It took me a long time to feel I was in a position to write fiction of a more rounded type (previously I did snappy, plot driven short stories inspired by Raold Dahl), until my mid thirties in fact. And only after my mother had died. I miss her every day, but losing her freed my imagination, and also made it possible for me to write about sex.
Which is a good thing, as reading about sex is all the rage for women over 45, according to Astral -- a pleasant skincare range that you buy in your local chemist (which tells you what kind of client base it has). Which is just as well, because I finally was able to write about fully rounded relationships after my mother died in the mid-1990s and the resulting novel, One Apple Tasted, is launching in August 2009. And it's about a lot more than sex, it is about people and their relationships, and that is what I found it difficult to be frank about when I still had parents.
Astral surveyed 2000 women aged between 45 and 60 this week about their reading habits. The results were revealing. What hit the UK press with a bang is that, far from shrinking from the gaping bedroom door, they revel in passionate love scenes with plenty of detail.
Naturally, I was still worried about the reception it would get, but delighted when acclaimed author Julie Myerson emailed me while she was reading a preview copy, to say: 'Hey, I've been reading your book for the last hour and i have to say one quick thing: you write sex brilliantly! (hardly anyone does)'.
My mother in law, a more outwardly liberated woman than my mother and now 85, also commended my ability to write well and realistically about sex.
Thrilling stuff for a newbie writer, because it's a big risk writing about sex at all. What if you don't get it right. What if you win the hilarious UK Bad Sex Award for Fiction because what you write is lurid, unconvincing, unmoving, embarrassing. I did put a preview passage up on the novel's website and a friend read it and told me to take it down as being too raunchy. I thought it was rather mild, a description of two people completely failing to get there at all, and having a massive misunderstanding in the process. Anyway, she changed her tune when she saw the survey, and I wrote up my whole experience in the UK Daily Telegraph this week.
But the kind of sex I write about is not the parachuted-in, semi-pornographic stuff that writers pop in to keep their readers awake -- it is meant to express the characters in a fully rounded way. And I have to confess, the characters certainly were enthusiastic -- surprisingly so, I felt, as my fingers rushed over the keyboard, that they were getting away from me and up to all kinds of stuff that I hadn't really anticipated.
Anyway, sex is part of life, and I am more interested in what sexuality says about people and their behaviour and motivation, than keeping my readers awake. It drives the plot forward too. So, there you are, I won't take their clothes off (or even leave them on but disarrange them) unless the role really demands it.
The daft thing is, I found letters and photographs after both my parents died that showed how passionate their relationship had been. Of course they would not have been shocked. They might even have been proud. I miss them anyway, but particularly now when my dream of being a novelist looks like coming true.
Causes Josa Young Supports
Save the Children
The Children's Society