This is an extract from a piece that originally appeared in the Emerging Writers’ Festival book.
My friend, Chris, insists that when I write about sex I am never writing about sex.
This seems ridiculous. I have spent over a year and a half writing a short true story about sex every day. 511 blog posts, religiously posted to my website on a daily basis. I have a sexual memoir published and I seem to have become the go-to person on anything to do with sex writing. I have reached a point in my career where I can claim pornography and sex toys back on tax. They have become tools of the trade, my trade, the writing-about-sex trade.
Therefore, it is clear that my friend is wrong. I write about sex. I write about the act of bodies coming together and the tangle of complications that can come about as a result of this. But when I am asked to talk about how it works, why a piece of writing is sexy when another just doesn’t have that spark, all I can hear are my friend’s words. “When you write about sex you are never actually writing about sex”.
* * * * * * *
Chris Somerville never writes about sex. He even finds it uncomfortable to talk about sex, and yet his work is infused with sexual tension. In his story ‘Holiday’, he writes:
He wakes up as the sun’s rising and he decides to go for a walk. She sits up after he’s dressed and halfway out the door. She blinks a few times and frowns, looking lost. He thinks about how pretty she looks.
‘Where are you going?’ she says.
‘Out. For a walk.’
She lies back down and turns her head away from him.
The possibility for a sexual encounter is always there simmering behind his words. I suppose this is what makes our work sexy, his work and mine. It is the surprise attack. In his work sex sneaks up on you when you least expect it. In my work sex is a smokescreen but there is something else behind it, thinly veiled. The erotic potential of the mundane.
I have learned much from my conversations with my sex-avoiding friend. I have underlined the lessons I have learned but seem to always forget. I remember the power of subtext, of foreshadowing. I need to continually remember these lessons because I write about sex every day of my life in the blog that I have been maintaining for well over a year. I have struggled to find something sexy to say on a daily basis. I try not to repeat myself. Imagine having sex every day for two years and attempting not to repeat yourself. This is what it feels like on the days I drag myself to my blog, feeling decidedly un-sexy. And so with the help of my writer friends and my heroes of the sexy story, Anais Nin and Georges Batailles, with the help of Raymond Carver and James Salter and Russel Banks and all the other writers whose work is sexy without actually having to talk about sex, I remember the most important lessons I have learned. Leave space, look for the unsaid, leave some of the work to your reader, and remember, whatever it is you are writing about, is probably not what you are actually writing about.
Krissy Kneen will be running Writing the Erotic on Saturday 13 July.