“THERE AREN’T AS MANY SEX-SCENES AS USUAL,” MY BROTHER COMPLAINED.
Which is true, compared with many of my books. I’ve always had a reputation for writing explicit sex-scenes, despite my complete sexual ignorance up to age eighteen. At school, the subject was barely mentioned, but we gathered from various hints and prohibitions that sex was for procreation only and our duty as good Catholic wives was to create more souls for God. No details were supplied – not even the birds and the bees – but when I finally entered the sexual fray, innocent, terrified and burdened with a sense of sin, what I discovered was a world away from the nuns’ teeth-gritted “duty”. Later, what struck me most was how one three-letter word is used to cover a whole range of experience from a sordid two-minute poke to transformative, near-spiritual ecstasy. And the nuns had never told us what a powerfully dangerous force sex can be, since it risks landing us in the divorce court, the abortion or STD clinics, or even – post-AIDS – in our coffin. So it seems natural that any novelist seeking to understand all human drives, including that of self-destruction, must keep the bedroom door open.
However, I’ll never include a sex-scene just for titillation, or in the hope of increasing sales (although when I won the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, I received more media attention than ever before, which of course did result in higher sales.) Sex has to arise naturally from the characters or situation, which explains why it’s absent from the first part of The Tender Murderer, because there’s no such opportunity for a conventionally heterosexual guy like Anthony, when he’s banged up in gaol.
And, even when he’s released and involved with Mary, she’s frightened of responding to his overtures, because of a traumatic past experience. However, I tried to convey his increasing frustration at having gone so long without – to use Darren’s phrase – “getting his leg over”. Chronicling such pent-up instincts can be a sort of sex-writing in itself – and perhaps a useful one in our contemporary society which tends to assume that everyone is at it and that “it” is always pleasurable. However, when Mary does finally succumb, Anthony’s long wait does indeed prove worth it!