After nearly three books with my main character Jessie Whelan, I know that sex has always been important to her. Her first affair resulted in a baby she was forced to give away; the second reckless fling with a much younger man ended with a drunken sexual assault that left her bruised and humiliated. When the love of her life finally arrives, how will the sex be, if at all? And – the big question for me – how will I represent this on the page without being too graphic or too coy, and in a way that honestly illuminates their relationship, as the best sex should?
Writing about Jessie’s violent encounter with the young man in ‘A Good Liar’ (Book 1 of the trilogy) was very difficult: even thinking about it in retrospect makes me feel uncomforatble. The first draft of the sex scene in Book 3 ‘Fallout’ was easier to write, but that may be because both parties are clearer about what they mean to each other. It also helps that their friendship is based on mutual intellectual respect and a similarly rational, even ‘matter-of-fact’ approach to sex as a natural extension of their close relationship. Now I’m on the second draft, and the issue is on my mind again. My guess is that some of my readers will prefer implicit allusions with more left to their imagination, while others would prefer more explicitness. Anyone who thinks that sex is irrelevant doesn’t understand Jessie Whelan.
So far in writing this scene I’ve been explicit about a few ‘stages’ in the first sexual encounter, but left gaps, to avoid the tedium of a ‘blow by blow’ (sorry!) account. It is their first time and both partners are relatively inexperienced, so extended feats of sexual athletics are therefore unlikely. I anticipate that their enjoyment of each other will grow with trust and practice, and this might be hinted at later. Despite all the passion, we can still laugh about sex too, and they do. My mother would have been appalled, no doubt, but my heroine doesn’t aspire to be ‘lady-like’.
I’ll have another go at it and then check with one or two people for their reactions. My best hope is to steer a readable middle ground between too much information and too little, and to avoid the ghastly Lawrentian euphemisms that ruined a good story in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. If you want to see how it turns out in the end, Fallout should be out in June 2014. The difficult sex scene in ‘A Good Liar’ can be found in the book, which you can get through my website or through Amazon. The Kindle version is available as well.