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Let's talk about sex

When my first novel Getting Over It was published in the US, I was invited to give a talk to the American Library Association. As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, I was introduced with the words: ‘Anna’s heroine has more sex than anyone I know.’

‘Yes,’ I bleated, trapped on the podium with hundreds of people staring accusingly up at me. ‘But it’s mostly very bad sex.’

Afterwards, I checked – and there were three occasions on which my poor heroine, Helen, got lucky (or not). The woman who introduced me must have had very chaste friends, as the novel spanned a year.

Anyway, I was surprised because when you write your first novel, everyone assumes you have transcribed from your diary. So, for that very reason, and because I knew my mother would read it, I had kept the sex to a minimum. And yet, despite taking precautions, here was I being accused of nymphomania!

Then my husband attempted to read Getting Over It and failed, announcing ‘it feels like you’re being unfaithful.’

After that bombshell, the sex in my novels dwindled. I didn’t deprive my heroines – but there was less bedroom detail. I think, at least when reading women’s fiction, people prefer to use their imagination. When confronted with a vagina on the page, I start wincing away from it. I don’t mean to be sexist – I’m not keen on anything upright and purple in my chick lit either.

But with RICH AGAIN (out as BETRAYAL by Sasha Blake in the UK) I more than made up for all those years of repression. This novel was a change of direction; a book in the tradition of Jackie Collins. And a book of that genre surely has a duty to include a bit of hanky panky – and I included more than a bit. My lead character, Innocence, uses sex to get what she wants and very much enjoys it. Now I think about it, so do most of the characters.

With this in mind, I don’t want anyone choking on their marmalade and toast, so if you, say, approved of the scene in Emma where Jane Austen draws a veil over Mr Knightley’s proposal, I suggest that you don’t read RICH AGAIN until a robust friend has made what my friends at the Daily Telegraph call a ‘breakfast table edit.’

I admit I wished for just a glimpse of a kiss between Emma and Mr Knightley to satisfy my own fluttering heart, having invested so much in their relationship. And yet (while this might not be apparent on reading RICH AGAIN) I err on the side of Austen as far as sex is concerned.

In publishing, after you submit your ‘first draft’ it bounces back with editorial comments at least three times before it’s fit to print. Anyway, each time the RICH AGAIN edits came back I thought ‘this is disgusting!’ and used up several red pens deleting upright purple business. I can’t imagine how much smut was in there to begin with, because it’s not as if the book is grandma-friendly now. (I have successfully delayed sending my grandma a copy for the past six months.)

I didn’t regret the self-censorship - a writer friend told me that his 9 year old daughter had, unpermitted, found one of his racier novels. She’d burst into tears and sobbed, ‘Daddy, why did you write those disgusting things?!’ Of course, we all laughed in horror – part of my horror was the realisation that at some point I am going to have to account to my three sons for the disgusting things I wrote.

My next novel is going to be about a nun.

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