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Further stories are provided by Adele Parks, Ali Smith, Bella Pollen, Chris Manby, Daisy Waugh, Emma Darwin, Esther Freud, Fay Weldon, Jane Moore, Joan Smith, Joanne Harris, Justine Picardie, Louise Doughty, Rachel Johnson (winner of last year's Bad Sex Award – a fact not included in her section within "Contributors"), Santa Montefiore and Stella Duffy. [Note: contributor and editor Kathy Lette was shortlisted for last year's Bad Sex Award.]
Billed as "Unashamedly sexy stories by your favourite women novelists", the premise and indeed the theme on reading is akin to the old bawdy seaside postcard. There is a challenge here: the authors have written using pseudonyms (a combination of the name of their first pet and their street), so who wrote what? Can we guess? Having read a few of these authors – some time ago – I thought it might be possible to identify some writers' voices as they can be distinctive. Not so.
As Liz Jones reported in her review at the Daily Mail, "All the short stories, bar two or three, seem written by the same pen: there is a repetitiveness in what each 'heroine' finds arousing, a uniformity to the monosyllabic, well-endowed men who stumble, pants straining, across their paths (with few exceptions, the men are gardeners, builders, farm hands). This compilation is like a very long version of a Diet Coke ad." Lee Randall at The Scotsman also gave mixed review, mainly heading towards the negative side.
For me, it read as though a group of ladies had got a little overexcited at the challenge set. Recalling those bawdy seaside postcards of old, it added to the reputation that Brits just don't do sex that well; embarrassment is key, combined with humour to ease the stress. UK written, quality erotica is a misnomer. The typos within don't help matters. "Marital" became "martial" on one page. Ouch!
One thing of interest to me on reading was that in seeking to provide steamy stories, hardly any author managed to provide one based in a stable marriage or partnership. One story did, but the couple were actually pursuing a "let's pretend we don't know one another" scenario for added spice. Is the illicit and the unfaithful the only way these authors see the potential for added titillation? Or is it – as in using a pseudonym – a way to further distance themselves from their own real life relationships?
They say write about what you know, but the author writing about a psychotherapist who attends a spanking salon at Soho House in order to write an instructing article for an American magazine has clearly not been anywhere near the S&M scene. The first thing you do is agree a "safe" word, becausing screaming "stop" is all part of the game. That was not in the story, nor the resultant article that was part of the story. However, the protagonist's thoughts on what the children felt about their mother's other job were quite funny; there were things she would write about and some she definitely would not. And here there was also an odd reflection on Rachel Johnson's own life: RJ once gave up writing a sex column for Easy Living magazine because her kids were ribbed at school. Coincidence?
[And before anyone feels the need to leave a witty comment on the above paragraph, let me tell you something. I read much wider than I practise.]
There was a rather good story about a couple who had managed to miss out on getting together, marrying others along the way, until in their sixties. That's a brave one to take on. But all in all, on the "steamy" scale, it was more the level to cook your Christmas pud than Swedish sauna.
As for the Miss Marple in me, the only one I'd take a bet on is a match of Stella Duffy to "The Come On" by Ruffy Sainte-Marie. I shan't tell you why.