Agatha Christie didn’t do it, nor did Conan Doyle, and DL Sayers only wrote about the results – I’m talking about writing sex into crime novels. I think it may be relatively unusual.
However, I have recently read two thrillers – by Louise Doughty & by SJ Watson – which have included a fair amount of sex. Both have had older female characters in stable, happy marriages, having affairs. One was written by a woman, the other by a man. Both have depicted the female character wanting and having sex which is a little rough and/or takes place in less than salubrious settings.
I must own up to a prejudice against men writing about women enjoying rough sex. I have a suspicion that the male writer is merely detailing what he hopes a woman would want because he himself fantasises about it.
This prejudice stems, at least partly, from an experience I had several years ago. I joined a writers’ group where I was living at the time in West London. It was held in the afternoon so was attended by mostly retired people and I was the youngest there by at least two decades. As with most writers’ groups, the idea was to share work and receive critical feedback. It was the lack of any real attempt at the latter which meant I didn’t stay long. However, I went for a good few weeks.
The other members were mostly women, though there were a few men. One of these, I will call him Clive, was a friendly sort, polite, always conservatively dressed. The other participants kept saying to me, oh wait ‘til you hear some of Clive’s work, he writes brilliant thrillers. I did begin to see Clive as something of a cockerel surrounded by clucking hens, but tried to remain open-minded.
When he did come to share his writing, I was open mouthed. His work was full of violent sex, the violence all being towards women, which had little if anything to do with the very thin and derivative plot. I’m afraid even the rather nice cake and tea which followed each meeting couldn’t persuade me to keep returning to hear more of Clive’s output. Playwright, Alan Ayckbourn was right when he identified writers’ groups as fertile ground for observing the more challenging sides of human nature.
I think it’s incredibly difficult to write a sex scene which doesn’t have the reader cringing or rapidly turning the page. Some very distinguished authors have been awarded the annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.
I have tried to write a sex scene for The Art of Survival, my next novel in the crime series I am creating. I am unsure whether to keep it in. The point for the plot of keeping it in would be to explore a developing relationship (which could be done in other ways), as well as show how difficult it is to approach a healthy relationship when all the character has known thus far is unhealthy ones.
Hats off to SJ Watson and Louise Doughty for managing to create sex scenes which did not turn me off their respective novels. It’s not easy and not for the feint hearted. What do you think, should writers dive in between the sheets with our characters, or decorously leave them to it, closing the door as we do so?