Visiting an old friend in South Africa a while ago, I was convulsed by TV commercials with the theme: Keep It Real. Some man (it was always a man) would be making a complete idiot of himself when Louis Gossett Jr stepped out of the shadows to correct his behaviour, hand him a bottle of Windhoek Lager and tell him to “Keep it real”. I’m not a beer drinker, ever, so the fact that I remember the name of the product more than a year later says how good the ads were (although, because I’m not a beer drinker, it hasn’t done Windhoek any good).
“Keep It Real” had vanished from my mind until, in the last two days, I was drawn to a post called 10 Things I Hate About Sex (Scenes) on the wonderful smartbitchestrashybooks.com blog. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing a treat.
Katie Carlton and I talk all the time about sex and how to portray it in fiction. Well, okay, not all the time—we live 3,500 miles apart for a start—but we do talk about it. We talk about it to John Lynch, too, although—as his blog has repeated a number of times—he (unlike us) doesn’t write about sex. We’re all Mandrill Press writers, though, and we try to meet Mandrill Press expectations which—in a nutshell—are: that the characters come first, that the characters and their motivations should be believable, and that sex scenes should be there for a purpose. They must carry the story forward.
Keeping it real means removing the fantastical, “all-is-perfection” style that marks so much erotic fiction. Katie and I don’t do Adonis-like male heroes with washboard stomachs and huge wangs because (a) we’ve met very few Adonises; (b) the few we did meet were too self-absorbed ever to make good fictional heroes (read: “We didn’t like them”); and (c) neither of us has any wish to be penetrated by anything in the sort of size range we so often read about. Nor would our heroines meet teenage male fantasy standards: their stomachs could often be flatter, they’re sometimes tired and irritable, they’ve been known to have spots and they prefer comfortable underwear to the sort of stuff that appears on too many book covers.
What all three of us agree on is that any relationship we’ve ever had that was in any way satisfactory included humour. If you can’t laugh with a man, even when you’re in bed together, you have no future as a couple. I can think of a few episodes in my own life where the hilarity could only be described as scatological and I’d use those incidents if they served a purpose in the book but there needs to be humour somewhere in the book. The two examples I want to give here come from The Binding. In the first, Melissa Blaze, a sexually experienced young English woman in Victorian India, is pretending innocence in order to snare a husband. Her target has other ideas:
‘Sir,’ I said, as with great apparent reluctance I returned my hands to where he had instructed. ‘You are cruel.’
‘Cruel,’ he agreed, the laces in his hands. ‘And determined.’ He pulled the drawers down so that my mound of Venus, now quivering with desire, was uncovered. ‘And stronger than you.’ And with that he pulled hard at my drawers, tugging them down—and off.
‘Take off that foolish hat,’ he ordered. I did so. Apparently he did not regard my stockings or riding boots as “foolish.”
Well, my dear, what happened next was what you will by now be expecting and it proved to be my undoing. When he removed his breeches in order to have at me, I was shocked by the paltriness of his equipment as to both girth and length. I had but little time to hope that he could perform multum with parvo when, after the most cursory fingering of my aching sex, he lay on me and inserted himself.
Three strokes and it was over. I had scarcely felt him enter me and he was withdrawing. Standing up. Wiping himself.
‘Is that all?’ I asked in incredulity.
I should not have said it.
‘What?’ said he.
‘Are you finished?’
‘You expected more?’
Fury took possession of me. Oh, my dear coz, the number of times when, as a young girl, my governess and my mother told me that temper would be the ruin of me. They could not have dreamed how right they would prove to be. ‘Yes,’ I spat. ‘I expected more. Have I gone through the humiliation of pretending to resist rape, only to be disappointed by…by’ and I pointed to his shrivelled cock, now even less impressive than it had been, ‘by that?’
If my governess and my mother thought that I had a temper, they should have seen Mountbank’s! He bent down and slapped me hard across the cheek. ‘You are experienced in men, I suppose.’
‘Enough to know when I have been left unsatisfied,’ shouted I.
‘Are you, bedamm? And you are unsatisfied, are you? We must see how we can assist you with that.’ And he turned and beckoned to his groom.
The man was beside me in a moment. He wore the native costume, which is much quicker to remove than a European’s. In two seconds he was naked. His shaft stood rigid. I looked at Mountbank from where I lay.
‘At least he has the organ of a man,’ I sneered.
Mountbank spoke to him. He fell upon me. We need not dwell on the rude mechanics of the thing. I was rogered. Well. By someone who knew what he was doing and did it with efficiency.
When finally he withdrew I lay still for several moments, catching my breath. ‘Are you satisfied now?’ scowled Mountbank.
‘Yes, thank you,’ I said, mustering as much calmness as I could. ‘That will do very nicely.’ I sat up and began to dress.
Mountbank and his man moved away. Mountbank said something and the other laughed before replying. Mountbank lit a cigar.
When I was fully dressed, Mountbank came towards me. His man was hoisting the unused picnic hamper back on to his horse.
‘Where is he going with that?’ I asked. ‘We have not eaten and he has given me a hunger.’
‘I asked him whether we were the first with you,’ Mountbank said. ‘He says there is no possibility of that. My dear, I do not eat with harlots.’
We rode back in silence. Anger was dissipating, to be replaced by fear. What had I done? I was to find out soon enough.
In the second example an army officer, once again in India, writes to an old fellow-soldier to tell him about his latest adventures:
To my story. Once I had her naked, I began an assault on her arse—first with kisses and caresses and then with the full weight of my open palm. By God, old man, I spanked the woman! Do you remember that young’un who so provoked you and me with her airs? Or what we thought were her airs? As we discovered some little too late, she was the daughter of a Rural Dean and not the streetwalker we had taken her for. I do believe we’d both have been cashiered had not that trouble broken out in Rajput, and every man needed for the fray. I still would not go within twenty mile of Gloucester, even today, for fear of the Dean’s wrathful countenance. I don’t think, old chap, you should have offered to marry her off to your Company Quartermaster as a ruined girl. That only made matters worse, if you want my frank opinion.
I said at the beginning of this post that Mandrill Press requires that sex scenes be there for a purpose—that they carry the story forward. You may by now be wondering what purpose these extracts serve, so let me show you how that second one continues:
Be that as it may, I spanked the widow Marjoram with the same vigour we used on that poor victim of mistaken identity, but in this case to more gratifying effect. If I told you she had loved my ministrations beyond all imagining, I should be understating the impact I had upon her.
(Impact! I do not know how I maintain the levity of heart to make these puns. Perhaps it is the recollection of that day, or even of what was to come later with Halanda. But I think, do you know, that I have always been a fellow who saw the rosy side of life, whatever my predicament. Even being whacked at school by old Thwaites. Remember him? Even then I could still raise a laugh. And now I come to think of it, wasn’t he the chappie who said puns were the lowest possible form of wit? The man knew nothing worth knowing about humour).
Devilish good spirits were also what I was in as I beat the widow’s arse into a state of radiant scarlet. The more I beat, the more excitedly she moved in her bonds, the more scarlet became her backside, the greater my good mood waxed.
And then, of a sudden, it was over. I delivered one especially stinging slap right on the crack between those two splendid bottom cheeks and she raised herself violently from the bed as far as the cords would permit before collapsing. There could be no doubt. The woman was sated. I had brought her to a conclusion by the force of my hand.
I untied her. I stripped off the rest of my clothes and lay beside her, taking her tightly in my arms. I smothered her sweet, warm face in kisses. For a moment I regretted that we were to part, and so soon. What is love, my dear old fellow? I am not sure that I know, but I think it must be something like what I felt for my Evelyn at that moment. A combination of desire, and affection, and the wish to protect someone and keep her safe—is this love? You and I may never know; and perhaps that will be the price we pay for serving the Crown.
A warmth emanated from her. In a sort of half-swoon, she let her body press against mine and I felt that she, too, was taking refuge in the moment—that, if I could have offered my protection in the rest of her journey through life, she would have accepted it. But I was a serving officer in the British Army and that could not be. I knew it, and so did she.
She began to stir. She looked down the narrow space between us—a space she had to pull slightly back to create—and smiled. I smiled, too. Importunate, demanding, obstinate, persistent—what name would you give to a man’s tool when it needs release? Like a Ghurka’s knife, which he calls his kukri (brave fighting man, your Ghurka), once drawn it cannot be sheathed until it has been used.
The widow saw my situation clearly. She kissed me on the lips. Then she moved back as far as the tight confines of the bunk would permit, drawing me after her until I was in the centre of the mattress. At this point, she rolled on top of me. Lifting her hips, she reached down between us, took my hard and swollen weapon in her hand and drew it into herself. When she lay down again, I thought I should be unable to move–but that turned out not to matter. It was the widow on top of me who moved, or rather those muscles inside her that needed to move. Have you experienced this, old man? My darling Evelyn milked me, long and slow.
When we awoke it was six in the morning and the stewards were bringing tea. I requested an extra cup for Evelyn, which was served without demur. Stewards on the Peninsular and Oriental are known for their discretion. Having drunk it she rose, kissed me, dressed hurriedly and departed for her own cabin where she would wash before dressing again for breakfast. I felt an obscure regret that she could not do those things in my cabin—our cabin—I mean a shared cabin. Something had come into my heart that had never been there before. I was not sure I wanted it, but I know now that I should have hated to go through life without knowing it at least that once.
It’s sex, it’s humour—but most importantly it is part of the telling of the story.