Since writing ‘The Apple Tree’, I have been asked several times why I don’t include erotic content in my stories. “That’s what sells books these days” some tell me, and: “It’s what readers want!” Hmm…I wonder about that. One of the most enduringly successful romantic novelists ever does not even describe a kiss between hero and heroine in her novels. At best the hero offers a well-covered arm for the heroine to lean on as they walk (in other company of course!) But the reader is never left in any doubt about the depth of feeling between the two, because the author has taken us into their minds and allowed us to share their thoughts and emotions. So do readers really want their romances to be liberally peppered with erotica?
I was 11 when I first read Jane Austen. I remember because a cousin gave me a copy of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ for my birthday but then borrowed it immediately to finish reading it (as she had opened it and started reading it on the long walk to my house). She was older than me, so I couldn’t argue and I thought, well it must be good if she can’t wait to finish reading it.
‘Pride & Prejudice’ informed all my ideas about romance. I may have been too young to truly appreciate Austen’s wit, but I do remember smiling a bit, shedding an occasional tear and sighing quite profoundly when things finally worked out between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. I was already a budding novelist by then, of course, copiously filling up cheap exercise books with my literary masterpieces, but after Discovering Jane and graduating from ‘Anne of Green Gables’ to The Classics, I had to put my own literary aspirations aside for a couple of years while I practically moved my bed into the local public library to catch up on my reading. I was hooked!
Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, Emma and Mr Knightley, Catherine and Heathcliff, Jane and Mr Rochester…shall I go on? These characters felt intense romantic emotion for each other and not once did they have to tear off each other’s clothes in order to prove that. Of course the social mores were different and such writing – especially by women - would never have been countenanced, let alone published, but the fact is that these novels are still considered powerfully romantic by modern readers.
Although I wrinkle my nose a bit at the name of the category ‘sweet romance’, this is what many readers today still enjoy. They want the courtship and the emotional intensity, without needing the graphic description of what in the vast majority of cases, takes place in private and behind closed doors. And that suits me fine. I would no more dream of spying on a couple making love than I would of going to live on the moon.
Of course there’s every possibility that Jane Austen might today have enjoyed writing erotic romance and have her name first on the list for the next moon-trek, but I’d be very sad to think that. And in the meantime, I will continue to focus on creating character-driven stories, and an interesting (hopefully) plot that enables me to put them through the emotional mangle before they close their bedroom door on us and bid us goodbye.