What happened at the Valentines' MILLS & BOON workshop in Selfridges?

10 February 2011


Well, thank heavens for Selfridges, is all we can say. Valentines day, that most clichéd and crashingly unoriginal of all the days in the calendar, is something we’d usually board a central line tube at rush hour on our day off to avoid, but when we heard about the snazzy department store’s plans to dedicate their Valentines day to much-maligned book publishers, Mills & Boon, we simply had to get involved.

The gorgeous Wonder Room on the ground floor has been given over to a massive wall of the titles, along with iconic book cover artwork from days gone by. For two days only they've engaged a writer-in-residence, the very talented Heidi Rice, to share her expertise and practical tips on how to write your way to an absolute fortune in the business of ROMANCE.

First things first. When you make yourself your first cup of tea and sit down to write your sentimental masterpiece you’ll need to remember two vital components. Character and conflict. Character means your heroine – late twenties, single, glamorous of course and preferably with a very specific niche job, that will differentiate her from all the other late twenties glamourous heroines of the many thousands of romance novels available.

The hero must be a strong handsome alpha male type. Buff pecs and abdomen are a plus point, but facial hair is generally frowned upon. On these two characters, the book will stand or fall; secondary characters are allowed, but mustn’t take over the story.

Which brings us to the other key element – conflict. Both the hero and heroine must be desperately attracted to each other but also not too keen on each other as the course of true love mustn’t run too smooth or there won’t be enough material to keep going for 50 000 words. Both external conflicts; e.g. he’s a Texan cattle rancher and she’s a glamorous lady explorer who spends most of the year in the Arctic circle; and INTERNAL conflicts, like he’s gorgeous but a bit arrogant and the fact that she has already slept with his arch rival cowboy, (and, who knows? even had a secret baby with him) and he doesn’t know, are needed to generate enough twists and turns in the plot to keep your readers absolutely gripped.

Bearing all this in mind, Grazia Daily have decided to pen the first few lines of a heartbreaking, loin girding romance epic. We want it to have a unique voice unlike any other, so we’re going to set it in Dalston, and make the hero a Dubstep club promoter, and the heroine the daughter of a billionaire American politician who has gone undercover as a skint fashion assistant on a magazine in London in order to break free from her life of stultifying wealth and privilege in Washington DC. (Do you see where we’re going on the internal/external conflict m’lark?) Anyway – here goes. . . .

CHAPTER ONE of The Dangerous Dubstep Dalliance by Felicty Filtertips (my cunning nom de plume)

Madison Beaker shivered nervously in the guestlist queue for Dubstep Riot, on the dirty Kingsland Road in Dalston. If you had told her last year that one single street could support so much litter and debris she wouldn’t have believed you. Back home in Washington DC, even their family’s chauffeur had a butler of his own to keep his wingtips shiny enough to see your face in them. As she and her adopted British friend Nancy shuffled nearer to the entrance, Madison caught sight of a handsome boy barking orders into his mobile phone in a broad Croydon accent.

“Awight Mickey, when the headline act arrives, I want you to let them in and ask them if they need anything. DON’T tell me you're not gonna be here for another 20 minutes mate – you’re havin’ a giraffe! It’s a fackin’ liberty!”

As she gazed at his thick head of salt and pepper hair and powerful eyebrows, she noticed the chest below his colourful sportswear seemed strong and buff. Mmmm. She felt herself getting a bit hotter underneath her Ralph Lauren jacket and turned to Nancy, tossing her perfectly shiny chestnut mane over her shoulder – “Who is that chap?” in the posh British accent she had spent months perfecting after watching hours of Pride and Prejudice and Come Dine With Me on BBC America.

“Oh, Gareth McKnees” replied Nancy, with a chew of her gum. “He’s the meanest roughest toughest promoter in the whole of Dalston. His nights are legendary round here. They ALWAYS go off. He’s got a bit of a reputation with the ladies though. I'd steer well clear if I were you”

DOT DOT DOT! Whatever will happen next?

Mills & Boon writer-in-residence Heidi Rice can be found in store on 10th and 11th February. Book yourslef a slot at Selfridges.com

- Naomi Attwood



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