Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - an exciting project

This Wednesday Pink Heart columnist Kate Walker has news of an exciting project to celebrate Mills & Boon and the romances we all love.

And if you live in the UK you can be involved - please!

Yes, I know. I’ve had my turn – I already wrote my PHS column this month when I blogged about the 12 Point Guide 2nd edition in the Findaboo post at the beginning of the month. That was me done. My duty to the PHS fulfilled and I was supposed to go away and do something useful – maybe even work – like write something ,a book maybe - and not come back again until my next allotted slot in May.

Well that was the original idea. But since then things have changed slightly – I have some news – exciting news about a project that is coming up. And even more exciting, it’s a project that you, the PHS members can make a contribution to.

As I’m sure you all know by now 2008 is the 100th birthday of the publishing firm whose name is synonymous with category romance publishing all over the world – Mills & Boon. And if you didn’t know that, then where have you been since January 1st? M&B are celebrating their centenary and as a result all sorts of events and exhibitions are going on. (If you live in the UK for example and are anywhere near Lincoln on May 17th, you can come along and meet me and two of the PHS editors – Natasha Oakley and Trish Wylie at the Lincoln Book Festival). And as you must also have noticed M&B and its authors have had a fair bit of exposure in the media.

There have been various interviews, Trish has had a special short story published in The Sun, there was the 100th birthday party in February . . . And then there was the Radio 4 programme Guilty Pleasures, with comedian Lucy Porter (I still resent that 'guilty'!) and the BBC documentary Reader I Married Him with Daisy Goodwin dressing up as Scarlett O’Hara and talking about the heroes and heroines of romantic fiction. (which gives me a nice excuse to post a photo of Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester)

As each of these items has appeared we’ve discussed them here or on our individual blogs – and, well, let’s just say we haven’t been able to be wholeheartedly enthusiastic about the way the M&B, its authors and its readers, have been portrayed. Some articles have been nothing but the same old lazy journalism with the same old tired clich├ęs, the formula, the books ‘churned out’, the 1960s quote from Violet Winspear – you know, the one about how her heroes had to be capable of rape. We’ve put up with comments that women with only one brain cell, frustrated, unhappy, put upon women read M&B. We’ve had Julie Bindel telling us that we write and read ‘detestable trash’, in which heterosexual romance‘promotes the sexual submission of women to men. M&B novels are full of patriarchal propaganda.’ Oh, and we also produce the ‘classic depiction of romance. . .simply "rape embellished with meaningful looks".’

Enough! It’s making me shudder just to think of it. How many times have we read/listened to/viewed/ comments like this. Seen the tired old myths, the lazy reporting turn out the same inaccurate facts an comments again and again – and wished . . .

If only someone would put together a fair, accurate, and above all an up to date programme about M&B romances and their authors and readers. If only someone would actually talk to the writers and their audience and give a balanced picture of just why romance is popular, why M&B have lasted those 100 years – 100 years of commercial and popular success.

Well, this is the exciting news – and this is where you all come in. Well those of you who live in the UK anyway. Because someone wants to make just that documentary – and she wants our help to do so.

As those of you who read my blog will know, I was in London last week for the launch of the 2nd edition of the 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance at London Book Fair. That was on the Tuesday. But just before I left for London, I had an email from Julie Moggan who described herself as “ a UK based documentary maker and a fan of romantic fiction”. Julie told me that she’d just begun development on a new film that she was very excited about. Her plan was to “make a warm, intelligent, entertaining documentary celebrating the success of Mills & Boon novels in their centenary year. The film will feature Mills & Boon writers and their dedicated readers and will seek to explore the secrets of the brands enduring success.”

Julie had found me through my web site, she’d read about the 12 Point Guide and she wondered if we could meet to talk about the project and look into what the documentary might contain and how I could contribute to it.

Julie went on to say: “I'm a freelance director, but I have good connections with commissioning editors at Channel 4 and they are keen to support my next project. My work has been screened on BBC and Channel 4 and at a number of international film festivals. Most recently I directed a film for More4 about last year's Turner Prize and worked on a two-part Channel 4 documentary about post-natal depression. I trained at the National Film & Television School and I like to make warm, sensitive, life-affirming films that are always based on compassionate/respectful relationships between myself and my contributors.”

(You can read more about Julie and her work here)

Channel 4 -‘Compassionate . . . warm . . .life-affirming’ - that all sounded so good. But to be honest, she had me at ‘celebrating’ - anyone who wants to celebrate M&B and category romance rather than knocking and mocking them gets my interest!.

So last Wednesday I had coffee and a l-o-n-g chat with Julie. She’s really easy to talk to, didn’t once mention the words bodice-rippers or formula or ‘churning them out.’ And believe me, after years of being interviewed, that’s a pretty rare event. I almost think it’s a first.

But of course I’m only one person. And a documentary needs more. A lot more. Julie has already spoken to Midas, Mills and Boon’s PR company – she’ll be talking to editors and marketing in Richmond but what she needs are more contributions from authors and from readers who love these books. And that, obviously made me think of the Pink Hearters. Because, after all, isn’t that what the PHS is all about.

So I promised to post a letter from Julie to you all. And the PHS eds have agreed to let me do it because we think this is a project that deserves our support. With contributions from as many of us as possible, Julie will be able to collect up the material she needs to give an unbiased, accurate and up to date view of what M&B romance –writing and reading – is all about. We have a chance to put our case and have it heard and reported fairly.

As our own Natasha says: It’s a big deal if one of the UK major TV channels wants to make a positive programme on us.

So here’s Julie’s letter asking for contributions and for people to talk to her about what they love about Mills & Boon, why you love to read it or write it. I hope that lots of you will volunteer to chat with her so that she can get as wide arrange of opinions, interests, ages etc as possible. The only limit I have to mention is that, obviously, due to budget restrictions and the fact that most commissioning editors only want UK based ideas, Julie is looking for UK readers and writers for the final documentary:

Hi there, my name’s Julie. I’m a documentary maker and a fan of romantic fiction. I want to make a warm, intelligent documentary that celebrates the Mills & Boon publishing phenomenon in the year of its centenary. I want the film to take us into the personal worlds of Mills & Boon novelists and avid readers, to uncover the secrets of Mills & Boon’s enduring success and find answers to the perennial question ‘What do women really want ?!?!’.

I’m at the very early stages of research and at this point I’m very keen to chat to avid fans of Mills & Boon novels, to hear what it is about the books that they love so much. I would also really love to hear from Mills & Boon novelists, to learn more about their lives & writing. I had a really exciting and inspiring meeting with Kate Walker last week and she very kindly offered to make this posting on my behalf. So please do get in touch if you would be willing to talk. All discussion at this point would be off-camera and you’d be under no obligation to appear in the final documentary.

I look forward to hearing from you and telling you more about my project.

All the best
Julie Moggan

So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with Julie and help her make this 'celebration' of M&B! Then hopefully there will be a TV programme that really gives us a fair hearing and a fair showing.

Kate's next romance novel is Spanish Billionaire, Innocent Wife which is already out in M&B Modern and will be published in Presents in June.

Her revised and expanded edition of her sell-out 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance is now on sale You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website or her blog.


  1. I like that picture of Toby Stephens as Mr Rochester ...!

  2. Oooh, this sounds so exciting. I've already fired off my email to Julie. I expect she'll be inundated though.

  3. Oh Yay Kate! So glad you've taken on the oppurtunity to let all the PHS gang know about this exciting project. I'm so jealous I won't be able to be involved.

    Unles Julie was looking for an excuse to come to Australia ;).

  4. We *want* Julie inundated. Please don't hold back.

    As she says there is no obligation to appear in the final documentary at this stage but it is a chance to show M&B is not written and read by sad women who are compensating for a lack of something else in their lives.

  5. Or who can't managed something longer ...

    I'm warming to my theme! lol Better get on with some work.

  6. I wish I could too! Do you suppose she'd come to Canada? LOL.

    This sounds VERY exciting.

  7. Thanks to everyone who responded - it is an exciting project isn't it and hopefully will show the books/authors/readers in a more appreciative and on mocking light.

    Julie tells me she's already had a flood of replies and she'll be getting back to you on those

    Thank you!