Erotic fiction crosses the line
Daily Mail Summer 2005
It used to be a world populated by tall, dark, handsome strangers, wilful young heiresses and chaste clinches by moonlight. Now, however, women’s literature is becoming altogether more explicit.
Melissa Panarello,18, has written of her erotic abandonment at 14
Over the next 12 months British publishers will be launching an unprecedented number of sexually graphic books – fact and fiction – to appeal to a new generation of young women.
Even romantic novelists are rejecting coy references to heaving bosoms in favour of explicit storylines that include a company chief executive feigning a broken ankle to sleep with his friend’s teenage daughter, and a female undergraduate’s adventures in the red light district of Liverpool.
The trend for graphic literary sex has so concerned the Romantic Novelists Association that it is holding its first seminar on writing erotica at its annual conference in Leicester this weekend.
Julie Cohen, a romantic novelist from Georgetown, Texas, who is conducting the seminar, said that female readers now demanded writing that reflected their lives without resorting to fey metaphors.
"The UK is catching up with the United States, which has always been a lot more explicit in its romance writing," she said. "Women are not as coy about talking about sex as they used to be. The Sex and the City generation is much more direct and up-front about it. I am more comfortable writing something that says what it says."
Forthcoming books include the semi-autobiographical sexual revelations of a teenage girl in 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by 18-year-old Melissa Panarello and published by Serpent’s Tail. It caused such consternation after its publication in Italy earlier this year that the Pope issued a warning against reading it.
L’Amande (The Almond) by Nedjma, a 40-year-old Algerian woman, is due to be published in Britain early next year by Transworld and tells the semi-biographical story of a Moroccan Muslim who flees the "extreme submission and sexual humiliation" of her marriage to take a lover.
Other explicit new books include Sexual Healing – the tale of a group of women who set up a brothel – to be published in October by Serpent’s Tail and written by Jill Nelson.
Belle du Jour, the book adaptation of an internet diary by an anonymous English prostitute to be published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and The Diary of Nymphomaniac, penned by a Spanish prostitute, Valerie Tasso, are both due out in the first half of 2005.
Girls by Nic Kelman tells the story of a series of men pursuing their sexual fantasies with young women. They include a father who leaves his family to spend the night in a girls’ college dormitory and a company chief executive whose lust for a friend’s daughter leads him to feign a broken ankle to sleep with the teenager.
Peter Ayrton, the founder of the publishing house Serpent’s Tail, said that many publishers were trying to capitalise on readership demand after the runaway success of The Sexual Life of Catherine M, a detailed account of a French intellectual’s sex life that has sold 157,363 copies since its publication two years ago.
"Publishers are going to be sexing up their lists in the next couple of years," he said. "They are seeing these books doing well and that there is a market for them."
Patrick Janson-Smith, the managing director of Transworld, agreed that the resurgence of sex reflected readership demand. "I think that people have been looking for books like this," he said. "Publishers have been looking for other ‘literary porn’ – for want of a better word – for a long time."
Helen Walsh, the 26-year-old author of Brass, the story of an undergraduate in Liverpool who uses prostitutes to re-enact pornographic scenes, which was published earlier this year, insisted, however, that the use of sex was not always a deliberate ploy to increase sales, and instead was simply a reflection of modern life.
"It wasn’t something I wrote consciously. The main character’s sexuality was coloured by my own sexual biography," she said.
The increasing incidence of graphic sex has prompted concern, however, that it will simply encourage more bad writing. Sebastian Shakespeare, the contributing editor of the Literary Review, the monthly magazine that runs an annual awards ceremony for the worst literary sex scene, said it was art imitating life.
"In books as in life, not all sex is good sex. A sex scene is an immensely difficult thing to write well. If anything, it needs to be written with sensitivity and discretion rather than full-blown orgiastic fervour.
"I am worried that with the publication of more and more graphic books there will be an upsurge in nauseating writing. That is good news for The Bad Sex Awards, but bad news for the readers."