L is for Lesbians

frying pan3

Number 12 in The A to Z of the Writer’s Affliction, part of the A to Z blogging challenge.

Sex is like a frying pan. Well, it can sizzle, yes, but that’s not really what I mean. Just that writing about sex and writing about frying pans is similar. Or rather, it should be, but there’s an imbalance. How many frying pan scenes do you come across in novels? See what I mean? Now, this may simply be due to a terrible oversight on the part of writers, but I suspect the main reason is that frying pans, unless they’re murder weapons or magic wands in disguise, don’t add much to the story. Very few writers sit down at their desk to grapple with that paragraph they’ve been both looking forward to and dreading: The frying pan lay on the hotplate, butter slowly melting inside, the golden glow spreading over its surface… 

It wouldn’t be so bad if sex was easy to write about but it isn’t. If you do give in to the temptation, you may well become a contender for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award, the purpose of which is ‘is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them.’ Of course, you might say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but nor is there any escaping that this is literature’s least coveted award. Last year’s winner, by the way, was the singer Morrissey, who triumphed despite some very stiff competition (sorry…).

But it’s not all bad news – there’s also been a good sex prize awarded by the Literary Hub, the winner being James Baldwin. As the judges put it: There is a good reason most awards given for sex writing are for bad sex writing: to commit to words that most intimate and personal act is generally a doomed undertaking. For even our best writers, to describe sex is to veer between the biological and the euphemistic, the soft-focus and the fluorescent. It rarely works. And yet many have tried, and will continue to do so.

So where do lesbians come into this? Well, it so happens that Magali and Charlotte, the two main characters in One Green Bottle and its sequel, Perfume Island, are in a lesbian relationship. I didn’t plan it that way, but when I was working on OGB, I told a friend about it and he said, ‘You should make them lesbians. It’s very trendy, you know.’ Which I thought was a great idea (we’d had a bit to drink, I’ll admit). You might think that’s the worst reason for turning your main characters into lesbians, but after a while, I realised it’s the best. A frivolous decision with no particular consequence.

In OGB, it’s barely hinted at – you might not even notice. In Perfume Island, it’s far more central to the plot, so yes, I was apprehensive, because who am I to go writing about lesbians? But once I’d reminded myself my genre is crime, not LGBT, it turned out to be easy (or rather, no more difficult than writing always is).

And now you’re all dying to know if I pulled it off. Well, pre-orders of Perfume Island will be starting soon… 😉

One thing I will say – there’s nothing in there that could contend for either the good or the bad sex award. Sorry to disappoint. To compensate, though, here’s an intimate secret: I have a rather special technique for washing frying pans…


Posted in novel, One Green Bottle, Perfume Island and tagged , , , .


  1. Yes, indeed. Seems that when I write about people, they all seem to have that behavior they want to do. I have this stack of books given or recommended to me by helpful associates as good examples for writing about sex. I find it interesting that fictional sex must meet a certain standard that real sex does not. But a fun topic, be it good or bad.

    • Certainly a fun topic, though tricky to handle well. I suppose all writing needs to be of a standard that reality might not match up to, whether about food, sex, travelling, whatever… So even if we’re writing about bad food, the writing itself must be good.

  2. Sex has so many ways to speak about it…. We are surrounded by it. romantic, passional, sweet …bisexual, homosexual and of course, lesbians, it’s something that has been in the world for ever, though last centuries it was considered a sin, just as well no longer. So, why not to write about them. And I preffer to read about sex -here lesbians- than..hahaha… a frying pan.
    Y enhoy reading you!!!!!!

  3. Their relationship was only subtly implied in OGB. I’m looking forward to Perfume Island for many reasons, one of which is to see how you handle the fibers of their relationship. Will it be realistically and convincingly woven into the story, devoid of stereotype? Will it make any difference in how we view either woman? Will it not matter any more than if they were a heterosexual couple?

    I’m confident you’ve created a lovely portrait of them framed within the story, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised by the medium you use to paint it.

    No pressure. 🙂

  4. Seems like you might have hooked it with that sequel of OGB from this preview of Perfume Island you might not realize you even wrote! Can’t wait to read it…~Elle

    • Some of the excerpts are good for a laugh – but quite cringeworthy! On the whole, I think restraint is the best approach when it comes to writing about sex.

Comments are closed.