BOOKS Mills and Boon is in a permanent state of evolution, says Clare Somerville

From romance to bestseller fiction, young adult novels to erotic literature, non-fiction to fantasy, Mills and Boon has published passionate love stories under every category for over a century now. Harlequin Mills and Boon has over the last year begun to re-invent the genre again, this time to adapt to the globalised world. Two Mills and Boon novels with Indian characters, set in Indian society, have been published recently: Milan Vohra's The Love Asana and journalist Aastha Atray's His Monsoon Bride . Both were chosen as winners of Harlequin Mills and Boon's online writing competition, Passions. There have always been extreme reactions to Mills and Boon novels; some love them while others love to hate them. Some like to lose themselves in the fairytale endings while there are some who complain about the hackneyed plots and stilted characters. Clare Somerville, head of retail of Harelquin Mills and Boon, U.K. and India, doesn't agree with the latter opinion: “Mills and Boon is in a permanent state of evolution. The novels reflect the aspirations of today's woman, their place in society, education and careers. The novels are true to the prevalent social and sexual mores,” says Clare.

The Passions writing competition that is on till January 31 will reward Mills and Boon stories from India with a published version. “The writer must have an individual and authentic voice. There has to be a happy ending. We are looking for writers who can craft believable characters, making the novel replete with a lot of sexual and emotional tension. It's got to ring true and the novel must take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster, with plenty of ‘heart-in-the-mouth' moments,” says Clare of the sort of submissions they are looking for.

But if the characters are to be believable and the plot credible, it ought to be borne in mind that love in the real world sometimes has unhappy endings. Women and men make wrong choices and couples betray one another. But Clare defends Mills and Boon, saying: “The convention of the genre is to have happy endings. But there is so much variety in the stories. Though the endings are always happy, there is conflict and uncertainty on the romantic journey.” Clare also argues that the authors of Mills and Boon are writers of a high standard, from different professional backgrounds. “We have received submissions from Indian men as well. Most of the participants are highly literate and educated.”

There are statistics to prove the popularity of Mills and Boon, but Clare speaks of many incidents when she's received personal feedback from readers. One wonders how Clare defines love; her answer is fairly succinct. “The chemical oxytocin is known to be responsible for creating sexual ardour. But love really is a bubble of happiness and well being. You see your beloved in whatever you do,” she concludes.

SRAVASTI DATTA

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