Always a happy ending for romance writers

PUBLISHED: 16:18 31 May 2007 | UPDATED: 12:32 04 May 2010

Bury yourself in a favourite novel and you can be sure to escape from reality even if just for the briefest moment. For readers of the internationally famous Mills and Boon novels, that escapism is to a world of dashing heroes, flawless heroines and a gua

Bury yourself in a favourite novel and you can be sure to escape from reality even if just for the briefest moment.

For readers of the internationally famous Mills and Boon novels, that escapism is to a world of dashing heroes, flawless heroines and a guaranteed happy ending.

Two East Cambridgeshire authors have been creating these fictional characters for more than 20 years and Lesley Innes found out more about their work..

FORTY years ago a reader could pick up a Mills and Boon romance and be safe in the knowledge that the plot would follow a traditional line, the characters would be stereotyped and the ending would be a happy one.

Now the romantic novel is changing. There is definitely a darker side of murder, intrigue, passion and women taking on strong roles.

With racy titles such as The Millionaire's Pregnant Mistress and The Spy Who Wore Red the stories are reeling in a younger and bolder readership.

But romance is certainly still alive among the 250 odd pages and one vital element is guaranteed - there will always be a happy ending.

Two East Cambridgeshire authors have tuned into this lucrative market, honing their writing skills to appeal to the three million UK Mills and Boon readers and millions more in countries across the world.

Linda Sole and Mary Nichols specialise in historic novels for the company and have had dozens of books published across the UK and translated for the international market.

Both developed their love of writing as children and spent hours reading and inventing imaginary characters and plots.

Linda, 64, from Sutton Park, Sutton has had over 70 books published, including sagas and crimes for another publishing house.

Now she works on a four book contract for Mills and Boon and many of her stories are set in the Regency period.

"They have to have a happy ending," said Linda. "The ending can't be left loose or go forward for a future story. It has to be tied up. That's the way Mills and Boon readers like it.

"But the market has been brought up to date. The stories deal with a lot of issues and some are very sexy with modern humour and up to date plots.

"The middle aged and older readers tend to go for the historical novels and the softer stories. But there is something for everyone. There is a darker side."

Linda's heroes always follow a similar character profile, being laid back Englishmen, with a dry sense of humour, intelligent but often with an arrogant side.

"You have an idea of your hero or lover in your head," she said. "He nearly always follows that criterion. He is always the same sort of character.

"If I am writing about a pirate then he will be arrogant and demanding. He has to fit the period."

Linda writes every day, even when she is away on holiday, but has had a number of books which have never made the bookshelves.

"Catherine Cookson had eight unpublished books in her attic," she said. "I feel that if she had books that didn't work then it's OK for me to have them.

"Sometimes if it's just a little thing that doesn't work here and there you can patch it but if not it's better to put the book to one side and forget it."

At 76, author Mary Nichols, of Philippa Close, Ely has no plans to slow down and is producing three books a year for Mills and Boon.

She made up her mind she wanted to be a writer when she was just seven-years-old and admits to getting withdrawal symptoms if she is not writing.

"You have to find your own voice," she said. "I have found my own style that is successful.

"I stick to closely to a routine when I'm writing and you need to otherwise you would never get it done."

Mary as worked as a radiographer, school secretary, industrial editor and information services manager as well as a writer.

After writing a variety of short stories and articles for newspapers and magazines, she moved onto full-length fiction in the early 1980s and is now the author of more than 40 novels.

Her first Mills and Boon romance hit the bookshelves in 1985 and by the end of this year she will have 28 titles released under the company's name.

She writes historical stories, mainly set in the Regency period but has also tackled the Civil War and Victorian era.

"Mills and Boon readers don't like poverty," she said. "They don't like the grim side, the Dickens' side. The company likes its readers to have a light, romantic read.

"The interaction between the hero and the heroine is the main element of a Mills and Boon story."

Mary has also had a biography of her grandmother and two 400 page sagas published.

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