• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Writing About It by Sahlan Diver

Writing.ie | Member Blog

Sidney

Sahlan Diver

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It’s interesting how the greater part of novel writing can be entirely impersonal, not you the author expressing yourself, but rather, you the author contriving the prose and structure to have an effect on the reader, principally that they will enjoy and empathise with what you have written. After all, you have to give the reader good reason to make it through tens of thousands of words to the finish line. Precisely how to do this was the problem facing me when I decided to add an erotic plot to my third novel.

How should I do it? Take a literary fiction approach? I read some of the greats to get ideas, in particular James Salter’s “A Sport and a Pastime”, but quickly concluded it was beyond my capabilities. Take a popular fiction approach? From book blurbs on Amazon, it seems those kinds of books all have the same plot, which can be summarised as: (naïve / inexperienced / awkward) young woman gets new (boss / neighbour / gym-trainer / dentist) who turns out to be a (bronzed / muscular / bronzed and muscular) hulk who happens to be a secret (millionaire / billionaire / royal personage) with an impressively well-upholstered (jet/ island/ dungeon / other notable private asset). I wasn’t going down that route either. Or, perhaps I should write from personal experience? Definitely out-of-bounds!

In my novel, apart from the main mystery thriller plot, I include a political plot, a vicious satire on a uniquely modern brand of grubby political operator. I decided that, since I was already taking the political over the top, I could take a parallel approach with the eroticism. Firstly, invert the familiar. Instead of “young woman meets male boss”, have “young man meets much older lady boss”. The scenario is she’s writing a “self-help” manual for the mature woman and wants my protagonist to partner her in the photography for “the practical work”, specifically sixty positions to be worked through twice nightly in order to meet her publisher’s deadline.

Having obtained a highly exaggerated but still thinly plausible setup, my concern was the writing would go so far over the top that it became repetitive. A structural sweetener was needed. This is supplied in the form of “Sidney”, the lady’s personal robot, who can’t resist making witty comments, speaking with a naff French accent even to the extent of believing himself to actually be French. And later we are introduced to Sidney’s robot twin, Clarence, who was been given the artificial personality of a first-class English butler.

Was this approach successful? One reviewer’s comments confirm what I had been aiming for: “What begins as an untimely death in a small town evolves into an impassioned political movement, a greedy murder plot, and some cross-country sexcapades that will make even the most libertine blush. Intimate moments are swathed in ridiculously comical dialogue and awkward situations, adding levity to a well-plotted murder scheme. But make no mistake, the plot is juicy and the tension is palpable.” Jennifer Jackson, Indies Today 5-star review.

(c) Sahlan Diver

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