Miss Austen Disapproves?
On Sunday 10th February I found myself – much to my surprise – in the BBC Breakfast studio about to appear live discussing sex and Mills & Boon with the editor of the Erotic Review.
Had M&B become sexier, racier and generally more erotic? the interviewers wanted to know. Well, yes, I said. M&B always changes with the times. Today different lines have different levels of sensuality and explicitness and the Historical line allows authors, and readers, a wide range from sweet to sizzling.
James McLean from the Erotic Review was positive about M&B and genre fiction, and we got on like a house on fire - which probably came as a disappointment to the producers who were doubtless hoping for a dramatic confrontation between fainting M&B author in twin set and pearls and hardened rake of the publishing world (but then, we Historical writers all love a rake).
But it did make me think afresh about sex and authenticity. Yes, virginal young ladies launched on the Season were very strictly chaperoned and once ‘ruined’ really had ruined their marriage prospects. But sex wasn’t invented in 1963, despite what Philip Larkin thought. I looked afresh at the family trees of my highly respectable (admittedly middle class) 19th century ancestors. Either they were strangely prone to premature births on both sides of the family or pre-marital sex had been discovered. And there are enough stories to be found in literature and the press of the time about seduction, abduction, elopement and such goings-on to make one realise that, statistically, there must have been much illicit lovemaking where the young ladies were not found out.
This print is entitled The Shower Bath and was published in 1813 by Ackermann (a publisher better known for his Repository of Arts journal and not for racy prints). I'd love to know if the gentleman is an intruder or whether the young ladies were sneaking a shower in his trendy new bathroom.
I write historical romances that the Romantic Times categorises as “Hot”. My hero and heroine enjoy a range of sexual encounters in as wide a variety of settings as I can imagine – so am I being historically inaccurate? Sometimes, no doubt. But I enjoy a sexy story and it seems my readers do too. So, how to overcome the problem without creating improbably forward young ladies? I find my heroines these days are rather older and come from slightly unconventional backgrounds. They meet the hero on far more equal terms than the sheltered young miss who has just had her come-out, and they articulate what they want more directly.
So far in my Those Scandalous Ravenhursts series I’ve written about two widows, a governess who is pretending to be a courtesan and a bluestocking with an independent view of the world. The first of these, The Dangerous Mr Ryder, featuring a Grand Duchess and a government agent, is out in March.
But it does amuse me when I’m asked how on earth I get the experience to write about some of these situations. Have I ever made love in the sea off Corfu, tied to the bunk in a pirate ship, in a carriage or a Turkish harem or on a polar bear skin rug? No, unfortunately, although I think I would, given the choice, skip the pirate ship… Um, on second thoughts perhaps not… Johnny Depp… Writers have an imagination, and sometimes it is a very steamy one indeed.