It’s a week of love and lust at the Wheeler Centre this week. To celebrate – in addition to the fine roster of events they’re offering – they selected an excerpt from Kill Your Darlings Issue Two. Back in 1993, Ruth Starke won the national Woman’s Day/Mills & Boon ‘write-a-romance’ competition. Plucked from a pile of 4000 stories, hers was the one that caught the eye of the formidable editors at that wildly successful and picky publishing house. Ruth won accommodation at a five-star hotel ‘and about a litre of Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion’. On top of that, she secured a lunch meeting with senior Mills & Boon editorial staff.
With scandalised pleasure I cast my eye over the luncheon menu of one of London’s top restaurants, Stephen Bull of Mayfair. A bottle of Australian wine, which cost a few dollars at home, was the equivalent of $60; few main courses were under $50. ‘Order whatever you want,’ encouraged the senior editor, beckoning to the supercilious waiter with a rather flaky French accent. ‘This is our treat.’ The English professor, who had been eking out a sabbatical in grotty quarters in Finsbury Park when I called and asked if he’d like to have a free lunch in Mayfair, needed no encouragement. Nor did I: my last meal of any distinction had been served by Singapore Airlines. Double-baked cheese souffle, fried sweetbreads, fillets of red mullet and sardines, lobster risotto, summer vegetable salad, green grapes in caramel sauce, a stupendous creation of chocolate, whipped cream, chestnut puree and meringue… The total bill must have been eye-popping. Not that anyone cared. It was a cheerful meal and we all got steadily drunk. Insider information passed across the table, along with the condiments and the wine.