8 Oct 2015

On the Ark—and Sex

Hail readers!

You may have noticed my essay on Jeremy Corbyn; alas such political matters occupy me deeply, but they are nevertheless not the main scope of this blog. Instead, I shall concern myself with an issue more pertinent: my upcoming novel, the Ark, and the strange and difficult matter that inevitably troubles writers of romance. I am, of course, talking about sex.

What Did You Say?

This very attitude is deeply illustrative of the problems that many writers face, whenever the matter crops up; indeed prudishness is not only an issue that may trouble readers—but more often than not, it troubles the writers themselves.

The Anglophone world has a very paradoxical relationship with sex: we seem, at once, unable to speak of it and yet able to speak only of it. We are bombarded with sex implicitly, and less often explicitly. We see rather more brazen references in fashion advertising:

And yet sex is frequently employed in more subtle fashions. Many magazine covers feature attractive people—and not only attractive in the purest aesthetical sense, but also dressed and posed in ways that are implicitly sexual.

Here, the woman’s dress is cut at the shoulders; and this is very deliberate. Such an expression, in women if not men, is flirtatious. Equally important is the significant amount of make-up and editing that has gone into the photo.

To some degree, this is understandable: the magazine is concerned with fashion and appearance; it would only make sense to show someone who does it right, under the guidance of professionals. However, there is nevertheless a distinctly sexual element to it—the shoulders are the giveaway.

A great deal more can be and has been said on fashion advertising; however, this is beside the point. My point is that we live in a society where sex is hinted at—explicitly or subtly—in everyday life. And yet, how many images of naked men or women do you see? Nudity is exceedingly rare (the Sun’s Page 3 isn’t on the front page, and even so is subject to criticism) while sex is never shown outside of the insides of a porn magazine.

This strange relationship, one could say, is not especially conductive for the business of a writer.

But even leaving aside prudishness, sex in a book is a proposition that has distinct literary merits—and problems.

Literary Deliberations and Other Strange Musings

The latest chapter in the Ark—which you shall see when the time is right—has finally breached the subject of a serious romance, between Conall and Casey. They have kissed. But they have not had sex.

Why? On purely literary terms: sex is serious business. In one sense, there must be a crucial sense of character and relationship—or, in other words: they must be in love. Such ideas may seem arcane; a paragon from another age. And yet, it isn’t. Emotional connection is what gives literary romance its power. Sex for the sake of it means nothing; for no matter your capabilities as a writer—and some writers are indeed remarkably able at describing sex—there is, at the end of the day, a problem.

Books are not films. They have power in subtlety; in describing a character with the slightest of gestures—a flash of green eye, a voice that seems to steal into your heart. But they will never compete at trying to be more explicit than film. To put it quite bluntly: seeing fucking on camera is always going to be more visually elucidating than reading about it. Such is the nature of our medium.

But there’s more to it than simply the medium. In truth, a novel deals with matters of emotion; of fire in the heart, rather than in the groin. To give your characters true emotional connection is to breathe them life. To give them perfection, or Twilightesque beauty? That would be mere indulgence.

So: there you go. Conall and Casey are not ready for the bed just yet; but maybe they are ready for that first kiss. For that ember, that starts the blaze…

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