Do I have everyone’s attention? Good.
As subjects go, sex is one of those loaded ones that can divide people, make them all giggly or uncomfortable, or simply make them clam up and turn away. It’s a very important subject for me though, and I did promise a post about it.
So, here’s the deal: I like sex, I like to read about sex, and I like to write (about) sex. If you don’t want sex in your books, mine are not for you. And please don’t think that my books have sex in them because of the whole ‘mummy porn’ related upsurge in popularity. I know there’s a whole slew of people who think that anyone who puts sex in their books does it because sex sells, but that’s not why I have sex in mine.
Gah, how many times did I put the word sex in there? Google’s search algorithms will be going into overdrive on this one. Anyway, to me it is very simple: no romance without sex. I just don’t see the point, and I’ve always felt like that. I’m always disappointed when a romance novel gets to the bedroom and they close the door in your face.
That said, I know sex is hard to do. I’ve read enough bad sex involving throbbing truncheons disappearing into love caves to approach all my sex scenes with a mix of wariness and trepidation. (Actually, I think the funniest description I’ve ever come across was the one where he ‘infused her with the liquid of his love’. Gave me a good snigger, that one.) Fingers crossed I’ve not yet had anyone complain about them, though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. There’s always someone somewhere who doesn’t like what you do.
So, I have sex in my books because I like it, but I also like it to have a function. There’s plenty of thrusting and panting, but my characters generally also talk to each other and/or canoodle before or afterwards, or both. Whole conversations are held while they’re both naked in bed and fondling each other, because it’s another way of showing how they feel about each other. Let’s give an example from The Ritual:
As I stretched to try and grab my tunic, Zash’s hand slid down my thigh. “What are you doing?”
I looked over my shoulder and drank in the sight of his naked body, relaxed and more appetising than a table full of the finest dishes. Gods, I wanted him again. Wanted him still. “Getting dressed,” I managed to say, and tore my gaze away.
“You’ve had enough already?” He sat up as well and began to trail kisses up my arm, nibbling at my shoulder.
I’ll never get enough of you, I thought, but I closed my eyes and whispered, “I didn’t think you wanted more.”
See? Canoodling with a purpose.
Now, when it comes to the mechanics there are many ways of doing it (pun intended). Most contemporary romance, even when it gets explicit, tends to avoid direct naming of the, uh, equipment. When you say ‘he entered her’ it’s pretty obvious which bit of him is entering which bit of her, so there is no real need to get graphic. Most contemporary romance, however, is written in third person omniscient, whereas my books are first person. Everything that happens, happens from Chiarin’s point of view (or Veysita’s, in book two), so I have to describe it the way she would. As a result my writing is probably a little more graphic than people are used to within the romance genre. Socially, Rin is at the bottom of the ladder; she’s a thief and an outcast, and although she has had lessons in elocution from her time in the orphanage, that was a long time ago, and her speech has roughened a little. She’s more likely to talk about fucking than about making love, and Zash doesn’t have a staff or a member or whatever other euphemism you can think of, no, he has a cock. Observant readers of my blog will note that ‘cock’ made it into my list of favourite words, so I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’ve used it liberally in my book.
The fun thing came when I started writing The Conspiracy, in which the first person protagonist is a well-bred lady of the court. Veysita is posh, so there is no way she’d ever use fuck (except on those rare occasions when she swears) or cock. As a result, for a good part of the book she always refers to the male member as ‘manhood’. This then leads to the following bedtime conversation:
“Come on, Sita, tell me what you want,” he murmured, his voice now low and husky. He ran his hand over my hip and up to my breast, rubbed his foot along my calf, and I thought I would die for wanting him.
“I want you inside me,” I moaned, caressing his back.
“Mmm, now we’re getting somewhere,” he said, nipping at my lips. “Now all you need is to tell me which part of me you want inside you. My fingers? My tongue?”
“Your manhood!” I exclaimed, and he sniggered.
“Oho, is that what you call it at the court? Such a strange name. As if that’s the only thing that makes me a man.”
“Physically it is. Please.”
He sniggered again. “What a nasty thing to say. What about my broad shoulders? My chest hair? My large manly feet? It’s a cock, Sita. Can you call it that?”
I opened my eyes and looked at him in bafflement. “I’m begging you to take me here, and you’re arguing with me about what to call your manhood?”
As you can see, I firmly believe in sex-driven character development.
Anyway, enough about the mechanics of sex, let’s talk about the overarching function of sex within my society. You see, my world has something which I think is fairly unique, in that I have one whole race which is completely infertile and incapable of producing offspring. If this sounds very calculated and profound, it isn’t. My reasoning was very simple, and went something like this:
“Right, so my protagonists are half-elves – offspring of an elf and a human parent. Hmm, shit, how’s that going to work when they then have children themselves? Do a human father and a half-elf mother have a quarter-elf? And what if that person then has children? Do we get eighth-elves, or maybe even a three-quarter elf if the parent was an elf? Meh, that’s so not going to work… Wait! What if half-elves are infertile? That’ll solve the problem nicely!”
And once I got that far I realised there was precedent. Think of mules, for instance. Horses and donkeys can interbreed, producing mules, but mules themselves are almost always infertile. I think it’s something to do with a different number of chromosomes. So for lack of a better comparator, elves are horses, humans are donkeys and half-elves are the mules.
When I moved on from that, I realised that the very fact that there is an entire race that will never have children should have quite a profound impact on society as a whole. In any world, real or fantasy, there is always the tie-in of sex means children. You can use (or invent) some kind of contraceptive, but there’s always that looming fact that when two people have sex, pregnancy could follow, and it has been used in many different ways to steer a story. Think of girls who are supposed to remain virgins, but then end up pregnant. Think of children born of rape. Think of that overused (and vaguely repulsive) trope of a woman trying to tie a man down by deliberately getting pregnant.
With my half-elves, none of that applies. They can do whatever the hell they like with anyone, and physically nothing will come of it. To me, that lays the foundations of an inherently hedonistic society. There will be many whorehouses in every city, and they will be mostly populated with half-elves. Male ones too, probably, though I’ve not explicitly said so.
My world works as follows: elves are aristocrats. They’re not immortal, but they can live for three centuries or more. Their marriages will most often be politically convenient, like in medieval societies. Humans are the workers, the low-born populace that keeps society going. Age-wise they can reach anything between fifty and ninety, depending on profession. They marry like we marry – usually for love, sometimes for convenience.
Back to the elves. Let’s say they marry at age forty or fifty, that means they’re stuck with each other for the next 250 years, give or take a decade. Inevitably they get thoroughly bored with each other, and seek their thrills elsewhere. Now, I’ve made elves (male elves especially) be unreasonably attracted to humans. Why? No real reason, other than that I needed an excuse for the half-elf population to be as numerous as it is, but you can think up any number of plausible reasons. Maybe elf women are cold fish in bed, while human women are passionate. Maybe elves get fed up with all that perfect beauty and they want something more real. And thus all the bastard half-elves are born.
But what if you don’t want any bastards? Or your status is such that breeding bastards is extremely bad form? That’s where half-elves come in, and the groundwork is laid for limitless hedonism.
So, there you have it, my feelings about and reasons for sex. I realise it’s not for everyone, but then I do what most writers are always told to do: write the book you want to read. If others then want to read it too, it’s a bonus.
If this has piqued your interest about my books, please note that the e-book version of The Ritual will be available for free from 12 to 16 June on Amazon, so you can try it out without it costing you anything.
As always, comments are encouraged and appreciated.