The Literary Review: An International Journal of Contemporary Writing, began publishing quarterly journals sometime before I was born. Nevertheless, I had never heard of it until I stumbled across an announcement of this year’s winner of the Bad Sex Writing Award, which the journal’s editors have lovingly bestowed for the past 16 years. This year’s winner is Rachel Johnson, author of Shire Hell. On the one hand, I feel badly for Ms. Johnson. On the other hand,
Johnson said it was an “absolute honour” to win, taking her place alongside former winners including Norman Mailer, Sebastian Faulks and Tom Wolfe. “I’m not feeling remotely grumpy about it. I know that men with literary reputations to polish might find it insulting,” she said, “but if you’ve had a book published in the year any attention is welcome, even if it’s slightly dubious attention of this sort.”
If she can be such a good sport about the whole thing, then I certainly won’t waste tears of empathy and commiseration on her (after all, tears must be rationed carefully, utilized where they are required most and employed where they will generate the greatest effect). Besides, judging from the shortlist of candidates for this year’s award, she worked damned hard to earn it. Kudos to Ms. Johnson, I say.
If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering what constitutes bad sex writing. I will enlighten you by sharing some excerpts from the literature that the judges considered when rendering their wise literary judgment.
Excerpt #1 (from Sashenka, by Simon Montefiore):
Inside, the room was dark, lit only by the lurid scarlet of the electric stars atop each of the eight spires of the Kremlin outside the window. They backed on to a bed that sagged in the middle, the sheets rancid with what she later identified as old sperm and alcohol in a cocktail specially mixed for Soviet hotels….
He pulled down her brassiere, cupping her breasts, sighing in bliss. ‘The blue veins are divine,’ he whispered. At that moment, a lifetime of unease about this ugly feature of her body was replaced with satisfaction….
There he was between her legs again, doing the most absurd, lovely things to places behind her knees, the muscle at the very top of her thighs, her ears, the middle of her back. But the kissing, just the kissing, was heavenly […] He made her forget she was a Communist.
Excerpt #2 (from To Love, Honour and Betray, by Kathy Lette):
Sebastian’s erect member was so big I mistook it for some sort of monument in the centre of a town. I almost started directing traffic around it.
And finally, the winning excerpt from Ms. Johnson’s book:
JM comes over and pushes me gently back down on the fake fur. I try to rise up to kiss him – it’s so lovely, the kissing – but he pushes me down, again. He likes to kiss me all over before he does anything else. He starts with my eyes, and plants a tender kiss on each lid.
… He moves on to my ears, a kiss that makes my nipples stand erect, and me emit little moans that drown out to my own ears the loud, distracting sound of Cumberbatch swiping dock leaves and tearing nettles and long grasses very close to the rickety stoop.
JM’s hands are caressing my breasts, now, and I am allowed to kiss him back, but not for long, for he breaks off, to give each breast the attention it deserves. As he nibbles and pulls with his mouth, his hands find my bush, and with light fingers he flutters about there, as if he is a moth caught inside a lampshade.
Almost screaming after five agonizingly pleasurable minutes, I make a grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside, but he holds both by arms down, and puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is.
While I’ll admit that none of these passages inspire me to light candles, pour chardonnay and don naughty lingerie, I must also confess that I could not write a sex scene any more arousing than the ones noted above. Fortunately, since I don’t have to write for a living, I don’t have to try to do it. Lindesay Irvine notes that writing compelling sex scenes is not at all easy. She reports that even such an accomplished author as Kingsely Amis would merely “follow his characters as far as the bedroom door and then leave them to it.” Therefore, even though this post pokes gentle fun at some authors’ bloopers, I also offer it as a tribute to those authors. I admire the fact that they undertook a notoriously difficult task and put their efforts out in the open for all to see. I can say without any doubt that their cojones are far bigger than mine. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is as sexy as my writing gets.
— the chaplain