Recently, I’ve been trying my hand at writing erotica. And thoroughly enjoying it, I have to say. I’m not the first of the literary fiction writers I know to turn to the saucier side of life. Richard Pierce, author of the wonderful Dead Men, recently released The Failed Assassin, a fabulously dark, enigmatic piece of erotica.
I’d been thinking about writing erotica for a while. In large part, what kept coming back to me was the desire to set this kind of romance in Oxford.
The city has wonderful potential for erotica because it combines two key elements – it is a place associated with the making of dreams, which makes it the perfect setting for a story in which someone is able to fight to turn their lives around and achieve their aspirations; and it has an incredible panoply of settings that are both instantly recognisable and resonant with sensuality.
Oxford is central to much of my writing, which is only natural as I’ve been around these parts for the best part of a quarter of a century now. I’ve set erotic encounters here in the past – a section of my short story Coastlines features some fairly torrid activity in the University Parks during a hailstorm. But the erotic possibilities of Oxford’s historic settings as, as well as some newer ones – the recently-refurbished sections of the Ashmolean, anyone? – deserve a book, or a series of books to themselves.
(Ode to Jouissance, not erotica but a collection of sensual love stories in the Kundera tradition, includes the story Coastlines which features a love scene set in Oxford – 77p for Kindle in the UK, $0.99 in the States and other places)
So what exactly is it that makes Oxford’s buildings such fabulous erotic settings? Well, I think first and foremost it’s the appeal to Gothic Romanticism – the same reason I set the love scene in Coastlnies during a hailstorm. I’ve set the central scene for the Dreaming Spires in the Cathedral, during an organ recital whilst thunder clatters around the cloisters outside. What the Gothic tradition does so well is to tap into sensuality as something all-embracing. It offers us experience that sumptuously shroud the whole body with sight and sound and scent and touch and taste. It brings all of the most primal parts of the brain to life, sending them sparking electricity through us that leaves our bodies expectanty, anticipating, ready to be receptive.
It’s that element of fully surrounding sensuality that makes Oxford such a great setting for erotica, just like the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul or the vineyards of the Spanish Plain. There are so many sensual layers on which an author can build, ratcheting up the erotic tension in the reader’s body and mind.
There will be many more books in the series, so do let me know which settings you’d like to see featured. I already have the old reading rooms of the Bodleian lined up for the next volume.