Sex and drugs and writing by Barbara Nadel

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Almost every writer of fiction that I know is haunted by an annual prize called the Bad Sex Award. It is given, as you can imagine, to the author who has written the worst, most cringe-making sex scene of the year. Past winners have included Rachel Johnson the sister of the Mayor of London, Boris. She took it all in good spirit and laughingly accepted her award with amused grace. But when the winner and his or her ‘winning entry’ is announced, and published in the press, it is a real shudder-fest. Words like ‘tumescent’ and ‘climax’, ‘throbbing’, ‘gasping’ and ‘member’. I can feel my skin crawl up my back as I type the damn things, much less say them!

It was therefore with some trepidation that earlier today I started on what is not my first sex scene, but the first one in this, my latest Çetin İkmen book. One of my continuing characters, who has a very chequered sex life, is embarking upon a whole new lot of steaminess with one of his past mistresses. It’s meant to be strong stuff. He’s a good looking guy with an eye for the ladies and she is a hot to trot cougar with a side-line is weird modern art. In addition, for my plot to work as it should, these two should be at it like bunnies. But here’s the rub…

I want to have them bouncing about like space hoppers (for those of you who remember such things) and gasping for air like beached fish, but I don’t want to use those words. I hate them, they’re as naff as hell and if I do use them then it’ll be the Bad Sex Award for me and I’ll never be able to hold my head up in the library ever again. As a result of this I have, so far, failed rather miserably in my having sex on paper mission. My first attempt involved my protagonists not really getting it together at all. Attempt number two ended up sounding like something out of some sort of manual and my third go found my couple grunting and groaning in a very indecorous fashion against a wall. I’ve looked back at my previous sex scenes which were actually really quite good (even if I say so myself!). But I don’t want to duplicate things from previous novels and so I can’t just copy those out verbatim.

I’ll have to get this right at some point but I think that for the moment I might just leave my couple in limbo and get on with other parts of the book. I think that maybe I need to forget about the Bad Sex Awards for a bit and maybe not have quite so many pain killers rattling about inside my body too. With luck the plaster cast will come off my leg next week and I’ll be able to walk without crutches, and heavy pain control again. Maybe then I’ll be able to get a bit fruity, in a good way, on paper.

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