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Clan McLaughlin

Big Nation, from The Herald Magazine

THIS afternoon, far away in a secluded castle near the Moray coast, a secretive exercise in genetic cloning reaches its macabre finale. From the doors of the petal-pink Castle of Park in Cornhill, Aberdeenshire, dozens of Dame Barbara Cartlands will file out, bearing lapdogs, pastel chiffon and the literary schlock to obliterate all taste and sensibility.

For the past week, their intensive tutoring has covered many bases: dissecting the alpha male; penning logical loopholes; and, most importantly, ensuring sex drips from every vowel. The romantic fiction workshop has taught them well. Now, on a Black Saturday for modern culture, they will begin to write the unspeakable.

The figure behind the seminar, which costs £665 a head, is Sharon Kendrick, an American writer of romantic fiction. She has 65 formulaic titles to her name under the Harlequin Mills and Boon imprint, including Surrender to the Sheikh, The Paternity Claim and The Billionaire Bodyguard.

Popular though Kendrick’s books are, the reigning queen of romantic poppycock is Sue-Ellen Welfonder. A former flight attendant, the Floridian is an aficionado of all things tartan. Founder of her own Clan Macfie society, Welfonder’s profligate yarns detail kilted warriors and brawny noblemen in medieval Scotland. Only For a Knight, for example, follows Robbie Mackenzie, sole heir to the Black Stag clan. “For ten lusty years, he has savoured the sensual pleasures that only a man with no wife can taste,” Welfonder writes. That’ll be Findus microwave lasagne-for-one, I presume.

The business behind this tommyrot, though, is deadly serious. US book sales are £750m annually, while Mills and Boon has 16 editorial offices worldwide, producing 800 titles a month and selling five every second – the market, much like the readers’ gussets, is on the verge of saturation.

Still, I reason, perhaps there’s a spare udder on the cash cow that needs milking. Browsing through the Writer’s Handbook, I find my vanguard. Barbara Collins Rosenberg, a Massachusetts-based literary agent specialising in romance, women’s fiction and chick-lit. Like most agents, she fires a piqued caution across the bows of prospective clients. Letters from budding authors must be singlespaced in a legible font and printed on white or cream 20lb paper. And for the love of God, make sure you proof-read. “If my name is spelled incorrectly on the envelope, ” she forewarns, “I automatically discount whatever the writer has written.” Nae borra, Babs . . .

FAO Barbara Collins Rosenberg,

I am writing to outline my recently completed period novella, a Celtic romantic adventure set in the early sixteenth century. It would, I believe, represent the first such title in the growing canon of historical romance to have been penned from the nib of an authentic Scottish clansman.

Entitled ‘Heat in a Highland Hamlet’, it charts the nineteenth year of one Shona MacHaddock, a bonny, noble lass growing up in the quaint fishing village of Dennistoun. Tied at home to her wicked stepfather and head of Clan MacHaddock, Shug, and his plotting wench, Elsie, Shona spends many of her days on the nearby Eilian-I-Stag. A slither of land located in the middle of the tranquil Loch Buckfast, it is here she flees to talk to the squirrels and drape her supple young thighs around the thick branches of the oak trees.

It is while on Stag Isle one day, however, that Shona’s pale blue eyes fall upon a strange ship approaching. At its helm is a fiery red beard. It belongs to Phil MacOach, Baron of St Enoch and notorious pillager and murderer. The isle, come blood or fury, is to be his.

Only Hamish McAirse, a proud but simple cockler with a tanned torso and forearms like sides of meatloaf, is prepared to risk his life by helping Shona save Stag Isle. Reluctant of his coarse ways, she nonetheless realises his offer cannot be turned down. Together, the pair seek out Dennistoun’s wise men and hear stories told by firelight of MacOach’s violent crusade. It stems from heartache, they say – an angered life irrevocably changed after his only daughter was snatched from him at birth by a rival clan.

As their quest progresses, the hearts of Hamish and Shona forget their contrasting class and status to melt together. After much blood is shed, they will discover that it is Shona herself who may be MacOach’s lost heiress and that MacHaddock may be the true villain. Swords will clash, lips will touch, and Hamish’s Highland hamlet will get very hot indeed.

A first novel some 94,300 words long, the work is coloured by my own knowledge and experience as the founding member of Clan McLaughlin (and indeed, as a red-blooded Scot). Structured around real-life historical battles, figures, and folk stories passed down from my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, it puts the sex into the sixteenth century.

I have read extensively around the category of historical romance, and believe the readers of authors such as Sue-Ellen Welponder would be keen to read the words, feel the heartbeats, and live the life of a true clansman and romantic writer. Please find enclosed an SASE for your reply. I would be keen to send The Rosenberg Group a synopsis of the work along with sample chapters. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours aye,

Martyn McLaughlin

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