Mills & Boon (M&B), the global leader in series romance and one of the world’s leading publishers of women’s fiction, last year created the Passions short story writing contest exclusive to India to discover the world’s next big romance author. The contest was won by Milan Vohra and after a year-long consultation from the Mills & Boon editorial staff in the UK, the first-ever book by an Indian writer, named The Love Asana, will be launched in India this month.
Vohra, a débutante novelist herself, says: “I was always clear that I wanted to be a writer, but at the time I was growing up, there was no notion that fiction writing was any kind of career. So I went into advertising, starting out as a copywriter in 1985.” Professional success followed; now a veteran of the ad business, Vohra works independently. She describes herself as a Delhi girl, but is currently living in Bangalore with family, “loving both cities”. Crucially, she says, she’s embracing fiction as yet another full-time job. Excerpts from a conversation:
The Love Asana
How did you come to write an M&B novel?
A couple of years ago, I saw the notices for Mills & Boon’s Passions short story writing contest, looking for writing talent. I considered it, then put it away, then had it sent to me again, and I ignored it until the night before the deadline, when I sat down and wrote my story longhand, and sent it off. It went on to win, by which I was taken aback. I’m pleasantly surprised that people seem to have taken a fancy to it.
What happened next?
I realized that expanding it from 2,000 to 50,000 words would need me to flesh out the plot, and edit the story. It flew back and forth, to the Mills & Boon office in the UK, which has a very large team that handles a very large number of people. It took its own time, but it’s done.
Your novel is called ‘The Love Asana’ and is about a yoga instructor. What made you choose the setting?
I wanted the heroine to have a career that was identifiably Indian but also contemporary, but you know, yoga’s incidental to the book. It’s no more about the characters’ careers than any romance novel is. It began with the simple fact that I was doing yoga, and that I knew that my story was going to be called The Love Asana.
Is it true that M&B has guidelines for each book? Did you ever run up against them?
It’s true that they have series guidelines; for example, their books with the pink jackets belong to Romance series, which conforms to a straightforward idea of romance and doesn’t venture into too much physical stuff. The blue-jacketed books are from their Modern series, and the guidelines for that are along the lines of passion and international affairs, which means readers picking that up will know they’ll be reading something a bit more racy.
There weren’t any specific guidelines I had to follow for my book—except that romance novels in general follow a pattern. You generally want your hero, for example, to be an alpha male.
Can you tell us a bit about your hero and heroine? What are they called?
Their names are Vivan and Pari. I took the longest time to name them. A lot changed as I expanded my idea from story to novel, but I intentionally set out to write about people different from myself and those I knew. My heroine is a character from a small town I haven’t been to, even if she’s urban now—the novel is set in Delhi. I knew I wanted to write about people whose economics and city background were different from mine. So both characters are self-made, and they come with a lot of baggage that they work through in the course of the novel.
Over the last two years, I had a lot of experiences of how M&B goes out to all parts of the country, and to all kinds of people. I thought to myself that I must bring that quality to the book to make them relatable.
Have you ever been an M&B fan yourself?
When I was growing up, it was the thing you picked up after exams, or after a round of particularly heavy reading (laughs). It restores the balance. I picked up one after I finished Life of Pi, for example. I’ve always read M&B novels off and on.
Are you writing another novel?
I am. It’s going to be chick lit, although it won’t be M&B, as nice as it’s been. Having a chance to write this novel, and all the attention that being an M&B writer has brought me, has opened my mind to the idea of taking up fiction seriously. So I’m about three-fourths of the way through my next book, although I don’t know if I’ll be done by Christmas or sometime in the next year.
I also want to do Young Adult writing. I’m contributing a romance story to a young adult anthology that’s coming out soon. I’m also in talks to do a relationship-based book for 18- to 19-year-olds.