My name is Helen and I love to read Mills and Boon romance novels.
I blame my grandmother. Aged 13, I was at her house, needing something to read, when I found a selection of M&Bs on her shelf. I can still remember the one I took that set me off on this path – Family Matters by Angela Mather. It was about a junior doctor who had fallen in love with a handsome senior surgeon. They had a one night stand, which resulted in her pregnancy, but she kept it secret from him so he could take an overseas promotion. Five years on he came back into her life, only to discover a son he never knew he had – and a woman who loved him still…
(Seriously, I would love to write the blurbs for such novels. Publishers, call me!)
When people find out about my romance novel reading, the reaction is generally negative. This type of book is regarded by most people as trash, pulp fiction, something to mock that is only read by elderly ladies who buy them from charity shops.
I do believe, however, that there has to be a lot more people (well, most likely women) reading them than ever actually confess to it. Consider the statistics: Mills and Boon publishes 10 million books per year in the UK alone, of which 7 million are romance novels. It’s a top ten fiction publisher, has a UK readership of 1.3 million per month, and sells a book every three seconds. For every person that raises their eyebrows at my choice of reading matter, there’s an extremely good chance that some of them have read one or two themselves.
The thing is, I’m not ashamed of my M&B habit. I am a voracious reader (I read 58 books in 2009 and am up to 61 so far this year) who selects from a wide range of genres. I have two English degrees and I can hold my own when it comes to lists of “classic” and “worthy” books read. Hell, I’ve even read Clarissa, and if that doesn’t give me serious literature props then nothing will.
My M&B reading goes in fits and starts – sometimes I’ll pick up a few from a charity shop and read them in a batch over a few days. Then I’ll go for ages without reading one, before reaching for an old favourite from my shelf. They’re great to take on holiday – perfect beach reading, as it doesn’t matter if you get a bit of sand and water on them, and they’re light enough to fit very neatly into your bag alongside the sun lotion and towel. In Thailand this year my friend and I – a fellow M&Ber, no need to hide it from her thank goodness – brought four between us and polished them off in one sitting per book. They’re also great to take into the bath; again, light enough to be easily held up away from the water and gentle reading to match the relaxed bathtime mood.
When I do talk to people who also read M&Bs, it’s so refreshing to be able to be honest about the enjoyment I get from them, rather than having to justify why I read such books in the first place. If I’m feeling a bit down, or simply need a no-brainer book to while away an hour or two, it’s to them I turn. High literature M&Bs are not. And yes, some are very badly written, but not all of them. What I love about an M&B is that you know what you’re getting from it; it does exactly what it says on the tin. That certainty is great, because sometimes all you want to do is escape into a semi-fantasy world where the men are either cowboys or millionaires, the women are pretty and there is always, always a happy ending.