Men prefer facts while women prefer feelings, Rachel Billlington once wrote; that is why the former read books about war and the latter read fiction, romantic or otherwise. And in her book, Animals in War, Jilly Cooper confessed that, although married to a publisher of 400 military histories, she had read fewer than half a dozen of them. ‘In the same way that men spurn novels, particularly romantic fiction, women tend to avoid war books, as being an exclusively guts-and-glory male province.’
When two of our leading woman writers combine to express the same thought, I tend to treat it as received truth. And then my mind wanders to the question beyond, which is: if it is really true that there is a sharp divide between men’s war books and women’s romances, is there not some way in which I can make vast sums of money out of this discovery?
From there it is but a short step to the formation of a new publishing house, which will issue novels for men and women – romantic military fiction! The new imprint, which is to be called Mills & Bomb, or perhaps Mills & Bang, will shortly be flooding bookstalls with the initial titles, of which details now follow.
When Robin joined the platoon, he had already heard the stories about Sergeant Withers. Tough, cynical, sadistic, they said. And yet there was some soft pool of hurt concealed in the sergeant’s eyes, which told Robin that there was an altogether more complex person tucked behind those sergeant’s stripes than the world knew of. ‘So you’re bleeding Robin-bleeding-Darlington-Smythe, are you?’ the sergeant said at their first meeting. ‘Well, we’ll have those bleeding hyphens knocked out of you before you can say hunt ball.’
The tears clustered hot on Robin’s eyelashes beneath the whiplash of those cruel words. How I hate him, he thought. Yet before the year was very much older, the two men would find themselves mixed up in a circle of passion, carnage and ammunition shortage, which would change both of them ineradicably.
Major-General Bridget Yates, of the Women’s Royal Air Corps, was used to interrogating prisoners. But there was something unusual about the man they brought in one day – his crinkly laugh-lines, perhaps; the proud, untameable look in his eyes, or even the way he refused to speak no matter how hard she lashed him with her handbag. When he turned out to be Johnny Kapok, the famous roving American reporter, she had an uneasy feeling that their paths were to cross more than once in this hell without food or good cosmetics that women call war.
A recce in war-torn Afghanistan was just another job to ace TV cameraman Max Winton, or so he thought. But he had not reckoned on a meeting with petite, sparkling Ludmilla a runaway refugee from the occupying Soviet forces.
‘You can hang around with us if you like,’ said Max gruffly, ‘as long as you don’t mind carrying the spare camera and batteries. And don’t imagine you’ll be getting a slice of our overnight allowances, my little Russian doll.’
‘Of course not, Max,’ said Ludmilla, playing at his earring. She had not met men with earrings before, especially ones inscribed BBC News Cameramen Do It Overnight. ‘Tell me, do you think I could get a job with your Central Office of Information when we get back to Britain?”
We? The COI? Back to Britain? Max thought of his boss at Wood Lane. Would he understand if he returned with a Russian crew-member? More to the point, would his wife Theresa? Max decided there and then to ditch Ludmilla at the first opportunity. Little did he realize how signally he would fail, or indeed that there was now a tiny bug fixed to his earring.
Moreover, The Times 1984