Tobsha Learner, whose erotica collections publish with Piatkus this week, gives us a peek into a genre for the thinkinf reader of erotica, a class of writers and stories that expands upon and exceeds the swathes of books being published in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey: Cliterary.
Speaking as a seasoned erotic writer, who has sold well for over fifteen years, I am somewhat bemused by the current massive success of Fifty Shades of Grey, but pleased that, finally, an erotic-fiction writer has broken through the mirrored-bedroom ceiling of mainstream publishing.
I can vividly remember the ex-head of HarperCollins UK telling me at a very glamorous publishing event in Sydney, in 2003, that the British didn’t ‘get’ erotica. At the time I thought this was an absurd statement as well as a slur on a nation that has produced such erotic classics as Fanny Hill and Tom Jones (the book not the guy – but I guess he too could count as an erotic classic). It also brings to mind a rather humiliating experience I had at a chic French dinner party full of intellectuals who thought it was hysterical that I was an English/Australian erotic writer. To them it was a contradiction in terms – as far as they were concerned the horizon of erotic writing started somewhere in Marseille (I’m thinking of Jean Genet), had a one-night stand in Paris (Anaïs Nin; Story of O) and ended in Calais – and was then probably smuggled over the Channel in a brown paper bag. So I am doubly pleased that E. L. James is English! So nice to know sexy is not the sole domain of Brigitte Bardot or Emmanuelle Béart.
However in terms of pure erotic writing, E. L. James owes far more to the Mills & Boon school of writing: the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy is S&M meets Romance – and all the more power to her! I have no doubt that James single-handedly (with the dexterous use of digits) is obliterating great swathes of sexual tedium that is usually the meat and two veg of monogamous marriage. Whether the blokes are up for it or not remains a mystery, but certainly the sales of bondage ties, nipple clamps and handcuffs have shot up at Lovehoney.com.
I am also convinced that a substantial amount of the success of the trilogy is both the arrival of the anonymous Kindle on the pillow (ah, the joys of the invisible book cover), as well as the current dire economic straits many of us (particularly women, who are often the first to lose their jobs) have found ourselves in. What young wannabe writer wouldn’t want to have a gorgeous young entrepreneur (not sure about the copper hair though – does that mean a redhead? Simon Baker kept coming mind when I was reading it) take responsibility for her career (he buys her a publishing house in a climate when most media tycoons are trying to get rid of theirs), her wardrobe, her orgasms and her diet – even if it means a little hanky-spanky – when the rest of us are sweating over the phone bill?
But for those desperately seeking Anaïs and searching for erotica that aspires to greater literary merit, I give you a new genre: Cliterary – erotic works that appeal to the thinking woman . . . oops . . . person.
The must-have classics that would fall into Cliterary would be Story of O– also written by a woman – fantastically sexy and well-crafted, with a far more sophisticated and explicit look at the power play between male and female or dominatrix and submissive.
Any of Anaïs Nin’s works; although she’s a little soft- focused for me, the poetic economy of her prose is sublime and she’s great on variation (James isn’t). Justine by Marquis de Sade – okay, the guy was an anarchistic aristocrat, potentially insane, with a penchant for sodomy, but boy could he write (not for the faint-hearted). Then Fanny Hill for an insight into the predilections of our Georgian gentlemen (plenty of dungeons and deflowered virgins), as well as a sprinkling of D. H. Lawrence and, perhaps, some Henry Miller, all of which you could proudly display on your bookshelves. And, of course, I would hope my own books would fall (or swoon) into the same category.
Tobsha Learner’s collections of erotic short stories, Quiver, Tremble and Yearn, are published by Entice, Little, Brown as ebooks, available from e-retailers for £2.99, and will published in paperback by Piatkus on the 4th of October.
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