Literary Fumbles and Queer Awakenings: Is Erotica Enough?

Published July 24, 2012 by ellenheights

I first read about lesbian romance when The Night Watch by Sarah Waters came up on our reading list. It was my first year of university, studying English Literature and Creative Writing (later I switched to full creative writing, knowing that’s where my passion was) and I’d never heard of mizz Waters before. I certainly hadn’t read historical fiction before, either, resolving that life was too short for extended history lessons. How wrong I was!

I was absolutely blown out of my frumpy pink slippers by this novel, and when I wrote my essay all I could think about was how beautiful those characters were. Not just that, but how awesome lesbian romance is, especially in a WWII setting, with the whole “we can do it!” thing.

There were androgynous characters, closet characters, gay guys, heterosexual affairs, the lot – and it was all so…Classy. Poignant. I fell utterly in love with the story, the plot, the people – and the action.

I’d never read lesbian sex scenes before, but Sarah Waters has a real knack for it. IRL, Sarah is a lesbian and a feminist, and she became most popular with her first novel Tipping The Velvet which the BBC later adapted for the screen.

After reading The Night Watch I swiftly moved on to Tipping The Velvet, and guess what? I loved this one even more. BDSM, Drag-queenery, more androgyny, feminism, activism, prostitution…It was all there, and I admired this woman so damn much for making it so accessible. So academic. Such a modern take on historical fiction, and with a cover I could take on the train without going pillar-box red with shame to boot.

Soon, I read all of Sarah’s books, and they’ve got a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. It’s because of Sarah that I first dove into writing erotic romance, with my story Madeline in the anthology Girls Who Bite.

It was such an enjoyable experience that I’ve found myself coming back to romance and erotica, and apparently, I’m still good at it. Honestly, I thank Sarah Waters for this – her poetic love scenes taught me well, and inspired me even…Weller.

However, after writing that purely-erotica/sexual awakening story last night, I wondered whether stories like that are enough for me. I mean sure, they’re fun to write and better to read, but what about the characters? Don’t they lack a little depth if all we’re talking about is exterior stimulation, or is it the stimulation of both body and soul that brings depth to it in the first place? I hope that by writing erotica I’m not tossing away my love of character journeys and soul-searching, whether that involves sex or not.

That’s why I enjoyed Sarah Waters’ novels, after all. It was for the whole package, no pun intended. With short stories, however, I guess it’s different: they’re for play, for quick-fixes, for quick musings and ponderings. Novels, on the other hand, are journeys for the reader as much as the writer – and that goes for body and soul alike. Especially if you read Tipping The Velvet!


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