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Return of the bonkbuster

'He was naked. Bronzed, toned, honed and smooth like the statue of Adonis. Jasmine could see that at least one part of his anatomy was awake and raring to go. He grabbed her back from the shower and towards the door, but she held her ground.

"Jimmy," she giggled. "It's late and we've got loads to do today. We'd better get ready."

He shook his head mischievously and tugged her arm.

"Jimmy," laughed Jasmine. "Stop it."

But she didn't want him to stop it, really. He was so damn sexy just the touch of his hand on her arm was enough ... "

And there we must draw a discreet veil over what follows in Katie Agnew's saucy tale, Wives v Girlfriends, but admit it, you're longing to know. Well fear not, because you're not alone.

In these gloomy times it seems the one thing we can't get enough of is steamy fiction. The bonkbuster is making a comeback and it's got a raunchy makeover for a new era. The wealthy English aristocrats have been replaced with glamour models and label-loving footballers' wives ... and the sex has got even steamier.

"From the manuscripts I'm seeing come in I think it's fair to say the bonkbuster is definitely on the up," says Paula Campbell, a publisher at Poolbeg. She adds: "It's either that or vampires. Everyone's lusting after each other in one way or another."

Fuelling our renewed fascination in racy romance, it seems, is a desire to escape from a bleak reality. At a time when jobs are in question, money is tight and the weather is appalling, no-one seems keen to cosy up with a book from the Angela's Ashes school of literature for a bit of entertainment. "We want to sit with our glass of cheap Lidl wine, open a book and be entertained by escaping into a different world," explains Paula.

"For the past 10 years or so, women's fiction has been very issue led, about real people and real problems. But at the moment, people feel they've enough issues in their own lives to contend with. They want something light instead. We know we're not going to learn anything from a bonkbuster, but it's entertainment and let's face it: a good dose of sex never did anyone any harm."

It's also about returning to a happier time. Burying your head in the book equivalent of Dynasty is a retreat to a happier time.

"We all lost the run of ourselves in the 1990s," says Paula. "The Celtic Tiger was all about trying new ideas but at the moment, there's something reassuring in anything that reminds us of a time before."

Jackie Collins, the queen of bonkbusting fiction, is still churning them out but now we have a host of new authors bringing the genre into the 21st century.

"Fiction always reflects what is going on in women's lives," explains Paula. "Most notable is that women now are more comfortable talking about sex. It's out in the open so it's no surprise that today's bonkbusters are a lot more out there sexually. The action never stops with the bedroom door closing like it might have done 10 or so years ago."

Dublin novelist Amanda Brunker, Ireland's answer to Jackie Collins, laughs: "People want detail. They want to know what happened once past the front door, inside the bedroom ... Or on the stairs, or if you're lucky enough in the jacuzzi!"

Typically the glitz and glamour of LA or London have been the traditional stomping ground of the bonkbuster, but Amanda is confident there's plenty of inspiration right on our own doorstep.

"To say Dublin is ripe for bonkbusting material is the understatement of the century," says the author of Champagne Kisses and Champagne Babes. "I've been witness to enough gossip to inspire a lifetime of bonkbusters."

She adds: "As a nation I think we have a warped attitude towards sex. There's too much Catholic guilt still knocking about. But just because we're not great at talking about it, doesn't mean we're not a nation of rabbits."

The craze for lust-filled literature has also been helped by the endorsement of celebrity names. Katie Price, aka Jordan, made it to the top of the hardback best seller list last year with Sapphire -- the ghostwritten bonkbuster managing to sell over 20,000 copies in its first week. Kerry Katona's -- also ghostwritten -- foray into romantic fiction, Tough Love, was well received and Coleen McLoughlin is following suit.

The link between big names and books has introduced a new group of readers, better used to picking up a weekly celebrity magazine, into the world of fiction. But the fact that Jackie Collins remains a firm favourite for many readers is testament to the fact that the basics of romantic fiction are enough to keep the novels on the shelves.

As far as Amanda's concerned, the magic ingredients of sex and aspirational lifestyles as plot devices mean that the bonkbuster will be around for some time to come.

She says: "Sex never goes out of fashion. For me it was always a given that it would be included in my books. To buck the trend, I've started to call my novels 'Raunch Lit' -- more 2010 don't you think? -- But the genre, whatever its title, will go on forever. I'm sure of that."

Paula agrees. "Ultimately fiction is cyclical so I think we'll always see the bonkbuster come back," she explains. "If it's well written and with good characters, a bit of passion, lust and fantasy will always make for a winning formula."

Irish Independent