My advice to clueless Casanovas -- by Ireland's queen of romance
In a Valentine's special, Deirdre Reynolds talks love, dating and sex with Mills & Boon author Daisy Cummins
Meet Ireland's sexiest author. With 18 hit novels and a literary award nod under her belt, Dubliner Daisy Cummins is one of the most prolific and successful writers in the land -- yet you've probably never even heard her name.
Why? Because to her fans Daisy is better known as Abby Green -- the saucy scribe behind such orgasmic bestsellers as Mistress to the Merciless Millionaire, The Virgin's Secret and Ruthlessly Bedded, Forcibly Wedded.
As Ireland's foremost Mills & Boon author, former film director Daisy (36) has carved a niche in chick-lit that's less PS I Love You than PS I Lust You.
And despite adopting a pen name, the bonk-buster queen says she's proud of her unusual day job.
"I suppose I chose a pseudonym because I thought it was a bit more glamorous than my own name," she laughs. "And Mills & Boon is such an international brand that I needed something a bit more generic. But I don't mind people knowing who I am at all. My friends and family think it's great -- even my little brother Jack has read a couple of my books under duress!"
Daisy's sexy secret is out of the bag this week anyway, as she's just been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association Love Story of the Year Award 2011 for her novel Bride in a Gilded Cage.
From wannabe-writer to would-be award winner in the space of just four years, her career success has been the sort of swept-off-your-feet stuff found between the covers of one of her books.
"At first, writing a book was just a way to get out of working in film," tells Daisy, who's worked on such movies as Saving Private Ryan and King Arthur. "The movie industry is great when you're young and have no ties -- but eventually you get tired of all those 4am starts and mucky fields.
"I was living with a friend at the time and the two of us used to read Mills & Boons in our spare time -- it was like a shared guilty pleasure. She had this tape that doesn't exist any more on how to write the perfect romance novel, so I thought 'Why not have a go?'"
However, the course of true love never did run smooth, and her first foray into the world of rich Romeos and horny heroines was rejected by the publishers.
"Initially, I was really disappointed," says Daisy, "but then I realised it was the best kind of rejection because they had sent me back constructive criticism for next time. About a year later, I was published on my third attempt with Chosen as the Frenchman's Bride -- don't read into the titles too much!"
Indeed, critics may scoff at the obvious titles, (very) soft-porn sleeves and bed-hopping narratives, but dig deep enough and you're sure to find one of those naughty rose-emblemed tomes on the book shelf of every home in Ireland and beyond.
"People are always going to be snobbish about any kind of romantic fiction," she says. "Even now, I still have a few friends who ask: 'When are you going to write something else?' But Mills & Boon have been around for more than 100 years, so they must be doing something right.
'If I were to write a regular chick-lit tomorrow, it's only going to sell in Ireland -- and even if it became a number one bestseller, I'd still probably only break even. As a Mills & Boon author, my books are automatically sold in 109 countries and translated into 26 different languages."
Although she first stumbled upon Mills & Boon aged 14 while holidaying with her granny, Daisy reveals they're definitely no longer just for nanas. Never mind S&M, these days wanton twenty-something women are turning to M&B for kicks.
"I probably had the same preconceptions as everybody else about Mills & Boon books," she admits, "that they're written by grannies for grannies. But one of the authors is a 24-year-old mum-of-three and if you go on their Facebook page, it's all younger women who are leaving comments. I get emails from 18 and 19-year-old college students from all over the world who are fans.
"In the past, I think women felt that people would judge them if they were sitting there reading a book with a kissing couple on the cover and think 'Poor, sad sap'," adds Daisy. "But that's all changing -- the covers and titles are becoming more subtle and the ebook sales have gone up. Why buy a book that you feel you have to read hidden behind another book?"
From the sweet 'Cherish' range to the no-holds barred 'Blaze' collection, the brand's books are colour-coded by content -- from a romantic cuddle in front of the fireplace to swinging from the chandeliers.
If you're wondering, Abby Green's bedtime reading leans towards the latter on the Mills & Boon barometer of bonking.
"People can pick up one of my books and know that there's going to be sex in it," jokes Abby's alter-ego Daisy. "Some authors like to close the bedroom door in their books -- I leave mine wide open!
"They can be pretty explicit," she adds, "but it's not porn either. Put it like this, though, you're certainly not going to write about 'waves crashing on a shore' to describe an orgasm. It's hard work trying to come up with all these different ways for the characters to have what's essentially the same act!
"In some of my books, the couple won't have sex until near the end; whereas in others, they'll have sex straight away. It just depends on however I'm feeling that day!"
Writing about romance and romping all day, surely clit-lit doyenne Daisy must have the most exciting sex life in Ireland?
"If only," she sighs. "Unfortunately, it's all fantasy based!
'But you don't have to look too far for inspiration. From Carrie and Big to the upcoming royal wedding, what girl doesn't want to be swept off her feet and introduced into this lavish lifestyle where money's no object? It's the whole Cinderella complex.
"The trademarks of my books are the rich alpha-male hero, the feisty independent heroine who doesn't need a man but falls for him anyway, a reason why they can't be together and, of course, a happily ever after," she explains.
"Women know what they're getting and that's why they buy the books over and over again. I always think that Mills & Boon is to women what Ian Fleming's James Bond novels are to men. It's sheer escapism."
Ironically, though, single Daisy confesses she wouldn't touch one of her own over-the-top creations with a barge pole if he showed up on her doorstep professing his undying love (or just lust) this Valentine's Day.
"I'd like to get married and start a family down the line," she says, "but I wouldn't necessarily want to meet one of the guys I write about! They're the millionaire playboy type like JFK Jr or (hotelier) André Balazs.
"One of my last characters even built a Bedouin tent in the desert to seduce the object of his desire. I'd be quite happy with somebody nice and kind -- even if he doesn't swoop me off to Morocco for lunch in his own helicopter!"