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A novel way to love: BBC NI documentary meets the local bestselling authors who write for Mills & Boon

A new BBC Northern Ireland documentary meets the local bestselling authors who write for Mills & Boon and whose books sell in their thousands all over the world, writes Audrey Watson

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(L-R) Mills & Boon author Lynne Graham with presenter Eithne Shortall (1)

(L-R) Mills & Boon author Lynne Graham with presenter Eithne Shortall (1)

Mills & Boon author Catherine Tinley

Mills & Boon author Catherine Tinley

Mills & Boon author Karin Baine

Mills & Boon author Karin Baine

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

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(L-R) Mills & Boon author Lynne Graham with presenter Eithne Shortall (1)

The real-life love story of one of its authors, Newtownabbey woman Karin Baine and her husband George, could be a plot for one of its bestselling novels.

The couple first met when Karin was 17 and George was 22. They got engaged after three months and have been married for 35 years.

"We've been together a long time and are still really happy," says Karin.

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Mills & Boon author Karin Baine

Mills & Boon author Karin Baine

Mills & Boon author Karin Baine

"We met on a night out at the Airport Inn in Templepatrick and while I wouldn't call it love at first sight, we both knew from the start that that was it and we got engaged after three months."

The couple have two grown up sons and Karin has just finished writing her 17th medical romance novel for Mills & Boon. She plans to keep writing as long as the ideas keep coming.

"George, an engineer, has always been really supportive and encouraging - I think he's hoping for early retirement," she laughs.

Karin (45) began writing around 12 years ago after the death of her mother.

"I was at a bit of a loss for things to do, so decided to have a go," she says. "Both my mum and granny were big readers of romantic fiction and there was always a big box of Mills & Boon by mum's bed, which I started reading - and loved.

"I've enjoyed writing stories since I was at primary school and when I went on to Ballyclare High School, one of my teachers - Mr Reid - encouraged me to send stuff off to magazines.

"When I was in my 20s, I did have a few bits published here and there, but not a book."

Karin entered a Mills & Boon writing competition, So You Think You Can Write, in 2014. It was a worldwide contest and she got through to the final 10.

"To enter, you had to write a first chapter and synopsis, and if you got through to the final 50, you had to send a full manuscript. That was the first time I actually finished a book," she says.

As a result, Karin began working with a Mills & Boon editor to hone her skills and in 2015, her first novel, French Fling to Forever (which was set in Belfast) was published.

The rest they say… and after working as a sales assistant and raising her sons, she now writes full-time and aims to complete around three books every year.

"Mills & Boon allow you to work at your own pace and will work out a schedule to suit you. I try to be disciplined and write at least 1,000 words every day, sometimes it's more and some days, less. I can get easily distracted," she laughs.

"I think a lot of people - especially other writers - think a Mills & Boon is easy to write, or that there is some kind of 'tick sheet' for each book. But there's not. Each book is different in its own way and we work just as hard as other writers.

"And they've moved with the times. It's now important that female characters are as strong and independent as men. They no longer give up everything to be with someone. They keep their independence and get the man as well.

"Also, you have to be very clear about the language used when writing sex scenes - it has to be very clear that both are willing partners.

"It can take away from the spontaneity a bit when you are writing, but the issue of consent and equality are very important in today's Mills Boon love stories."

Catherine Tinley writes historical romance novels set in the Regency era. Her sixth love story was published last month and she's already completed the first draft of book number seven.

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Mills & Boon author Catherine Tinley

Mills & Boon author Catherine Tinley

Mills & Boon author Catherine Tinley

The Newry woman, who is in her early 50s, only began writing seriously around five years ago and still works full-time in healthcare management, while putting pen to paper at weekends.

She says: "I've always written stories - long and short pieces, but the first project that I ever fully completed was my first book, Waltzing with the Earl, which I sent directly to Mills & Boon on the off chance.

"Writing has always been a side-line for me," says the mum of three.

"Once the children grew up, I decided to start writing seriously and just went for it.

"I got the Artists & Writers Yearbook, found the address and sent it in - which is the worst way, apparently, because your manuscript then goes on to what's known as the 'slush pile' and the chances of getting spotted are very slim.

"It's much better to go through an agent, or a competition.

"It's hard to get published by Mills & Boon. There's a lot of people send them manuscripts. I'm very lucky in that mine got pulled from the pile."

Waltzing with the Earl, which was published in 2017, was a huge success and in 2018, Catherine became the first woman from Ireland to win a RITA - the highest accolade in the romantic fiction industry - for her debut novel.

"I've always been fascinated by the Regency era and loved reading Jane Austen (inset)and also Georgette Heyer, who wrote Regency and Georgian love stories," she says.

Catherine has been married to Andrew, a lawyer, for almost 29 years and says it was her husband who insisted that she send off the manuscript for Waltzing with the Earl.

"I made him read the first draft," she says.

"It wouldn't be his choice of reading material, but he said he got half way through and forgot that it was me who had written it because he got so caught up in the story.

"That was really encouraging and he insisted I sent it off. He's always been really supportive."

Surprisingly Catherine says that she and Andrew aren't romantic.

"When we were younger, yes of course, but now, romance for me is being handed some food and the remote control," she laughs.

She insists that while in the past, Mills & Boon heroines were somewhat submissive, things are very different today.

"They've changed with the times. The books now, reflect society now, even historical romance novels," she says. "You are writing about strong-minded smart women who are making their own choices and men who are worthy of them.

"It's been a very long time since the days of dominant men and it's not just Mills & Boon who are reflective of this, it's all storytelling art forms."

Catherine agrees that there is still a lot of 'book snobbery' surrounding romantic fiction.

"Some people in the book world can be a bit sneery, but romantic fiction is actually quite tricky to write.

"There is no formula. The only stipulation with Mills & Boon is that a love story is the central theme and there has to be a happy ending.

"I've had a few people say to me, 'Oh, I could write one of those'," she laughs.

"I sometimes feel like saying, 'Okay, see if you can get a well told story that's emotionally engaging, with good character development, a good story arc, light and shade, a variable pace, and get the dialogue and historical detail right all within the word count… go for it and see if you can get it past a Mills & Boon editor.

"Obviously, there are people who can do that, but it really is harder than it looks."

Mills & Boon: Writing For Love in Northern Ireland includes the first ever television interview, with mega-selling author Lynne Graham from Ballymena.

Lynne (63) published her debut novel, Bittersweet Passion, in 1987 and has since gone on to write more than 120 novels and sell 45 million books. She is one of the most successful Mills & Boon writers in the world.

Speaking on the programme she reveals that she wrote her first novel when she was 15.

"Of course it was turned down flat," she says. "I didn't know much about life then and I didn't write again till I was in my early 20s. My eldest child was a toddler and I started writing to amuse myself.

"I wrote and sent off at least six books before I got one published. Now I write on average six days a week.

"A lot of people who read Mills & Boon won't admit to reading them. And in the '80s, I met a lot of people who had quite a judgmental attitude towards me when they found out I was writing romantic fiction."

Despite her huge success, Lynne reveals that she continually suffers from self-doubt.

"You are always worrying about things like getting stale, because different generations of women look for different things in their heroines," she says.

"All I want for my readers is for them to have a happy experience reading my books.

"Some of the loveliest letters and emails I have received have been readers writing to me and saying that my books got them through a difficult or unhappy period.

"If one of my books can lift someone or cheer them up a bit, that's my job done and done well. That's the best compliment you can get."

Belfast Telegraph


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