22 February 2022

What can we learn about #Writing from Mills and Boon?


(Wikimedia Commons)

BBC4’s excellent ‘Timeshift’ series asks the question ‘What happens when a literary novelist tries to write popular romantic fiction?' Originally shown in 2008 to mark 100 years of romance publishers Mills and Boon, literary novelist Stella Duffy took on the challenge of writing for them.

I’ve never read a Mills and Boon book, but watched from curiosity. Whatever you think of them, Mills and Boon are among the biggest names in the business, with a book sold somewhere in the world every few seconds. They also welcome submissions from new authors, but only choose twenty (on a good year) from two to three thousand submitted. 

Programmes about the craft of writing are rare, and this one offers an insight into the art of romantic fiction  - and the frustration of writing to meet such specific requirements. I also found many of the writing tips discussed were applicable to other genres, and I enjoyed seeing the would-be authors having to read their first drafts aloud.

Mills & Boon Editor, Maddie Rowe says, ‘What really makes a Mills & Boon book is a ruthless, powerful and arrogant hero, a ‘feisty’ heroine who can hold her own with him, and really intense emotional conflict based on passion. After you’ve got those three things going on, you can put them within any of our sub-genres.’

I was intrigued by the readers interviewed in the programme, one of whom estimated spending over twenty thousand pounds on Mills & Boon books. The writing workshop (in Tuscany) is presented by one of the top Mills & Boon authors, Sharon Kendrick, a USA Today bestselling author with sales of over 27 million books.

Her advice is to always write with integrity, as where authors fail is when they write what they think people want to read. It was also good to hear her critiques of the first drafts, and her emphasis of the value of getting straight into dialogue, which brings a scene to life in a way that narrative never can.

‘How to Write a Mills and Boon’ is available on iPlayer here: 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ff170/timeshift-how-to-write-a-mills-and-boon

Tony Riches

(See Stella Duffy's Blog post about the original programme here: https://stelladuffy.blog/2009/01/01/the-mills-and-boon-doc/ )

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