I would like to welcome Gilli Allan to Jera’s Jamboree today.
Gilli Allan started to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home and real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli did not go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon College of Art.
She did not work on any of the broadsheets or in television, but has done a variety of less prestigious jobs. She was a shop assistant in several West End department stores, selling wigs, shoes, children’s fashions and accessories. She has also been a beauty consultant, a bar-maid and did a job with no title which involved spotting American tourists in London and persuading them to go on a coach tour that culminated in a lunch at the Hilton. There they had to endure a high pressure pitch selling real-estate in Florida! Gilli worked longest and most happily in her dream job as an illustrator in advertising.
She only started writing again when at home with her young son, but her first two finished novels, Just Before Dawn and Desires & Dreams, were immediately accepted by a mainstream publisher. The publisher ceased to trade and after a period in the wilderness, Gilli went independent and published TORN and LIFE CLASS as e-books. TORN went into paperback in September 2012.
Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the establishment of a community shop in her village. Still a keen artist, Gilli regularly attends a life-class near her home in Gloucestershire, where she now lives with her husband, Geoff, and son, Tom.
Gilli is sharing with blog readers her thoughts about sex … from a writers perspective! and if to include in a story, why and how.
I started to think about this question the other day. A ‘virtual’ friend of mine had read and enjoyed my book, LIFE CLASS. She emailed me and told me so. But she concluded her email with a comment that really puzzled me.
“…it’s a super read and just what I like, happy endings with no sex, (sex is so boring on paper I reckon!)”
I was concerned that my virtual friend would post a review repeating her comment. I didn’t want potential customers to get the wrong impression about my books. It might put off my target readers – grown-up, robust types, who can take a bit of ‘no holds barred’, gritty sex. Even more importantly, it might encourage those readers who only want their reading sweet (with the bedroom door firmly closed) to buy my books. I was afraid they would be shocked, and upset they’d wasted their money, and then take their disappointment out on me by posting poor reviews.
“...I’m slightly puzzled by your no sex comment,” I replied.“I only write sex when it’s appropriate to the plot and the story. I admit there’s not a lot of sex in LIFE CLASS, but there is definitely some. I remember writing it! Maybe you drew a veil in your mind?”
She wrote back with an apology. “... what I meant is so many books go on and on and on about sex, the size, the colour, the shape. I used to quite like that but now I feel I’ve heard it all, and your sex scenes grow out of an emotional connection, which is just so lovely and so much more rewarding….”
In fact I agree with my reader. I too can find sex boring, and the more it’s sprinkled through a book with a view to titillation rather than to tell the story, the more bored I become. I am one of the many, I suspect, who bought Fifty Shades of Grey to find out what the fuss was about, but who gave up on it halfway through.
But whether I’m writing or reading, I don’t want to close that bedroom door if what’s going on behind it is significant to the plot. And that’s the crux of it for me. We all know about sex. We know the mechanics – which bit ultimately goes where. We don’t need to be led through the process, time and again, unless a point is being made with regard to the plot or the way the characters relate (or don’t) to one another.
As with any of the various activities your characters presumably undertake during the course of your story, you have first to decide *if* you are going to write about the sex. After all, you don’t write about every visit to the bathroom, every trip to the shops, every meal eaten. Then you have to decide *why*. What is the purpose of the scene in the story. And once you’ve ticked those two boxes, you have to consider *how*.
A sex scene has to fit the overall tone of the book. I hate it, for instance, when the book I’ve been reading, written in a modern, non-literary, down-to-earth style, suddenly flies off into clouds of poetic metaphor. Conversely, it bounces me out of the story when a more literary novel becomes blunt, biolological and graphic when it arrives at the sex scenes. The sex has got to feel natural within the overall style of the rest of the book. It has to be a dovetail joint of two bits of wood sourced from the same species of tree. It’s no good trying to roughly hammer a plank of pine to a plank of ebony. I’m not saying the story has to be monotone, that there can’t be light and shade or stylistic shifts to underline or dramatise, but, for the reader, it mustn’t feel as if she’s picked up a different book by a different author. And finally, when that sex scene is committed to the page, all the senses should be employed. Smell, taste and touch as well as sight and sound.
Thank you Gilli.
As a reader I am totally in agreement with Gilli. What are your thoughts? You’re welcome to share in the comments.
About art, life , love and learning lessons
The story follows four members of the class, who meet once a week to draw the human figure. All have failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. They come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to an unimagined future.
Dory says she works in the sex trade, the clean-up end. She deals with the damage sex can cause. Her job has given her a jaundiced view of men, an attitude confirmed by the disintegration of her own relationships. The time seems right to pursue what she really wants in life, if she can work out what that is. She moves back from London to the country town where she grew up and where her sister still lives, yet she remains undecided whether to make it a permanent move. She’s always been clear eyed realist ̶ love doesn’t figure in her view of the future – and yet she finds herself chasing a dream.
Stefan is a single-minded loner, whose only and overriding ambition is to make a living from his sculpture. So how the hell did he find himself facing a class of adults who want their old teacher back? If he can sell the big old house he’s inherited, he’ll be able to concentrate on his work and maybe give up the part-time teaching job. Love is an emotion he long ago closed off ̶ it only leads to regret and shame ̶ but it creeps up on him from more than one direction. Is it time to admit that letting others into his life is not defeat?
Fran ̶ Dory’s older sister ̶ is a wife and a stay-at-home mother without enough to keep her occupied. Her husband’s early retirement plans throws her into a panic. She sees her life narrowing into staid middle-age. On a collision course with her mid-life crisis, Fran craves the romance and excitement of her youth. An on-line flirtation with an old boyfriend becomes scarily obsessive, putting everything she really loves at risk.
Dominic is a damaged child. He has lived his life knowing all about sex but nothing about love. If he can only find his mother perhaps he can make sense of his past. But perhaps it is a doomed quest and it’s time to look to the future? If he can grow up enough to accept the help and love that’s on offer here and now, he has the chance to transform his life.
She can escape her past but can she ever escape herself ?
Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome; it can be awkward and embarrassing, and it has consequences. You don’t always fall for Mr Right, even if he falls for you. And realising you’re in love is not always good news. It can make the future look daunting.
Single mother Jess has made a series of bad choices. Job, relationships and life-style have all let her down. By escaping the turmoil of her London life, she is putting her young child first. This time she wants to get it right, to devote herself to being a mother. But the country does not offer the ‘good life ’idyll she pictured. As a Londoner, and an ex-City trader, she is not made welcome by local mothers. The landscape she looks out on is under threat, new friends have hidden and disturbing agendas, and two very different men pull her in opposing directions. In the face of temptation old habits die hard. Despite her resolution not to become involved, she falls into bed with one and, after a sticky start, begins to make a friend of other.
Jessica is a woman who claims she has never been in love. All at once she is forced to re-evaluate this assertion when she finds herself torn – between the suitable man and the unsuitable boy.