How To Write A ‘Mills And Boon’

Mills and boonLast night my chap pointed out an interesting ‘writerly’ programme, that he’d spotted on BBC 4 (is that well-trained, or what?).

It actually turned out to be a few years old but it doesn’t suffer for that. To celebrate ‘Mills & Boon’’s centenary in 2008, the BBC challenged novelist Stella Duffy to write one of their books.

Or, at least, to submit the first three chapters and a synopsis, which is what they accept in the first instance (ie: you don’t have to write the whole thing before they’ll have a look at it).

I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘Mills & Boon’ but did you know they sell a book every 3 seconds? Or that the company receives between 2000 – 3000 submissions every year from would-be writers and they take just 20 from that? So, there are a lot of aspiring ‘Mills & Boon’ writers but not that many that get it right.

Inspired by a successful ‘Mills & Boon’ writer who gave a free talk at a local library over twenty years ago, I did try to write one once but I gave up. I couldn’t do it. (I think my main inspiration was the fact that the writer drove a metallic blue Ford Escort Cabriolet and I couldn’t think of anything more glamorous!).

And that’s the thing. As Stella finds out for herself, you have to really want to write a ‘Mills & Boon’ (the same applies to any kind of writing, of course). If your heart’s not in it – pun intended – or you think it’s an easy way to make a fast buck, then you are almost certainly doomed to fail.

I’ve met Stella Duffy before and she’s lovely. The programme’s worth watching if:

1. You’ve ever thought about writing for ‘M&B’
2. You’re interested in seeing a writer take on a new challenge
3. If you want to fantasize about a bit of Tuscan sun (Stella goes to Italy for a course at The Water Mill at Posara, which looks fab).
4. Or, to be honest, if you just want to be gently entertained and have a gander at Stella’s rather nice cardigans and tops. (And her very useful white board! Want!)

You’re going to have to be quick if you missed this last night because it’s only on i-player here for 6 days.

Stella does all the things an aspiring ‘genre’ writer should do: she reads some of the books, gets to grips with the different imprints (for example, ‘Blaze’ has loads of sex*; ‘Modern’ has more characterisation and a bit of sex and ‘Nocturne’ is more fantasy/supernatural, which is what, to her surprise, she ends up writing); she speaks to an editor, a writer and fans of the books. In short, she does her market research. Oh and then she jets off to Italy to attend a course on writing for ‘Mills and Boon’, where tutor Sharon Kendrick doesn’t pull any punches.

And she still finds it tricky to get it right.

*(Just realised I’ve typed ‘sex’ three times into this post so I’ll get loads of hits now from people…err, surfing the net).

Does Stella get her ‘happy ending’? Do ‘Mills & Boon’ give her book the thumbs up or reject her hard work as ‘not quite what we’re looking for’? I couldn’t possibly tell you. You’ll have to watch it and find out…

P.S: This reminds me, I’m also going on a writing course in Italy myself this year, How To Write Romantic Fiction, with Sue Moorcroft. I am particularly interested in the part of the course that addresses the issue of “Is your middle nice and tight?” because my middle is actually quite floppy, due to too much Christmas pud.

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16 Responses to How To Write A ‘Mills And Boon’

  1. Will watch with interest…..your ‘P.S.’ made me laugh out loud

  2. Julia says:

    I’m so easily distracted! I clicked straight through from your link and have just watched the programme – and yes, I want a whiteboard, too. I thought it was really interesting how much input and advice Stella took from her editor, the fans and her peers on the writing course.

    • Julia – I am easily distracted too. Aren’t we naughty? I shouldn’t even have been writing that blog post until tonight. I’m supposed to be writing a short story! eeek. But never mind. It was research and necessary for our writing careers. So there.


  3. I’ve seen that programme before, and I thought Stella Duffy didn’t listen to what they were saying. She wanted to write her usual story didn’t she? Sue Moorcroft is fab. I read her book. Love writing, before I sent in my entry to RNA new talent award where I was shortlisted. Think I’ve mentioned that once or twice… You have to love romance to write it.

    • Yes, Susan, to a certain extent she struggled to ‘adapt’ her story to Mills and Boon requirements – which is why she said you’ve got to really want to write for them, in order to be successful but I thought, on the whole, she did pretty well.


  4. Thanks for mentioning this. I never seem to know anything about these programmes until I get your email. Loved this one; how tidy and organised was Stella’s writing space though 😉

  5. PhilippaB says:

    One lazy summer long ago on a Greek island with 5 girlfriends, we decided to write a collective Mills & Boon – a resolution that sunk under the weight of ouzo drinking and all-night dancing! The furthest we got was reading one of the campsite’s M&B books out loud to much hysterical laughter…Certainly not showing the skill and dedication needed to write them. 🙂

  6. Tracy Fells says:

    Completely missed this on TV so after reading your blog have watched this on iPlayer over lunch. Good fun, but not sure I’d want to have a go. Quite amazed at how popular M&B still are. I never see them in the shops so do they sell mostly online? Intriguing.

    • Tracy, I agree. I don’t think it’s as easy as some people think, either. You need to eat-sleep-and-breathe Mills and Boon romances, I think, to even get a flavour of what they’re looking for and I don’t think it’s for me either. It’s hard enough motivating myself to write when it’s something I’m really interested in! (says she, who’s going on a Romance Writing course in the summer! Ah, but it’s not M&B, is my defence!)

  7. I thought the programme was excellent!

    I attended a course at Swanwick with Sharon and she was brilliant! Now torn between her course and Sues lol


  8. I think I saw that programme the first time round. Interesting stuff!

  9. I absolutely love reading, but the thought of trying my own hand at a novel is incredibly daunting :s

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