One of the bad sex prize winners

A typical busy pre-Bureau and pre-plenary session Monday was followed by an evening meeting of the writers’ circle to which I belong; in other words, a complete change of scenery, a perfect antidote and, as it happened, an interesting discussion about the depiction of sex. One of our members, Tonnie Walls, is writing a very entertaining tragi-comic novel and tonight we were critiquing two of his draft chapters. One of his characters resorts in desperation to prostitution at the rougher end of the trade. Tonnie encapsulates her situation in a wonderful phrase; ‘hard-earned easy money’. Sex is notoriously difficult to write about, and so many good writers have got it wrong that The Literary Review has been running a bad sex prize for years now (not-so-illustrious winners include Melvyn Bragg, Sebastian Faulkes, Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer), but that’s not Tonnie’s problem. He depicts sex with enviable ease – in this case, bad sex. The question was whether he needed to include a graphic depiction of such bad sex for the reader to understand just how far the character was prepared to go to get her so-called ‘easy money’. The majority opinion in the circle was, I think, that it would be better to leave the awfulness to the reader’s imagination. I’m still not sure, though, because Tonnie’s graphic depiction makes us really feel for the poor woman in a way that we wouldn’t necessarily if he’d written that the door closed and we then had to imagine what went on behind it.