Once upon a time I wrote a novel. It wasn’t a good one and certainly drove home that novel writing wasn’t for me. I have already mentioned it in my ‘about me’ section so I won’t rehash it too much here. Back then, when I was at writing school I thought that it was going to be like the three r’s at primary school. They will teach me to write, I will learn the tricks of the trade and there you have it, I’ll be, a fully-fledged novelist. Not.
So, why bring it up again? It’s got to do with sex scenes in novels, swearing, and whether the age of the writer has any effect on the former and the latter. As an older reader, I am drawn to novels that have the minimum of violence in them and love scenes with the graphic part left out. When I wrote that novel, I had a love, not sex scene in it. I’m reading ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ at the moment. It was written by J K Rowling and published under the pen name Robert Galbraith, but the secret is out now. I must admit that originally it was Rowling’s name that influenced my purchase. But I’m not sorry that I bought it. It’s a nice who done it, a light bit of entertainment. I like nothing better than to be entertained.
I’m only part way through so I’m not sure whether there’s going to be a sex scene or not. If it exists, I suspect it won’t be anything too in- your-face. Rowling’s swearing is tame stuff by today’s standards and her gentle style of writing gives it away. Every other character says fuck or fucking but it’s so part of our vocabulary these days that it doesn’t count for much. I don’t know whether 48 year old Rowling is feeling self-conscious about going further or whether she doesn’t want to shock the Harry Potter mob who may have moved on to her adult novels. I don’t mind, I’m happy not to have to speed read past the cussing minefield. I suspect, however, that Rowling’s young readership knows a lot more about swearing and swear words than she (or I) ever will. I can empathise with Rowling. Is it how I’ve been raised? Possibly. Is it that I’ve read the classics and even some contemporary novels that have entertained and informed without relying on the titillation factor? Definitely. What has become the norm these days leaves nothing to the imagination. It doesn’t give the reading public much credit, does it?
Sydney Carton loved from afar. He drank and smoked but never swore. Well that one never worked for me either; giving up your precious four score and ten so that your rival can have your best girl is stupid. Cyrano de Bergerac wrote wonderful letters and didn’t get the girl either. I hated to give up Cyrano, and there was a boy who had a signet ring and actually had sealing wax and knew how to use it. I think I gave up Cyrano and the boy at the same time.
Contemporary writer (60 year old) Kerry Greenwood’s lady detective, Phryne Fisher may live in the early 20th Century but is a 21st Century kind of girl. Phryne navigates the world of men as an equal, solves all her cases and is an absolute stunner who can have any man that she wants, and generally does. But we are never allowed into her bedroom.
Lindsey Davis, 20th Century writer, creates a first Century Roman plebe called Marcus, Didius Falco, a private detective (informer). Falco chases dancing girls who are no better than they should be according to his Roman mamma. When he meets a girl called Helena Justina he gives them all up for a hopeless love; hopeless because Helena is a Senator’s daughter and far above him in both the social and economic sphere. I won’t say much more than Lindsey Davis and Falco find a way to overcome this barrier. Falco’s mother loves Helena and female readers who have met Falco, envy her such a sensitive partner who kisses and doesn’t tell, loves nothing better than a cuddle afterwards and consults with her on his cases. Lindsey Davis is 64. There’s a pattern here of female writers of a certain age. By the way, not a single sex scene in Pride and Prejudice, but oh, that Mr Darcy, right girls?
My (now defunct) novel had a making love scene in it. Not a thrashing limb or sweaty brow to be seen and no moans or groans to be heard. That seemed to be a problem that my lecturer had with that scene. During novel writing class, students were expected to read aloud scenes or part-chapters from their novel. The lecturer and class would critique it.
It’s been far too long for me to remember the exact details but what it boiled down to was that not giving a blow by blow (sorry) was cheating my reading public of an eyeful. That was years ago and the younger me was too embarrassed to argue it out with a respected lecturer.
I don’t disagree with the notion that sex sells and even that sex sells well. EL James who made a fortune out of an erotic romance novel called Fifty Shades of Grey is a case in point. James’ novel sold well in 2011; actually it was a phenomenon that outsold everything else that year, now it’s marked down and you can find it in the remaindered bins. But if you didn’t get it two years ago, do you want it now? Those sorts of stories come and go (sorry again). Shades and its relatives are not about real life or real people, just people that we like to read about because their lives are far more interesting than ours are. But that’s okay; the market is large enough for all of us (readers and writers). And those of us after a little bit of gentleness and romance won’t find real life there either, but we prefer our version. Even if I know better about real life after that special moment and because I know about juggling responsibilities and raising children, I like to relax with a cup of tea, a scone and a bit of the once upon a time and happily ever after.