Carol Hunt: 'Cougar Diaries' lays bare funny, messy reality of sex
When Aoife Brennan's life fell apart, she decided to put it through the 'comic erotica' fiction mill
'IT'S definitely fiction," says Aoife Brennan to me over a glass of dry Chardonnay. "It's not my life. But it is me saying: 'If I were in a bonkbuster, what would I do?'
"You see," this funny, vivacious woman tells me, "recently my life fell apart – I went through a separation and with the recession and everything, things became very tough. I was broke, so I thought, what can I do?"
What Aoife did was write a novel, in the genre of "comic erotica – if there is such a thing", she says with a laugh.
And so we have The Cougar Diaries, Part 1 (she's writing part 2 at present) which starts at the end of a 40-something-year-old woman's marriage, just when she's beginning to date again.
Aoife, of course, is not her real name. Hopefully, she will reveal that when the book is a huge hit. However, you may be surprised when she does, as she's a well-known figure, associated with a completely different aspect of Irish life.
She explains: "What I was trying to do with the main character was. . . well, I took my life and squeezed it through the fiction mill and asked myself: 'How did I feel when I was dating again? How did I feel having sex again, with someone who wasn't my husband, after so many years?
"Because a woman in her 40s is balancing kids, elderly parents and has so many other issues that a 20-year-old doesn't have."
She continues, "And also the basic things like; 'Oh God, my belly; my cellulite' and getting over the 'Is he looking at my bum?' stuff.
"Though apparently," she grins, "when men have sex they just look at your boobs so just do this. . ."
She mimes holding out her breasts – the waiter hovering nearby is entranced.
We agree that re-entering the world of sexual singletons at the ripe old age of 40 can be very daunting – although it has its pleasant surprises.
"I was gobsmacked," she says, "when I discovered that young men were attracted to me. For a while I was dating a boy in his 20s and while talking to my girlfriends I confessed this. I thought they'd be horrified, but they were all thrilled for me! Women in their 40s – whether you're married or not, there's a sisterhood out there, supporting each other," she says.
Do women today need that support?
"I think there are a lot of women, in similar situations to me, wondering, 'How do you get naked with someone again?' You think it should be like riding a bicycle but it isn't, it's scary, scary, scary! When you've been in a marriage for a long time, when there's been incompatibility issues and you split up, you don't feel desired anymore and women are so hard on themselves, you don't find men wondering if their bum is saggy!"
Is there much of a difference between dating now and when she was younger?
She nods. "When I was dating years ago, it was very different. In my 20s, you were either single or you were doing a line. But now it's so different. I use online dating and things have changed hugely."
"Because nowadays you can meet someone and have great sex. . . and then you never see them again. They may have flagged it upfront for you, but you didn't cop on because in your mind you've had great sex, you get on and you should be going out – but you're not. There are so many different permutations to dating and, of course, the porn industry has a lot to answer for.
"For young men in their 20s, porn is the de facto – the shaving, etc, they're into pneumatic sex – it's so very different to real, messy sex and it puts a lot of pressure on young people. Teenagers read stuff or watch porn and they think that's how it is. But real sex is very different," she says.
The waiter is back to ask to we need anything else – I think he's listening. Brennan is not deterred.
She tells me she is a fan of Cindy Gallop, who in 2009 launched the MakeLoveNotPorn.com site. Unlike the Hollywood 'industry porn', MLNP places emphasis on real-life intimacy, the funny, messy real side to sex that porn studios never show.
"I gave my character nice sex," says Brennan, "but also disastrous sex, and funny sex and sex where people have to go to the loo in the middle. . ."
She pauses and thinks. "And, of course, the Fifty Shades books have changed things."
I was wondering when we'd get to that, although Brennan insists that her book is very different to what I thought was the barely readable and very implausible Fifty Shades series.
So, how has it changed things?
"Well, I've been out with people who've tied me up – and we've had great fun playing around. But I don't remember doing that sort of thing when I was in my 20s. Maybe I missed the boat or was very naive but there seems to be a lot more spanking going on these days."
The waiter is back, hovering again. I ask how she finds writing sex scenes.
"Oh God. I started the book and wrote the first five chapters, it was going great. . . but then I got to the first sex scene and I got writer's block for two weeks! But I made myself do it and eventually it was much easier than I thought," she explains.
"What's funny is that when I'm writing sex scenes I get turned on – which I was surprised at – but then, when I write sad scenes I get sad, so why not?!"
(The waiter is back again.)
Ultimately, Brennan is writing for her contemporaries. "Like many women in Ireland I've had a roller-coaster the past few years," she says. "We're having a very tough time. In this recession, there are a lot of women in their 40s who've been left holding the can. Their husbands have jumped ship and they're left to cope alone. I've talked to many women who are facing that. They have the kids full time and it's tough to try and have a sex life.
"So, the nice thing about writing fiction is that I can write about all the tough stuff women are facing and turn it around. I want to rewrite my life, my ending."
She stops, takes a sip of wine and gives a 'can-do' wicked grin: "You see, I'm taking everything I know and giving it welly!"
She remembers to wave goodbye to the waiter as she leaves.
The Cougar Diaries, Part 1 by Aoife Brennan is available on ebook; Amazon.com and lulu.com