Brick Lane author Monica Ali said she was ‘terrified’ about writing the sex scenes for her most recent novel, Love Marriage, with fears of being nominated for Bad Sex Awards that threatened her as she wrote.
Speaking at an event at the Hay festival in Wales, the 54-year-old writer told the audience: ‘There are all sorts of pitfalls in writing sex scenes – you might end up using words like ‘pulse’ ,”thrust”, “member” ”.
Ali was previously able to avoid writing sex scenes, she said, explaining that although her character Nazneen had sex in Brick Lane, “we didn’t have to be in the room with her. because, as a devout Muslim, it was ‘in keeping with his character’ for there to be a level of intimacy. But when it came to Yasmin, the protagonist of Love Marriage, the author felt that the sex she had was “such a fundamental part [of the] trip” that she could not “bott up” by writing it.
“When I got down to writing it, it wasn’t as bad as I feared,” Ali said, adding that Yasmin’s narrative challenging her “good girl” identity had taken over. The scenes, she said, are pivotal because they show Yasmin, who grew up in a Muslim household, breaking the rules she has always followed. It’s not just having an affair with her boss, but having sex while on her period, “which is totally haram. Forbidden.”
It was “because it was so necessary to his development” that it was “actually good,” Ali said, before quickly adding, “I think!”
The British-Bengali author went on to say, however, that her 20-year-old daughter was less impressed. After reading a proof of the book, she phoned her mother and said, “Mom! How can you? Do you know grandpa is going to read it?
Ali’s dad actually read Love Marriage, and told her “it’s great, but there’s too much swearing,” the author said. “What does he mean sex by,” she added. “But he can’t say the word sex.”
The sex, however, is “the narrative backbone of the whole story,” Ali said. “And of course, stories about sex lend themselves very well to secrets, lies, shame and guilt, and also the other way around: exploring boundaries, playing games, finding your own desires.”
And while she believes she’s nominated for the Bad Sex awards, which were established in 1993 to “gently deter writers and editors from including unconvincing, superficial, embarrassing, or redundant sexual material in otherwise sound literary novels,” is a fear for anyone attempting to write sex, she thinks is quite easily avoided.
“I think what tends to win the Bad Sex award are the extended metaphors: ‘breaking waves’, ‘tunnels and trains’.” If writers “stay away from mechanical metaphors and descriptions,” Ali says, that should be fine.