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.

14 thoughts on “Isn’t it Romantic?

  1. I feel very corny saying it, but usually less really is more. I have this theory that the human race is getting more and more stimulated as time goes on, and that the more we are are stimulated the more we will need. But when will it be enough? I’m no prude by any means, but sometimes I think about the past and how an exposed ankle could be the the sexiest thing. Now everything hangs out, and nothing is too embarrassing to do or say (I’m exaggerating a bit,but you get my point right?), and an exposed ankle probably won’t be sexy to all that many people.
    If the more me have, the more we need, then surely having more and more and more isn’t a good things? Personally I find mystery and subtlety sexy. I want some secrets. I want to be surprised. I want to use my imagination.

    Anyway…interesting post. It got me thinking. Thank you.


    • As one corny type to another, I couldn’t agree more. I also want it subtle and sexy and I want to be surprised but most of all if I wanted it all set out for me I’d find a visual equivalent. Do you think some bright spark might want to turn those Shades of Grey stories into movies?

  2. I have renewed my interest in English language literature lately (more about that on my blog towards the end of the week), and have been a little disappointed by what I’ve found so far. But regarding what you’ve mentioned here, I think it’s a matter of taste, both in the reading and the writing. In fine art, a hint is often more successful than a shout, but there are no rules that work in all cases. It helps a lot to know one’s subject well. And as evidenced by the blogworld, almost everyone can find an audience. Finding an honest critic is a wee bit harder. And of course, the writer herself has to feel a sense of accomplishment after writing her story. Otherwise, it isn’t really worth it.

    • Shimon, I really love the point you make that ‘a hint is often more successful than a shout.’ It seems to have taken me a whole post to say that and I’m not sure that I have entirely succeeded. Certainly I have not said it as elegantly.
      I am looking forward to reading your next post and what you’ve found. Especially if you also suggest worthwhile reads that have been translated into English.

  3. As a teen, I devoured Agatha Christie novels – referred to as cozies by some. No overt bloodshed or violence. No swearing. Yes, I moved on to other authors. But, when Elmore Leonard’s characters swear, it fits their personality. Swearing for swearing’s sake is off-putting. While I really did like J. K. Rowling’s “Cuckoo’s Calling,” I was not a fan of “Casual Vacancy.” It seems she just wanted to establish herself as an “adult” writer and made a 180-degree turn from Harry Potter stories.

    I often think that some authors include an obligatory sex scene to sell the book. Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” is an example of that. I much preferred Steven Spielberg’s treatment of the book. The adulterous affair in the book was not part of the movie. Some other scenes also were drastically changed – for the better.

    I don’t think readers need to have the point hammered home. Whether it’s violence or sex. Subtlety can be a good thing. So write what you feel works for the character and the plot. You’ll be happier with the outcome in the long run.

  4. Mary, I think you could still write a novel and with a love scene or two in it. You don’t have a lecturer to convince and can write it your way. As you say, the reading market is large enough and there are probably lots of readers who aren’t interested in going behind the bedroom door with the characters. By the way, you have a typo in your header; the word wandering has a j before the g and near the end the two words, I am, are together; Iam.

    • Thanks Bruce, for both. I’m still convincing myself to go back to that novel. A ,lot of hard yakka went into it. As for the blurb under the header, I hadn’t noticed. I thought you meant ‘wondering’ as opposed to wandering. Silly me. I usually spell check and proof read my work. Missed it this time. 🙂

  5. I would rather read a novel that didn’t tell all. I have not read 50 shades and I haven’t decided yet if I will. I have read novels that had hot scenes in them and still will read from that author, it just won’t be my first choice. I think today’s world is telling and showing too much. I like a bit of “left for the imagination” and not a show all. I would choose romance over hot scenes anytime. 🙂

    • If you still haven’t read it I suggest you don’t waste your time with it. It’s Twilight for adults and the writing is even worse. The characters are one dimensional and predictable….**YAWN***

      • Thanks, I won’t bother although if I wanted to I could get the Shades series for a pittance now that they are on the remaindered table.

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