Let's write about sex
"The train came to such an abrupt halt, she immediately regretted having plumped for her trusty black stilettos.
The black leather heels slid from beneath her and she lunged for the nearest sturdy object to stop her fall: 6ft 2in of fine cotton tailoring..."
OK, so it's not exactly Hemingway, but it's not meant to be. That's my first attempt at trying to rival the likes of EL James by writing my very own piece of erotic fiction.
Mills & Boon, the bona fide romance experts, have been publishing erotica since 2009, long before it became the must-have item for commuters and mummies everywhere, and they're now encouraging new writers to unleash their inner submissive or dominatrix on the page.
But it's not just Mills & Boon getting in on the erotic act. In April, How To Write Erotic Fiction And Sex Scenes is being released (by Ashley Lister, How To Books, €12.39).
"There's nothing new about erotic fiction - civilised societies have been enjoying the genre ever since Sappho penned erotic verse in the 6th century BC," says Hazel Cushion, MD of Xcite books, which offers fantasy adult stories.
"It is written to entertain and arouse but requires the reader's imagination to be part of that journey. Pornography is often degrading to women while [the books we've chosen] are empowering."
Both Xcite and Mills & Boon say Fifty Shades Of Grey has actually got people reading again, because it's entertaining, exciting and easy to read. Plus, erotica is helping couples relight that fire.
"I have heard from many readers who have been helped by our books, including a vicar and her husband," says Cushion, whose books are also recommended to couples by sex therapists.
According to Mills & Boon editor Anna Boatman, digital sales of their erotica titles have shot up by 2,000% since the Fifty Shades trilogy by EL James was launched.
"There's never been a better time to write or speak about erotica," she says.
With this in mind, I've decided to get some tips from the experts to find out just how tough erotic fiction is to write - and how to go about it.
Boatman, who leads the workshop, explains that the definition of erotica has changed over the years and now there's a blurring between erotic fiction and romance.
"In romance, the sex is a natural response to the relationship, whereas the old definition of erotica was where the sex led the story, but with Fifty Shades we've seen a melding of the two. 'Romantica' is a halfway house - where the relationship's still really important."
Without giggling, our intimate group manages to read extracts from two different erotic novels, one by Mills & Boon author Tiffany Reisz, whose latest book The Prince is out this month, and the other by Sylvia Day, from her book Bared To You.
It's immediately obvious we all have different tastes - Bared To You is a first-person narrative similar to Fifty Shades where the girl is swept off her feet, while Reisz has a bold heroine who finds a sense of freedom through being dominated.
"The heroine needs to have a core of something you can respect as a reader - and it's so much more powerful when you care about the characters," explains Boatman. "One of the most important things is to give them an actual journey, figure out their deepest fears and why they don't just fall into each other's arms on page one."
She uses the 'plumber and housewife' scenario from many a porn film to demonstrate her point.
"Imagine if you were with that housewife before and you knew what had happened to her husband and why she was so lonely and wanted something to make her feel better and more than that, you knew specifically why she found the plumber so attractive, not because he's a cliched plumber and she's a cliched housewife, but because she is a unique and interesting person and there's something in him that calls to her," she says.
Inspired, we help ourselves to cupcakes and start to pen our own first erotic scene, using one object from a list of three fairly unerotic items: a shoe, a water glass or a hat.
My first attempt, above, is just an endless string of cringesome cliches - "trusty stilettos" - yuck! And I haven't got anywhere near the actual sex stuff yet.
Boatman is reassuring: "If you create a mood, a world and characters that your reader buys into, the actual language doesn't matter. Some of the quotes in Fifty Shades, if you pull them out of context, sound completely ludicrous. Yet this is a book that has had phenomenal success and has encouraged women to buy similar things as well."
The actual sex scenes need to be believable and realistic, says Boatman, adding: "It can be quite hard to set up a situation where they fall into bed and there's where a lot of male porn falls down.
"Often your reader's imagination is going to be way more powerful than anything you can write. But if you're literally describing the sex act for ages it can get really boring, so don't get too anatomical or cliched."
She also recommends, if you're comfortable with it, pushing the boundaries of taboo: "Shocking people is quite a good way to get your book known. I've had some submissions lately where a dog is being trained and a woman is also being trained. It sounds revolting and you wouldn't think it would work, but it shows it's totally in the execution."
HOT TIPS FOR WRITING EROTICA
Mills & Boon editor Anna Boatman has the following advice:
- Start by building your characters. What do they desire, fear or hope for? How does the intimacy or sex affect them? This will make your sex scenes meaningful and your characters authentic.
- Write what you're comfortable with. If you can't write it without wincing, your readers won't read it without wincing! Don't attempt a scene or storyline you can't relate to, or that doesn't turn you on.
- Not everyone has to write extreme material. Some of the best written erotica is quite 'vanilla'. Erotica is more about sexual tension and consistent sensual pacing than the number or extremity of sex scenes
- Show, don't tell. If your hero brushes up against the heroine, show the reader how she responds. Does her pulse race?
- Use the five senses to anchor your reader in the scene, allowing them to experience each touch, each tiny thrill, along with your characters. Think: touch, taste, sight, scent, sound.
- Think about your storytelling voice and write in a tone that's natural for you, which may be sweetly sensual or dark and disturbing - or even light and comedic. Laughing together in bed makes for some wonderful bonding moments.
- Explore and stretch the boundaries - erotica can be a personal process of self-discovery for the author. Enjoy it!