London has gone loopy for lusty fiction, especially penning it. This week, Katie Dailey learns the ropes.
In the brazen bowels of Harmony, the Primark of sexoriums, surrounded by latex body suits and papaya-scented lube, I am seated in a circle of aspiring scribes keen to learn the art of saucy story writing. This is not my natural habitat. Still, I’m at a new workshop from Mills & Boon, the elder statesmen of romantic fiction. We may all think we have a book in us, but Mills & Boon reckon we all have a sex book in us – and they’re here to huskily coax it out. They have a challenge on their hands, though: my idea of an erotic manuscript is the latest John Lewis catalogue.
Tonight’s authority on bodice-ripping, pillow-biting narrative is editor Anna Boatman, and I’m immediately crushed to find that our instructress resembles neither lipstick-toothed Barbara Cartland, nor an over-blowdried Jackie Collins. Instead, she’s a jolly, no-nonsense type, who kicks off by telling us that the current appetite for sexy writing owes a lot to – of course – ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.
‘Who here reads porn?’ she asks. I wince, a lone prude while the rest of the group enthusiastically thrust their hands in the air. It dawns on me that being a writer by trade isn’t going to help me here: I’m used to writing about jumble sales, not bedroom gymnastics. But Anna is armed with an array of arousing stimuli to get our creative juices flowing.
After a brief history of erotica, we’re given two pieces of prose to study. The phrase ‘blank sheets, just waiting to be stained’ immediately catches my eye. Sexy is not the word I’d use to describe my mood. Queasy, more like. We’re presented with objects to construct a dirty tale around – a shoe, glass or hat. As the group scribbles away, I have writer’s block. Or ‘cock block’, my neighbour sympathetically puts it. I forlornly cross out one cliché after another – surely there isn’t room for another ‘sound of pointy heels clicking across a polished floor’ story? So when the group takes turns to read out their work, I keep my head down. Even so, I’m starting to enjoy myself: the class is good-humoured and well-structured, the other students are game for a laugh, and Anna is very likeable, chuckling at nice uses of innuendo. I even quietly appreciate the chance to exercise some creative writing for the first time since my tax return. But as far as erotic fiction goes, I’ll always struggle to find a happy ending.
Fancy unleashing your wild side? See if there’s a Mills & Boon event taking place near you: millsandboon.co.uk/events.