Sarah Ferguson, the former wife of ‘I can’t possibly be a paedophile/ sex pest because of Pizza Hut’ man and therefore a former part of the UK’s royal family, has recently come out as an author for Mills and Boon.
For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it’s a publishing house that produces cheap, tacky romance novels. You know the type; they’re usually found in large supermarkets that also sell books and charity shops.
Each front cover features a stock photo of a despondent looking woman in period clothing gazing away wistfully while a child clings to them, or a modern couple in a hotel room staring longingly into each other’s eyes.
The novels usually have twee names that harken to a plot that’s much more complicated than the writer is actually capable of creating. Stuff like Price Of A Bride and The Secrets She Carried.
They’re a favourite of Nans and people with little imagination. Mills and Boon has been publishing 1908 and moved into romantic fiction aimed at women in the 1930s.
While I’ve always registered that Mills and Boon still existed, and that there are novels by the publishing powerhouse on sale, I didn’t realise that it still released new books. Not only that, but they’re attracting writers who are, for want of a better term, famous. Fergie might be one step above the z list, but hers is still a name that is recognised by most individuals in Britain and around the world. She hasn’t been a member of the royal family in a long time, but the fact that she’s now a writer for Mills and Boon is surprising.
Clearly then, these books are still being read and readers still want to read them. In fact, the romantic escapist novels produced by Mills and Boon are still incredibly popular, which begs the question: who on earth still buys them?
Personally, I think that the key benefit of these novels is the formula. In the Guardian article that I linked to above, a writer of many Mills and Boons books named Sharon Kendrick says ‘there is no formula’. However, if you ask me, she’s just saying that to make it seem harder to create these novels than it actually is, but the fact of the matter is that they always seem to follow a basic structure.
Every Mills and Boon novel revolves around a love story that is in some way in peril. It might be an issue of class, or prejudice, or some other social construct from the time period in which each given novel is set. Whatever it is, there’s very little difference between each novel. The names of the characters might be slightly different, and the dialogue is written by a different author, but the plots lead you to the same place and the centre of each tale is that true love is obtainable for everyone and everlasting.
It’s this combination of fantasy and romance that makes Mills and Boon books the ultimate in escapist fiction. People who enjoy them probably want to get away from their lives and feel like fiery, romantic relationships between people of different classes are likely, despite the unlikeliness of them actually happening. How often does a prince meet a woman in a supermarket and decide to marry her? Not that bloody often, I’ll bet.
With novels set in different countries, centuries or societies, there’s a Mills and Boon for everyone. I’m almost positive that they’re all pretty much interchangeable when it comes to plots, and from what little I’ve read of them, they’re pretty damn forgettable. However, they’re easy to read and they appeal to readers who seek a romanticised view of the world.
If you ask me, I reckon that the reason behind the success of Mills and Boon is its ability to keep creating novels that feel familiar but have a slightly different story. Reading them is a bit like re-watching your favourite sitcom for the umpteenth time. However, because there are so many of them, you can always find a slightly different book to keep you entertained. It’s this comforting sense of the familiar that keeps readers coming back for more, and has made Mills and Boon a publishing titan.
While it might sound like I don’t like Mills and Boon (I really don’t), I think that if you enjoy them then you shouldn’t be ashamed. Reading anything is an achievement, and improves your mind a lot. If you enjoy Mills and Boon novels, then keep at it- it’s better than not reading at all.