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First Page: Unpublished manuscript – Contemporary romance

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Did Mandy dump hubby Vince for sexy photographer!!!

On Thursday night, Mandy was snapped getting cozy with well-known photographer Dara Murphy at Czina’s in Soho. Last week the couple was spotted holding hands at the Notting Hill Carnival. According to fellow Czina’s diners, Mandy didn’t seem to care who was watching as she openly flirted with Murphy, lending weight to speculation that Murphy is the cause of the rumoured split between Mandy and her onscreen partner and husband, Vincent Peterson.

Close friends of the actress are worried that Mandy is in over her head and her involvement with notorious love-rat Murphy will only lead to further heartbreak and may even derail her career. Murphy has been romantically linked with several actresses and models…

And there they were — every woman Dara had encountered in the last decade, tagged, identified and meticulously arranged to suggest the scattered contents of a criminal case file.

His peripheral vision snagged on a caption, ‘Murphy’s raunchy photo shoot’. Ha! Exhibit A, m’lud! Mandy Wexley, Britain’s sweetheart and one half of its favourite couple, sat on the edge of an unmade bed clutching a sheet to her chest. Her chin pointed down and she gazed seductively at a point beyond the camera, as if at a lover standing outside of the frame. The picture illustrated Dara’s corrosive influence on the once wholesome actress and was juxtaposed with a cheery snap of Mandy and Vince — ‘Happier times’ — taken at the BAFTAs.

Dara edged towards the window and checked the quiet North London street below. Two weeks ago, no one had been particularly interested in Dara Murphy. Now he was at the centre of a media storm that showed no signs of abating. Indeed, the fun hadn’t even started. Soon his address would be known. Paparazzi — or worse, crazed Tempest fans — would be lurking outside his home, ready to pounce on him whenever he nicked out to the shops. It could go on for months. I’m a bright blip on the radar now, he thought with a shudder. His life of obscurity was over.

He closed the blinds and backed away from the window. After circling the flat twice, he returned to the magazine and glared at Mandy Wexley waving from the red carpet.

Damn Wexley, you did this! She smirked up at him knowingly. Over her head? Derail her career? Not likely. To Mandy this was a hilarious romp, part of the business and not a bad thing at all for her career. She couldn’t understand what Dara was so worked up about; they’d forget him soon enough.


He did another circuit of the flat. He needed to get out of London for a while — and then an idea occurred to him. He opened the calendar on his phone to check a date. It was a month away. He had to be somewhere in a month. Yes, that might work; he’d just factor in some extra travel time — a month’s worth. Easily done; he just needed to move some things around, bring a few things forward. As Dara turned the plan over in his head, his mood began to lift. He saw a clear path and called his agent to calmly explain his decision.

‘No, no, no! You can’t be serious!’

‘Ah but I am, Simon.’

‘NO. No, no. This is not the time to disappear off to the other side of the world; this is the time to capitalise on all this lovely publicity. Everybody’s talking about you, Dara.’

‘Well yes …

‘I’ve got old clients coming out of the woodworks. Lots of new proposals too — TV spots, guest judging, you know the sort of thing…’

‘God, no…’ Dara released an anguished groan.

‘Why not? You’re very telegenic, Dara; I’ve often said it.’ A long silence followed before Simon spoke again. ‘Of course, this … unpleasantness will all blow over.’ He said with forced nonchalance. ‘They’ll move on to someone else.’

‘You said that last week.’ Dara cut in. ‘Anyway, it’ll ‘all blow over’ that much sooner if I’m not around.’

‘Dara, listen to me. Don’t make any rash decisions. We can manage this.’

But Dara had already made up his mind. He experienced a sudden rush, a combination of elation and fear, and remembered the last time he had felt the same giddy buzz, back when he was a nobody — before all this success had come along. When he had nothing to lose.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 06:50:44

    I like this. I’d certainly read on. However, you need a physical description, because, you know, Dara O’ Briain. Not that he might not be a romantic hero, but I kept seeing his face in my mind’s eye as I was reading.
    Please let Vincent Peterson not be gay. I’ve been reading a fair few stories about female beards finding romance recently.

  2. SAO
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 07:15:31

    Your writing is smooth, but I was thrown by the “notorious love-rat” juxtaposed with “his life of obscurity was over” and “back when he was a nobody”. Notorious love rats get followed by the paparazzi if they are seen in public with a woman, which for anyone with a normal life, is hard not to do.

    He had a raunchy photo shoot, where, I presume, he was using his hot love-rat reputation to build publicity. Maybe it was Mandy being photographed, but, as photographer, he knew exactly what he was doing. So rather than being horrified by being in the public eye, he appears to have done a number of things to court exactly that and profited by it.

    So, I don’t buy your first page. Too many contradictions.

    Further, I suspect all the action is going to take place in this far away place where he is going to meet the heroine, so this page is before your story really starts.

    I’d be interested in a sexy, media-savvy, love rat photographer, used to living in a world where Britain’s Sweetheart is actually a calculating businesswoman, be parachuted into a completely different world and have to change his cynical ways, but only if he doesn’t condemn successful, media-savvy businesswomen who asked him to help them change their image.

    Because if he’s really a love rat, he’s a user. Otherwise, he’s cultivated the reputation because it helps his career and what’s wrong with Mandy doing the same? Or possibly, he’s had a successful career and gotten a media reputation but is actually a naive waif who thinks that the media reports the truth and no celebrity ever manipulates her reputation to advance her career?

  3. Helen
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 07:35:59

    “ready to pounce on him whenever he nicked out to the shops”

    I haven’t lived in England for a long time so it is possible that the usage has changed. To me
    “to knick” is to steal something. In my time we would have said “nipped out”.

  4. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 08:14:49

    @Helen: It’s a flexible language. You can still “nick” something to steal it, but you can also “nick out” which is like nipping out, but with connotations of sneakiness, ie getting there without anyone noticing. So, at work, if you’re not allowed to leave the premises, you might nick out to the corner shop for some teabags.
    “knick” sounds as if it has something to do with knickers!

  5. Kate Sherwood
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 08:29:00

    I’m with SAO.

    I’d LOVE it if this story was a role-reversal from the usual ‘wronged heroine hounded by media is saved by the strong hero’ trope, but you’ve got to make sure everything makes sense. I wouldn’t like it if the heroine in the above trope was TSTL, and I’m not liking it if the hero in this version is similarly stupid. The current set-up makes it seem like he’s a manipulator but we’re being told he’s an innocent – I don’t like the contradiction.

  6. Marianne McA
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 09:01:33

    I find Dara O’Briain entirely sexy, so that connotation worked for me.

    In general, it’s a decent page, but it didn’t hook me in. The person that comes alive on this page is Mandy, and I get the feeling she’s not part of the story proper. (If she is, the words ‘Mandy’ and ‘Murphy’ are shaped rather alike, and that’s a drawback if you read quickly. )

    Nit-picking, I found the paragraph beginning “He did another circuit of the flat” irritating. I imagine I’m supposed to feel intrigued about what his plan might be, but given we’re privy to his thoughts up to that moment, all the mystery just annoyed me. I’d rather he looked at his phone and thought “Maybe” and then we just skipped to “No, no, no!”

    Apart from that, it’s all good. As I said, there’s nothing here that pulls me into the story – the stakes are low, and I don’t know anything about Dara other than he’s good looking and reasonably successful at his job. If the book had good reviews, or an interesting blurb, I’d be open to it: there’s nothing here that dissuades me from reading on.

    Good luck.

  7. Jane Lovering
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 10:27:01

    Only one comment to make – is it just me, or does the abbreviation ‘hubby’ annoy anyone else to the point of screaming insanity? Maybe it’s the fact that it rhymes with tubby and chubby, maybe it’s the fact that it yells 1950, or maybe it’s the fact that I would NEVER want to be described as ‘wifey’ or ‘her indoors’, but I find it almost offensively horrible. I am prepared to concede that this may just be me, obviously.

  8. cleo
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 10:39:03

    @Jane Lovering – you are not alone. I also *hate* the term hubby. It’s ugly. Plus, condescending. Since it’s widely used, I think we must be in the minority, but I hate that word.

    I probably wouldn’t put down a book just for using hubby, but the book would go on probation.

  9. Jamie Beck
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 13:56:54

    SAO’s feedback pretty much says it all. I suppose the only thing I would add is that I really don’t know why he’s so upset by the publicity (since his agent seems to think it would be good for his career). Does he have something to lose by this type of publicity (like the woman he really loves, or a new gig that depends on him behaving a certain way?). Right now I sense no urgency, and he hasn’t really expressed why he is upset beyond the ‘bother’ of being tracked by the press.

    Otherwise, the writing style, etc., is very engaging and smooth. Good luck!

  10. Anonymous
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 16:10:56

    I’m with SAO and Jamie Beck, and also with the anti-“hubby” brigade.

    Also, no one else seemed to be thrown by this, so maybe I’m just weird, but… in the US, Dara is exclusively a female name, and therefore I was suddenly jolted out of the story when it became clear that your Dara is male (here I was expecting this to be an f/f twist on the usual trope), and I continued to be distracted even after it was made clear that he’s male. I’d never heard of Dara O’Briain, but I don’t think that would have helped if I had. I get that it’s a popular male name in Ireland, and if you’re intending to sell this only in the UK, maybe it doesn’t matter, but if you’re intending to sell this in the US, you really might want to consider either changing his name entirely or spelling it Daragh.

  11. Nemo
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 21:08:35

    Okay, totally thrown here. At first I thought he was happy about the publicity, then he’s supposed to be horrified… The emotions aren’t coming through clearly here for me. It’s all very dry and distant.

    Ditto to the contradictions being confusing.

  12. SAO
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 00:32:41

    Yes, at first I thought Dara was female, too. But I’ve met a male Iranian Dara and thought maybe this guy was part Iranian, part Irish-American, which would have been a great way to make him a fascinating character with his name alone.

    If you want to keep Dara, you might want a way to preface the first mention of the name with a gendered pronoun or title. “He’s at it again! Did love rat (a gendered term here would be better) Dara break another heart? Did Mandy . . . ” etc.

  13. JenM
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 09:19:27

    I totally agree about Dara. This is not a gender neutral name in the US, it is exclusively female. I’ve learned something new here. I had no idea it was used as a boy’s name in Ireland (and Iran apparently!). Anyway, my point is that it completely threw me when I saw it and I immediately assumed this was an f/f story. Honestly, I don’t know if I could get through the book without being distracted by that name every time, even if you were very clear about the hero’s gender as soon as you introduced him. If you are at all interested in getting US readers, you really should think about changing his name. Now I’m off to google Dara O’Briain. Never heard of him so I’m very curious…..

  14. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 10:44:57

    Where I live we find heroines called Toby and Sidney very confusing, and yet I’ve read a couple of romance novels recently where they are the heroines and not the heroes and nobody in the book seemed to think it unusual. I learned to live with it. Dara is a very common boy’s name in Ireland. I read it through without it even registering.
    Here’s Dara O’Briain in full flow:

  15. Author
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 20:04:09

    Thank you all for your comments. Your feedback has been very useful. I had never heard of Dara O’Briain either – what a find! The gender neutral name is deliberate.

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