MIDWAY: A century of M&B
Mills & Boon books have long been an easy flogging horse. Many assume they are only read by the hopelessly unfashionable and out of touch, desperate for tales of helpless heroines swept off their feet by dashing, mildly brutish heroes. In fact, though, the person reading an M&B is far more likely to be a successful, highly intelligent woman in her 20s or 30s. And neither these women nor the heroines they love are waiting for a man to come and rescue them. M&B has moved on and sexed up.
Next year sees the firm celebrate its centenary and high sales figures continue to speak for its success. Two hundred million books sold worldwide per annum.
As the daughter of a single-parent feminist, I was hard-wired from an early age to balk at the merest whiff of sexism. Yet, after finding a M&B in my Irish Catholic grandmother’s room one summer, I was hooked. I had discovered an exciting world of feisty heroines and hard-muscled heroes.
Sexual tension simmered and exploded. And there was always a happy ending. The hero and heroine were equal partners and every conflict was happily resolved, not necessarily in a marriage but with a firm commitment for the future. For me, the child of a revolutionary and somewhat bohemian background, it was a welcome — albeit, at first, slightly guilt-inducing — contrast to the anger at men I had witnessed growing up.
My mother knew I read them and said nothing, giving her tacit permission. She understood the need to balance things out. I now write for M&B myself, and am supremely proud to do so.
Let’s start with the first old chestnut that’s used against these books: that they are pulp fiction written in purple prose. Well, they have never been presented as contenders for literary prizes and therefore need not offend anyone who would denigrate them on this basis. These books started out as serials, novellas written to appeal to women who would pick them up for an exotic, escapist treat. And, as with any successful business venture, the original formula has stayed largely the same. Man meets woman, they fall in love, there is conflict and, ultimately, a happy ending. It is the paradigm behind every great romantic work.