The Bad Sex Awards

It may have passed you by, but in the UK we recently had the marvellous spectacle of the Bad Sex Awards – an annual award for the worst sex scene in a mainstream novel.

The award was established by literary giant Auberon Waugh and is presented by the Literary Review. Its aim is one of ‘gently dissuading authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels’. 

There were eight contenders for the 2012 award, and it was won by Nancy Huston for her novel Infrared. The winning (or offending, depending on your point of view) passage cited at the ceremony included a certain amount of purple prose – over-lengthy similes involving cellos, bows, fishes swimming in water (what else might they swim in?), stars, contellations, milky ways (the stars not the confectionary), a ‘delirium of restrained desire’ and carnal pink palpitations. You can read it for yourself on the Guardian website.

Winners in previous years have included many well-known authors – Melvin Bragg, Sebastian Faulks, AA Gill, John Updike, even Norman Mailer (in 2007, for his The Castle in the Forest).

This leads to some interesting questions.

Firstly, given that a large part of human experience is about sex, it seems reasonable that many literary books will include rather than avoid it. It also seems reasonable that they will be quite explicit about it. And the books that have been nominated are by writers often praised for their literary skills. So what’s up with the bad sex?

The answer offered by a Guardian columnist is this: if a book isn’t primarily about the kind of relationships that involve sex, then the sex scenes tend to stick out like a sore thumb and, if quoted away from the context of the novel as a whole, tend not to read well.  As a previous winner notes, writing in the Independent, when read out at an award ceremony the reading tends to be in the tradition of a pantomime performance, any subtlety in the writing is lost and the audience generally responds with derision – even though in the context of the novel and read privately, the extract may read rather well.

And while there’s bad writing about sex – some of which is in the mainstream and some in specific genres such as erotica – there is course bad writing about everything. Which is part of the point of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which encourages deliberately terrible submissions so we can amuse ourselves reading them.

So then secondly, as the Guardian asks, why aren’t there ‘good sex’ awards?

Well, there are. Many of them, in fact. They’re just not mainstream. They’re awarded specifically to erotica (and no, we haven’t won any – yet). Jade magazine intermittently includes the written word in its awards, and there are special fiction categories in the awards given by the National Leather Association in the US (their website exists but is currently being renovated), and The Bondage Awards website (though the NLA and The Bondage Awards are specifically bdsm-related). And there are plenty of others that readers of erotica will probably be aware of.

There is, actually, great sex in some mainstream literature. You’ll find, for example, highly erotic passages in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow – some of them based on the premise that one of the protagonists appears to be a human predictor of where the V2 missiles will fall in London (it’s set in the latter stages of World War II) since every spot at which he has an erection later becomes the site of a missile hit.

But maybe the interesting thing here isn’t what the mainstream is doing, it’s the fact that there is, seemingly, a distinct place for erotic literature. Good writing about sex is perhaps most likely to be found in narratives that are, in fact, about sex – and maybe it’s less likely that passages from such works are going to have that ‘stand out like a sore thumb’ quality. That’s not to say all erotica writes brilliantly about sex, because it doesn’t; just that the best and most insightful writing about sex is more likely to be found in the erotica genre.

Running on Diesel

We’ve just discovered a selection of our stories on Diesel eBooks.

According to its September 2011 press release (see among other sources ‘The Diesel eBook Store, the world’s largest independent retailer of electronic books, today announced the launch of its new eBook retail platform ( The new site now gives Diesel’s customers the ability to enjoy eBooks using a wide range of technologies. Central to the change is an entire new suite of capabilities designed to deliver a more satisfying purchasing experience.’ It looks like most books are available for multiple reader formats including iPhones and Android devices.

Our stuff on Diesel currently includes:

Fulani: Addicted to Rope novella, The Vampire Skye novella, The Vampire’s New Plaything short story, The Museum of Deviant Desires story collection (included in Terrance Aldon Shaw’s Big Brain Erotica 2012 list), Smoking Hot novella (out of the much-praised Naked Delirium collection from Sweetmeats Press), and his recent Corporate Slave novel.

Velvet Tripp: Xcite’s Tropical Paradise collection, with her story giving the collection its title; Xcite’s Submission in Silk collection, including her story ‘Go Find Yourself’; and A Woman Possessed, a novella broken out from the much-praised Naked Delirium collection from Sweetmeats Press – and most reviews have claimed this is the best story of the collection!

You can, by the way, register with Diesel to get alerts when any more of our books are on their site. And for selected books you appear to be able to earn actual money – though admittedly only a few cents – for writing reviews. So potentially, in return for rankings and reviews, you’d be able to get occasional free books.

Fulani’s next big thing

I’m honoured to have been tagged by Vanessa Wu as one of the authors she’s passed the ‘next big thing’ torch to. If you haven’t come across it, it’s a Twitter-based chain on the #WW hashtag (Writer Wednesday, or Worth Watching) that involves answering 10 questions about what you’re writing. The answers are below.

1) What is the working title of your current/next book? Vodou Intent.  It’s the second of a three-part novella series. The first part, Ridden, is already out in Kindle edition with and

2) Where did you get the idea for that book? Vodou as a religion came onto my radar over a decade ago when I visited New Orleans. I read more about it, on and off, because in other connections I’ve been involved in studying the ‘desecuralisation thesis’, a sociological argument that one aspect of the postmodern world is a return to religion but at the same time a preference for, if I can put it this way, non-traditional religions. And I’ve also become more aware of the vodou diaspora, with at least some followers now in almost every major city in the world.

Vodou is a syncretic religion, created from elements of Catholicism and older, mainly West African, religions. This book, though, has a kind of vodou-meets-paganism theme, and rests on the view of many pagans that ritual is only important insofar as it enacts and amplifies intent. If you want to do something, any ritual is no more than – but also no less than – a way of focusing on that aim.

The book came about because Xcite wanted me to write a trilogy of novellas on a paranormal theme. As I’ve mentioned, the first one, Ridden, is already out. The last one, Vodou Fetish, will be published sometime next year.

3) What’s the genre of the book? Erotica, with a strong BDSM theme and a lot of paranormal. I like it that my key character isn’t wholly comfortable with the idea of the paranormal, though.

4) If you could pick actors to play the lead characters in your story, who would you pick? I’m crap at this, I probably don’t watch enough films. And it would almost certainly be low-budget anyway! I’d recommend giving the opportunity to relative unknowns who could start their career with it…

5) How would you describe your book in one sentence (10 words or less)? Sex and BDSM can make a ritual for higher goals.

6)(a) How will your book be published, submitted through the traditional route to a traditional publisher or will you be handling it yourself through Indie Publishing methods? (b) If you’re an Indie Author, will you be publishing through your own Indie Publishing company or in a collective with other Indie Authors? It will be with Xcite, as an ebook. They’ve already commissioned the cover. I just have to finish writing it…

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of this book? Compared with many writers, I’m slow – probably around 1,000 words a day. And I’ve had a bunch of other stuff to deal with that’s meant time away from it. On the plus side, I usually ignore the advice to get a first draft finished and then go back to revise. I do a lot of editing as I go, so often my writing day starts with rewriting the previous day’s work before writing the 1,000 words I know I’m likely to revise tomorrow. So there’s no distinct ‘first draft’ and by the time I write the last word, all the previous words have usually been edited several times over.

8) What other books within your genre are similar to yours? To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve read a bunch of vodou-inspired fiction but it wasn’t erotic fiction. I’ve read a lot of erotica but nothing quite like this. Probably the nearest in terms of the overall ethos and feel, but with a pagan rather than a vodou element, is by my partner Velvet Tripp. Check out her novella A Woman Possessed.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book? There are so many answers to that. But I liked the idea of exploring how someone who’s an atheist understands and copes with the experience of the paranormal. Because, frankly, I count myself as atheist, but many of my friends are pagan and I’ve seen and experienced some pretty weird and inexplicable stuff over the years. That’s more or less the position my protagonist is in.

10) What about your book will pique the reader’s interest? The scene with the anvwar mo – essentially the vodou version of an exorcism.

There’s a final question:

11) Do you know any other fab authors who might like to tell the world about about their next big thing? A few, all excellent for different reasons: