Where did Mills & Boon come from?

25 Jan

There’s a great scene in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You where the tempestuous Kat is sent to see guidance councillor Ms Perky.

She interrupts the older woman part way through writing a romance novel. And we know it’s a critical juncture because she’s desperately trying to find another word for ‘engorged’ (use your imagination). The wannabe writer eventually decides on ‘tumescent’, but the exchange makes me laugh because I do admire the creativity romance authors put into finding replacements for X-rated words.

As anyone who’s ever read one of their novels knows, romance fiction has a tenuous grip on reality. And that’s exactly how it should be. I mean, who wants to read about an unemployed yob with a mullet who romances women by taking them pig shooting?  

Far better, I say, for the hero to be a Greek/Italian, count/entrepreneur whose bedpost notches far exceed those of the maiden he seduces/claims/owns. And no cellulite or beer guts either please. We’ll have creamy thighs, silken erections and the ubiquitous chiselled jaw. After all, a hero is only half a man without one.

Anyway, contrary to how it might sound, I can certainly appreciate the art that goes into a romance novel. And while there may be a formula there’s often very good writing, most of it by women and most of it under the banner of Mills & Boon (technically Harlequin Mills & Boon). So I wanted to know how it got started. And would you believe it was the brainchild of two men?

More specifically I’m talking about Gerald Mills and Charles Boon, who lived in London and created a publishing house back in 1908. They set out to cover a broad range of topics, but in the 1920s, with the Great War over, they capitalised on a growing market in light romantic fiction books. It soon became their bread and butter and the die was cast.

You can read more about their legacy here. But for a sassier take on the genre visit Smart Bitches Trashy Books, which takes no prisoners when it comes to cliches and corny deflowering. In the meantime check out ultimate romance novel cover boy Fabio’s top 10 pick up lines.

Fun fact: In the past four decades alone, Harlequin Mills & Boon characters have kissed each other more than 20,000 times, shared about 30,000 hugs and headed for the altar at least 7000 times.

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