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…