You’d think us Brits had only just discovered sex. But, funnily enough, we’ve been doing it for a very long time.
And as for writing about sex? We’ve been doing that for a very long time too. Think Chaucer. You don’t get much bawdier than old Geoffrey.
So why, with this long history, is there such a plethora of bad sex writing, so much so that we even have annual awards for it? (This year won by Canadian writer Nancy Huston – so clearly this blight extends to other parts of the Commonwealth.)
Edmund White has some thoughts: ‘Everyone seems agreed that writing about sex is perilous, partly because it threatens to swamp highly individualised characters in a generic, featureless activity (much like coffee-cup dialogue, during which everyone sounds the same), and partly because it feels…tacky. Even careful writers begin to sound like porn soundtracks when they turn to sex writing.’ The Guardian , Thursday 6th December 2012
So how can you avoid these pitfalls?
A good start would be to remember that good sex and writing good sex are not the same thing.
My favourite piece of sex writing is by Jonathan Coe in What a Carve Up! where his protagonist, a novelist, is trying to write a sex scene. If you ever get the chance to read this, then do. It’s hilarious. And one of the reasons I always leave my characters at the bedroom door. Not because I’m a prude or don’t appreciate sex, but because I don’t want to sound porny or make people ill. But I’m prepared to be persuaded otherwise. So I’m looking forward to the workshop…