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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Cosy study takes romance to heart

WITH its bare, wooden floorboards, no-nonsense hard-backed chairs, threadbare Oriental rug and desk cluttered in papers and books, the study at Michelle Styles’ home in Haydon Bridge does not look, at first glimpse, like a room made for romance.

But this is the room that has inspired a thousand kisses and tender caresses. For it is here that Mills and Boon writer Michelle has penned more than 20 romantic novels peppered with heart-stopping passion and smouldering emotion.

“The study was a playroom for the children when we first moved here,” said Michelle. “But now they are all grown up and it’s my study, the place where I write, where I lose myself in a wonderful world of imagination.”

A fire crackles in the grate as Michelle chats about her latest historical novel: a gripping tale of a hard-headed Regency businesswoman and her growing attraction to a handsome aristocrat.

A prolific writer, Michelle churns out three or four books every single year, her mind a constant whirl of new ideas for plot and character.

“I am quite disciplined,” she said. “I come in here to write most days. I don’t see it as work – I love to write. It’s a great therapy and an outlet for my vivid imagination and busy mind. I am still inspired and excited by my writing – it’s the interplay of characters that fascinates me the most.”

Shelves crammed full of her favourite Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Victoria Holt and Anya Seaton novels are within easy reach of her writing desk if Michelle ever runs out of inspiration.

And family photographs of husband Mark and their three children stand pride of place on the mantelpiece, reminding Michelle of the people she loves most in life.

Meeting husband Mark, and becoming engaged on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, was the most romantic thing that has ever happened to American-born Michelle who has hung pictures to remind her of that special time on her study walls.

The couple are looking forward to celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this summer but Michelle still loves to think back to the time they spent together in her home city, all those years ago.

One picture depicts an evocative image of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, another shows the Victorian Cliff House where the couple celebrated their engagement and a third shows parrots at the San Francisco zoological gardens – another favourite place.

“I gave up everything to marry Mark and move over here,” said Michelle. “It was the most romantic, impulsive and spontaneous thing I have ever done and I have never regretted it. This is my home and I am very happy here.”

Despite growing up in San Francisco, Michelle had never actually walked across the Golden Gate Bridge until Mark persuaded her to cross it with him – and then asked her to marry him.

“It was one of those moments I will remember for ever,” she said. “And it took me completely by surprise.”

Another favourite print, a Hanns Kornell champagne poster, simply marked with the word “character”, hangs above Michelle’s desk and is a reminder that, in her novels, people come first.

“I come up with the characters and then the story just falls into place,” she said. “I bought that print when I was 20 and I still love it.”

Michelle’s books have been published all over the world and there are French, German, Czech, Greek and Polish versions on her bookshelf in an alcove by the fire.

The fireplace itself is decorated in art deco tiles depicting a painting by Czech artist Alfons Mucha.

“I chose those tiles because they are so romantic,” said Michelle. “And the cast iron fireplace is decorated with garlands of flowers.”

Above the fire, on the mantelpiece, sits one of the most eye-catching objects in the room – a Venetian Harlequin mask.

“Mark and I went to Venice to celebrate his 50th birthday,” said Michelle. “And we bought the mask from this workshop just over the Rialto Bridge. I love it because it is so unique and obviously hand-made. And of course the Americans know Mills and Boon as Harlequin – so it’s a great symbol for me.”

Next to the mask is a little blue and white china figurine depicting a little Dutch boy and girl kissing.

“That was a present from a fan in Holland,” said Michelle, “and it means a lot to me. It’s always good to hear that my books are loved and appreciated.”

Opposite the fireplace is a notice board covered in yellow post-it notes.

“I like to map out my stories,” said Michelle.

“It is a screen writer’s trick and it helps you to piece the story together, to see where there are holes that need to be filled. It is forever changing as ideas are added all the time.”

Michelle admits that her study, which today looks neat and ordered, is usually completely chaotic.

“I think most writers work in chaos,” she said. “I have tidied up for you coming, but there are usually piles and piles of papers and books all over the place.”

Michelle’s study manages to capture various stages in her life, from young girl dreaming of romance in San Francisco, to new bride, mother and writer.

She created the tapestry above the fireplace of a unicorn beneath an orange tree surrounded by flowers when she was just 16.

“It just shows I have always loved romance,” she said.

“And I have always believed in strong women who know what they want and are prepared to make things happen.

“Mills and Boon heroines aren’t wilting victims, they’re feisty, independent, strong-minded. And they are prepared to hold out for the dream.

“I believe the most romantic thing that can happen to anyone is meeting someone who you realise you want to spend the rest of your life with. That is a pretty powerful feeling. You can’t get more romantic than that.”

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