Out of the Box...   "Innocent In The Ivory Tower"
I wrote "Maisy" on the fly.  I'm a huge procrastinator and I knew I'd never start a romance novel let alone finish one if I didn't have a bit of pressure on.  So I leapt into the fray of a writing competition Harlequin Mills & Boon ran in September of 2010.  I knew two things about the Presents line I was targeting when I put pen to paper on that first chapter:  the hero needed to be on the first page and the contrast between him and the heroine immense.

With these elements in mind the story took the form of the nanny and the oligarch.  I'm a sucker for a pre-revolutionary Russian prince and I seized on the opportunity to write a modern-day equivalent.  I gave him a stonking great super-yacht and an underprivileged background and a mistress on the way out.  I set it on the Amalfi Coast.

My heroine Maisy is an ingénue, a girl with little life experience, waiting to be written on (an archetype as a grown woman I'm not particularly enamoured of but seems awfully popular with a lot of people.  I was writing this book for a lot of people.)  Maisy's evolution therefore is key to the story and her growth enables her to see Alexei more clearly, but also acknowledge her own wants and needs as important.  By the end she has inscribed a great deal upon a hero who thought he had nothing to learn.

When I handed over the finished manuscript six or so weeks later I wasn't too sure what I'd produced.  It was flawed - of course - and needed a couple of rounds of revisions, but it was accepted in January 2011 and I signed up to write another one.  What I'd learned from Maisy was both what I did want to do in category romance and what I didn't, and what I may or may not be able to get away with.  The next book was a huge leap forward for me into the land of what I wanted to do, but it was a messy process that took a lot longer than Maisy.

An image that helped Maisy to blossom was this white Balenciaga dress.  Clothes maketh the woman and Maisy feels instantly on higher ground when she's in a pair of Louboutin heels.  I felt she needed a wardrobe to prop up the woman she was in the process of becoming.  Putting her in that dress gave me the girl who stepped into an extraordinary life when she followed her small charge to the private hideaway of a Russian billionaire.

Those killer blue eyes.  With Alexei I imagined this exotic Russian man who seems to have everything under tight control, but from the moment he meets Maisy that control begins to unravel.

Because Alexei is frozen at his emotional core and Maisy's presence in his life threatens that, I wanted the romance to unfold somewhere warm and fun.  I chose Ravello in Italy.  Ravello, perched on cliffs along the Amalfi Coast, enabled me to park Alexei's yacht in the Mediterranean within easy reach.

Sophia Loren in "that dress"

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Lucy Ellis