Wednesday, February 11, 2009

130, 101, 70: History of Mills & Boon and Jean S. MacLeod

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, it's the perfect ocassion to celebrate one of the grandes dames of the romance genre.

Jean MacLeodOn January 14, author Jean S. MacLeod turned 101. She celebrated her 70 years of writing for Mills & Boon by starting her 130th book for them. No putting her feet up on the cassock with a hot cuppa for her.

MacLeod's first published romantic fiction was in 1938, entitled Life For Two. "I sent off a few ideas to Mills & Boon, and they liked them and that has pretty much kept me busy for the past 70 years," she said.

The Valley of Palms by Jean MacLeodDoctor in Bondage by Jean MacLeodResearch was vital to her, and she traveled all over the world to ensure that the settings for her stories were accurate.

MacLeod's thoughts on writing romances: "I never could understand why it should be thought a disgrace to write five books a year and sell them." Encouraged by Charles Boon, publisher, MacLeod made personal appearances and gave speeches to women's institutes and groups around the country. She courted her fans. M&B and its authors have single-handedly made the author book signings events where readers gets to meet the authors and vice versa. MacLeod noted that women from all classes and background wrote to her on how much they enjoyed her books.

Sugar Island by Jean MacLeodThe Ruaig Inheritance by Jean MacLeodA co-founder of UK's Romantic Novelists' Association, MacLeod made £1000 per anum in her first decade, which was a fairly solid writerly income in those times. However, she says, "Money was not a motivation for writing — we were only paid on a royalty basis. Even now, I still pick up around £68 a year in royalties, but the joy of knowing people were, and still are, enjoying my books is payment enough." For a 100-year-old publisher that sells one book every three seconds somewhere in the world, All About Romance asks, "Is somebody taking advantage of an old lady?"

Despite the content of the Mills & Boon books becoming racier over the years, MacLeod says, "I never use the word 'sex' in my novels — that is not what romance is about. It's about love and emotion."