in all women, deep down inside us, is a primitive desire to be arrogantly bullied." These comments may have been made some time ago, but the tradition seems to continue in the many M&B novels that depict female submission to dominant heroes.

My horror at the genre is not directed towards either the women who write or, indeed, read them. I do not believe in blaming women for our own oppression. Women are the only oppressed group required not only to submit to our oppressors, but to love and sexually desire them at the same time. This is what heterosexual romantic fiction promotes - the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda.

I can say it no better than the late, great Andrea Dworkin. This classic depiction of romance is simply "rape embellished with meaningful looks".
Julie Bindel

Here's the link if you want to see the article in situ.

What do you think?

The Guardian has a 'Response Column' if you'd like to write a reply. The editor is Jonathan Harker and his email is should you wish to give an opinion direct.

Personally, I don't know that I'd trust any of Julie Bindel's research on any subject if she relies on something she read fifteen years ago and can't trouble herself to read more than the back blurb of three current releases before writing an article for a national newspaper. Particularly when she must know not one of those authors will have written that blurb. Like the cover art and titling, it's a marketing decision.

I have a feeling that the more I think about Ms Bindel's article the more irritated I'll be. She quotes authors who were writing thirty odd years ago! It's just lazy.

Nor does she seem to have any awareness of the different lines which are now released under the M&B banner, concentrating entirely on the Modern/Presents line. Fair enough, perhaps, since it is hugely popular but ...

I feel the need to splutter inarticulately. Please feel free to add in your own swear word here!!!!

I'm going to get on with writing my book. I'm just too busy to spend any more time on such drivel.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Finding the hero

I'm having a wine break. I would just like to point out it's nearly midnight and I haven't done my word count for the day so my bottom is still firmly in the chair. The next person who even suggests writing series fiction is 'easy' is liable to be smacked in the face. And, I promise, I'm not usually a violent person.

But, I digress.

I had an email today from an unpublished writer who wanted my take on 'casting' characters. Do I really use actors as the basis of my characters? Do I fill out character charts? Do I ever get muddled and forget the colour of their eyes?

So, the answers are: sometimes/sort of, never and fairly often if my writing time is broken up.

I've said in in a number of places that I 'used' British actor Richard Armitage as the 'hero inspiration' for my character Domenic in 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride'. And, I suspect that's what prompted the question.

Anyone who has read 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride' will know that Domenic isn't Richard Armitage. Domenic is from an island called Mont Avellana. Richard's English. Domenic has brown eyes and Richard blue/grey.

But he helped - and it was all to do with the expression in his eyes. Finding Domenic was tricky. For a start he wasn't my creation. Not in the beginning. He was part of an editor-led continuity series which means I had certain 'facts' I needed to work around.

'The Tycoon's Princess Bride' is the fourth book in the Niroli series and I was asked to write it because the editors felt my 'voice' would suit the story they had in mind. Once the contracts were signed I was given 'The Bible'.

So, what did I know? Domenic was a hotel owner with light, slightly curly brown hair. He had brown eyes, was 6ft 2" tall, a lean and toned physique (so someone explain the muppet I've got on the front cover) and aged 34. It's not a lot to go on, is it? And I couldn't deviate because if any of the other six authors mentioned him we'd be contradicting each other.

I knew, too, that he was 'scarred, both emotionally and physically, from the tragic fire in which his wife and child died'. I had the same amount of infomation on Isabella Fierezza and some 'Key Themes' (scarred hero, traumatic pasts, forbidden love, working together). And that was me.

Now find the story.

Find the hero.

Make it 'real'.

Every book is different. It's inception is different. At least for me. If you really want to get to grips with what fellow author Trish Wylie calls 'backward casting' you need to check out her website here. I don't work the same. At least not always.

For me, ideas come from everywhere. Sometimes I begin a book with the 'hook'. As in now when my editor has 'suggested' I might like to try a sheikh story. It could just as easily been an 'office' one or 'royalty'. These are 'hooks' which we know readers like and since we're in the business of entertainment ...

Sometimes I begin with a place. For example I wrote 'A Family To Belong To' because I happened to be on the Isle of Wight when I started writing it.

Some books start with the hero or heroine. It can be a line in a movie which starts you off. Sometimes a picture. It's not 'them', it's the way they make you feel when you look at them.

For 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride' I needed to find the characters which would make the 'facts' possible. So, why would Isabella go to Mont Avellana? Because she had to. What kind of man would be fascinated by her?

I decided he needed to be quite intense. Brooding. Passionate.

And that's what I meant about Richard Armitage being my hero inspiration for Domenic. My character's physical characteristics were set by the demands of being part of a continuity. Domenic is a burns survivor. He doesn't look like this.

BUT ...

When you look at this photo what do you 'feel'? I think there's an intensity in the eyes. A sense that he's really looking at the person out of sight. And, that's what I needed for Domenic. When he looks at Isabella he really looks. He really sees the woman she is.

And I suppose that's the fantasy. What woman doesn't want to be really seen???

Now wine over I need to go back to my WIP. With a Sheikh who doesn't really have a picture. Well, he does. Sort of. But, I'll tell you about that another day.

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