I’m standing in the street of my local town talking to a woman I’ve met a few times before. She’s been kind enough to buy and read one of my books and also taken the time to stop and tell me what she thinks.
I listen to her talk, smiling and saying ‘thank you’ at frequent intervals, but part of my brain is waiting for her to raise the ‘It’ topic.
Because when you write sex scenes in your books, people always do bring ‘It’ up. They might approach the subject from different directions, but without fail ‘It’ will be mentioned.
There is a pause in the conversation, a little flick of her gaze to the left as if she’s checking that no one is listening. She leans forward.
‘I’m looking at you and your husband in a new light,’ she says, giving my arm a nudge. ‘That scene in the kitchen!’ The way she puffs the air out of her lips suggests that her face is on fire and she’s trying to put it out with her breath.
I used to respond to that with what I like to call ‘The Writers’ Get Out Clause’. It goes something like this, ‘No, no. It is just my imagination at work. Really. Making things up is what writers do. I mean, people who write murder stories haven’t really murdered anyone have they?’
The only trouble with that argument is that murder is an absolute – you either do it or you don’t. People might think it takes a dark mind to create bloody scenes, but they don’t seriously think that you’ve put down your pen and taken up an axe just so that you can describe the end result more accurately.
Whereas with sex, well, unless you are and have always been celibate, there is a likelihood that you do actually have a go at it. So it’s more believable that what you write is what you know. Or what you’ve researched in ‘ahem’ depth.
There’s an even less desirable downside to the ‘it’s just my imagination’ approach. You get a look. The type of look which suggests that what you’re writing is a form of wish fulfilment and your actual sex life is a barren place where the only time the earth moves is when tumbleweed bounces over it.
You can almost hear them thinking ‘Poor thing, she has to make everything up.’
Different ways of tackling the sex issue have proved equally useless.
A defensive, ‘Those scenes have nothing to do with my husband’ make it sound as if I’m having it off regularly with someone else’s.
The earnest ‘I read an eclectic range of books’ suggests a house full of porn.
And once … once I decided to try for the ‘we’re all grown ups here, let’s not snigger’ continental approach. Unfortunately, I am neither sophisticated or continental and so only managed a jocular ‘Well, who of us has lived all our lives in a nunnery? Besides, if you’ve still got a pulse and a pelvic floor …’
The silence that fell on the conversation at that point is still painful to recall. At one stroke (no pun intended), I had made a woman who thought she was pulling my leg about my sex life, feel as though I had flung my bedroom door open wide and forced her to look inside. Morphing into something from a Carry On film had made both of us feel mightily exposed.
The person in that conversation does not actually cross the street if she spots me now, but I have noticed she never buys any of my cakes at the school fair.
Four books down the line, I suppose I’ve got used to all the permutations of people’s response to me writing sex scenes. Now, I just smile enigmatically when people do the ‘nudge, nudge’ thing.
At least I thought I was smiling enigmatically. My friend says it makes me look as if I’m terribly, terribly smug about something …
The Mysterious Miss Mayhew has just been published by Quercus as an ebook. You can download it here
You can follow Hazel on twitter: @hosmond