I’m struggling with the Sexy Bits—and while writing them is hard enough, it’s the reading back that’s some special class of torture. When I re-read a steamy scene I’ve written my first instinct is to stick my fingers in my eyeballs and sing the theme song from Barney at the top of my lungs until the nice people come for me and put me in the van.
Okay, I’m just going to start by cutting to the chase and admitting I love the Sexy Bits. No need for me to be ashamed, no need to be coy. And ironically yes, I’m fully aware ‘cutting to the chase’ and ‘coy’ sound like they’ve been taken from an awful nineties erotic novel about a real estate tycoon who’s trying to seduce his Sharon Stone-esque top agent: “My dear we’ve just closed on the semi in Calabasas. You change into that oyster silk sheath I like so much and I’ll get the champagne.”
But look, I think it’s fair to say we all fall on the Sexy Bits with delight—and why wouldn’t we? Are we made of stone? Are we not but flesh? Who wouldn’t enjoy the glorious, jelly-kneed escapism of interludes d’erotique that don’t involve the likes of kicking a Tesco plastic bag during fellatio or giving out shite because the new duvet has been put through the ringer?
So what makes a Sexy Bit a really good Sexy Bit? All Sexy Bits are not created equal—think, for example, of those questionable Mills and Boon scenes that are less arousing than a bowl of Weetabix. I would know, I read loads of them when I was about ten, hiding out in the back of the library like a little freak. Doctors and nurses and equestrian professionals at it like the clappers. Parenting Mam?
A good indicator a Sexy Bit is a really good Sexy Bit is if you’re interrupted you feel rudely catapulted back into reality. It’s a painful separation. The equivalent of a cold shower. There you are, absorbed in a good juicy bit, swooning like a good thing with the romance and passion of it all when your Mam comes in with the hoover and says: “Feet up there! That book looks good love, what is it?”
“Nothing Mam, nothing,” you say, panicked, the stirrings of a strange residual Catholic shame making you feel like a right pervert. “Nothing sexy about it at all. Really, em, not sexy. It’s about… erm… crops.”
“Oh right, I didn’t know you were interested in agriculture love. Here, move that will you I’m trying to get the the back of the sofa.”
Of course what makes the Sexy Bits even better is the tension, the build-up. We’ve been put through the mill as a series of misunderstandings, coincidences and ex-wives not really being dead conspire to keep our will-they-won’t-they heroes apart. Finally, finally when they get together the last thing we want is a chaste kiss and a cuddle. No way, after our patience we want, nay deserve a bit of decent action. I’ve been shortchanged more than once (hello Hunger Games I’m talking to you) and I felt more than dissatisfied, I felt resentful.
So you see, I understand as a writer I need to give the people what they deserve. I need to give them the Sexy Bits. It is my duty.
But if only it wasn’t so damn hard. Every time I try to write something remotely sexy, I cringe in mortification. I feel sick with it.
He leaned forward and caressed her—”NO! NO! EUCH! BLEURGH! I CAN’T! I CAN’T!” I moan pathetically, as feverish with discomfort I cover my face with my hands. I imagine I would feel similar if I tried to talk dirty (the closest I have ever come to talking dirty is saying: “The hob is congealed with muck—pass me the Cif”).
And then I can’t help but think about people I know reading them and I feel a fresh wash of horror.
“My God this has nothing to do with crops!” says my poor Mam. “I remember when you were a babe in arms, an innocent and now look at you and this… this filth!” Except I’m obviously overreacting because my mother is French. She’d probably be proud of me and truthfully it’s hard to know if that’s even worse. But other people—my brother, work colleagues, my old maths teacher (hi Mr. Dobbin). It makes me shudder.
My only way to deal with it (at the risk of sounding like an arty farty twodge) is to let the characters take me where they need go. It’s not about me, it’s about the story. I tell myself that if I don’t put a decent Sexy Bit where it needs to go I am doing a disservice to the reader, the book, the characters.
“Cop on to yourself Cynthia!” I say sternly, “and write in some heavy petting there. You are a writer. You are supposed to take yourself to the places you fear most. Now, will you ever make him pull off her top and stop that silly wincing!”
“Okay mean me,” I reply, knocking back some whiskey to bolster my courage, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it!”
So are there going to be some Sexy Bits in the book? Yes, I can confirm I have the bones (ahem) of a few scenes already written. Do they make me feel queasy? Yes, but only because I wrote them. Am I ever going to use the word ‘panties’? I solemnly swear I shall not.