Natasha Oakley - British Romance Author

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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

And the Daily Mail has us too!

Help! I'm addicted to Mills and Boon
By ANGELA EPSTEIN
Daily Mail

Racing around Tesco the other day, my trolley dash was brought to an unexpected halt by the sight of a striking couple whose compelling appearance snagged my attention. The man was tall, lantern-jawed (hollow-faced??? Is she sure????), the expression on his ruggedly handsome face unreadable but utterly mesmerising. Edging closer, I could see the fragile blonde by his side thought so too; for though the upward tilt of her delicate chin hinted at defiance, the way she leaned into his muscular body was suggestive of a woman almost liquid with desire.

The chemistry between the two was so electrifying that suddenly all thoughts of my weekly shop were abandoned and replaced instead by a desperation to know how such a captivating partnership had come to pass. And so with one fluid movement, I grabbed the Mills & Boon paperback on which they were cover stars and quickly concealed it in my trolley as though it were a topshelf magazine. (Now, Liz Fielding would be proud of me because I don't do that. In fact, I invariably end up giving the lady at the checkout my business card. :) )



Wedged in the cart between a multi-pack of loo rolls and a bag of King Edwards, the passion fuelled pair looked terribly out of place (after all the man on the cover, I was soon to learn, was a Greek shipping magnate who made Bill Gates look like small change). But at least my embarrassing purchase could be hidden from view.

Yes, my name is Angela and I'm a Mills & Boon addict. I've tried to suppress my shameful obsession for more than 20 years. But as the world's most famous purveyor of romantic fiction celebrates its centenary - founded by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon in 1908, the firm began to concentrate on romantic fiction in the Thirties - I feel it's time to come clean about my craving.

I know what you're thinking, that I'm just a sad, romance-starved fantasist, incapable of appreciating good writing. But I'm actually an emancipated woman with a frisky, adorable husband and a degree in English literature which enables me to quote vast tracts of Shakespeare.

How, then, could my literary heritage and position as postmodern woman have been supplanted by an obsession with these soufflÈ-light, sausage machine fantasies? (Hmmmm. Thanks, I think ....) Well actually, the genesis of my addiction was profoundly ironic. Having spent my years as a student ploughing through mountains of classics at break-neck speed, ("read David Copperfield for Thursday" was a typical task), I couldn't face reading anything which smacked of high art or serious scholarship for years after I graduated.

And so, while on holiday, to enjoy my freedom before I joined the rat race, and in a state of acknowledged literary burn-out, I found myself picking up a dog- eared Mills & Boon romance from the shelf of my rented apartment. With patronising amusement I challenged myself to survive the first chapter. I ended up devouring the entire book, as well as the other yellowing M&B titles around the flat.

Reader, I was hooked.

After that, whenever I stumbled upon one of these paperback romances I couldn't resist flicking it open. In fact, when I began work as a trainee reporter a couple of months later, I found myself buying dog-eared copies from the open-air book stall near my office, hiding my furtive purchases behind my newspaper on the train home. As an intellectual snob, I was hideously embarrassed by my addiction. Yet still, I couldn't help myself.

So I raced through Darkness Of The Heart, pored over The Passionate Lover, and lapped up No Longer A Dream. It was an unfathomable compulsion. Particularly since I quickly discovered the narrative in each book observed the same pattern: young, spirited virgin collides with rich, successful sexually magnetic older man in a story seasoned with succulent adjectives.

They fight, they deny, they smoulder and despair before acknowledging their lifechanging attraction in a blizzard of passion and an inevitable marriage proposal. And yet the more I read, the more I found there was something sweetly addictive about the crisp writing style, the restrained glamour of the settings, the slightly out-of-date attention to detail found in the heroine's Broderie Anglaise bolero or her lover's avocado hors d'oeuvre.

This was a world which nudged reality but filtered out its grimier details.
Above all, I couldn't resist the hero.

A character flawed by his desire to possess his unsuitable conquest. Not such a stretch from Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, I weakly told myself. I even tried to write one myself, inspired to make an attempt after interviewing a matronly M&B author who spent her days as a shorthand typist and her nights decanting her wild imagination onto sheets of A4.

How difficult could it be? It was only when I found it impossible to stretch the uncompromising passion between "Rex and Jacey" (my hero and heroine) beyond the first two chapters that I realised writing for this publishing institution demands a rare touch.

Though I've long since returned to reading "good books" as well, I still can't resist my fix of Mills & Boon and often have two disparate titles on the go. Which is why, after yesterday's spontaneous purchase, my Greek millionaire and his conquered blonde were nestling together underneath Tess Of The D'Urbervilles. Now there's an eye-watering image - and perhaps the starting point for yet another bodice ripper. (We were going so well, but that term 'bodice ripper' is annoying. Who writes that???)

As below, the pink is me!

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4 Comments:

  • At 3:36 pm, Blogger Trish said…

    Not sure how i felt about being called 'soufflÈ-light, sausage machine fantasies'... but on the whole NOT THE WORST...

    STILL THINK WE ALL WRITE THE SAME THING THO and THAT is STILL making me grind my teeth...

    On to the next one ;)

     
  • At 5:06 pm, Blogger Jennie Lucas said…

    Thanks for posting this, Natasha! I really appreciate it. :)

     
  • At 11:50 pm, Blogger Laura Vivanco said…

    "Lantern jawed" is a weird term when you think about it literally, but I've seen it used before to describe heroes who have a strong lower jaw that sticks out a bit. Here's another example from the Daily Mail:

    "With his lantern jaw sprouting a growth of stubble which was more bricklayer designer, Wayne Rooney looked like Desperate Dan on the England bench."

    According to the American Heritage Dictionary it means

    "1. A lower jaw that protrudes beyond the upper jaw. 2. A long, thin jaw that gives the face a gaunt appearance."

     
  • At 6:04 pm, Blogger Liz Fielding said…

    Oh, that was fun!

     

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