I was on Pulau Tioman and about to face a long trip on an uncomfortable fishing boat back to Mersing. Damn it, I needed something, anything to distract me from the pain of my sunburned limbs and would have read a cornflake packet if I could have made it last the whole voyage. This was the only novel I could find, left behind no doubt by another traveller. I can't remember the story, but I do know that of course there was a tall dark handsome hero and a happy ever after ending of the kind that real life just doesn't do. (Tell me about it!)
It's the 100th anniversary of Mill & Boon which, according to Karen Robinson in the Sunday Times, publishes 50 new titles a month and is selling a book every five seconds in the UK alone.
The stories are translated into 26 languages and sold in about 100 international markets, with at least 1,300 writers pounding the word processor to keep up with demand.There can't be that much to writing a formulaic romance novel, can there? Kathryn Hughes in the Guardian muses on her own rejection slip, and the way the novels have evolved in changing times. The formula has apparently changed a bit:
... there are now 12 distinct strands to Mills & Boon (in literary publishing, they'd be called "imprints"), ranging from the kind of classic romance I tried to write 20 years ago to ones set entirely in hospitals, or in crinolines. And then there is the Desire series. The Desire brand comes as the biggest shock to anyone who lazily thinks they already know what goes on in Mills & Boon land. In these books, the hero has an erection by chapter three and isn't afraid to use it. In fact, he "thrusts" and "explodes" so often in the course of exactly 55,000 words that it's amazing he finds time to run a finance company/a ranch/a whole desert kingdom.Mills and Boon have plans for expansion the Indian market which they believe will be their biggest after north American. There is also a plan to create a new imprint with Indian characters in Indian settings and the first title The Virgin for the Billionaire's Taking featuring a billionaire property dealer hero who happens to be the brother of a Maharaja will be released later this year.
The heroine in a Desire book, meanwhile, won't be a virgin because that would be weird (if no one else fancies her, then how can the thrusting, exploding hero?), but she will be a born-again celibate. Some trauma - the death of an earlier love, even a divorce - will have left her in sexual limbo for months, if not years. It's the hero's job to guide her back into a full erotic life, which ends, if not with marriage, at least with something that feels very like it. And if this still doesn't strike you as quite saucy enough, then you're probably a candidate for Mills & Boon's latest addition to the stable, the Blaze imprint, in which the hero and heroine barely have time to swap a bit of witty banter before getting down to business in a variety of locations culled from a reading of Hello! magazine.
In Malaysia, Mills and Boon appears to be pretty popular judging by the racks of them in local bookshops. But we also have our own local romances, written in Malay and along similarly formulaic lines, although perhaps without the steamier versions. (Although, yes, I have seen some of those too! They did my command of the written language no end of good.)
As I once told readers on this blog before, we also do have a very successful Mills and Boon author living in KL, and I must try to persuade him (yes, him) to appear at Readings sometime.
Anyway, if this post has whetted your appetite for more, Mills and Boon have generously put some of their novels online for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
And if you feel a rabid attack of book-snobbery coming on, you might like to read Amanda Craig's very interesting defence of it, published some time ago in the Telegraph.