Every four seconds a Harlequin Mills & Boon romance novel is sold somewhere in the world. In India, the books give Shumita hope that her straying husband will return. In Japan, housewife Hiroko yearns to make fantasy reality with her handsome ballroom dancing teacher. And in Warrington, mum-of-three Shirley rifles through the books for ideas on how to keep her marriage spicy. But it’s not only the female readers who dream of a perfect romance. New York model Stephen has been on over 200 Mills & Boon covers, but can’t find his true love. While romance novelist Gill Sanderson is in fact a pensioner called Roger, writing from a caravan in the North of England. Guilty Pleasures explores our universal struggle to reconcile inner fantasy with the tragicomic truths of real-life relationships. Five heroes, four continents, one dream of true love. Because real life begins where Mills & Boon ends…
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At the age of 30 I broke up with the boyfriend I’d been with since I was seventeen. The fairytale romance of my teenage years was over and I had some big questions about love. Around this time, I came across an article about the hundred-year anniversary of Harlequin Mills and Boon romance novels. I had assumed Mills & Boon was a dying institution, with a readership made up solely of elderly British women. In fact, they were publishing 50 new titles a month and exporting to 109 countries. I was clearly not the only one preoccupied by questions of love. So began an incredible two year journey into the world of Mills & Boon, which took me from mass tea-parties in Tokyo, to a colonial club in Mumbai, to speed-boating on Long Island with a top male model. Readers’ affection for Mills & Boon the world over became an enchanting way into addressing universal questions about the meaning of true love. In the end I chose to tell the stories of just a handful of the characters I’d met on my travels; three readers and their real life Romeos, one Mills & Boon writer and a cover model. Their struggles to bridge the gap between romantic fantasy and everyday reality offered up a rich canvas through which to explore our very human quest for love.