Girls On Top: Sex in Crime (Part 2)

‘Don’t you think there should be more people handcuffed to beds in thrillers?’

…says Mark Edwards (The Devil’s Work) over at CrimeThrillerGirl (aka Steph Broadribb)’s blog, where we are talking about SEX in crime fiction (you should read PART 1 first!) Part 2 continues below…

[STEPH] Many of the female crime thriller writers we spoke to agreed with Mark and enjoy putting sex into their books. Angela Clarke has a sex scene in a disabled toilet in her thriller Follow Me, and Elizabeth Haynes has her detective almost die in a queening box in Under a Silent Moon.

Alexandra Sokoloff said, ‘Most of my books have the common theme of an equal male and female protagonist (or in my Huntress series, an equal and combative male protagonist and female villain) joining forces to solve some horrific crime. And erotic tension is just part of the mix, and when those two people finally come together (yes, I meant that) it has to be explosive and character revealing.’

Marnie Riches writes a lot of sex scenes in her ‘The Girl Who…’ series, she said of women writing sex scenes, ‘Maybe we have the vocabulary for desire more naturally and are less embarrassed.’

[SUSI] I think Marnie makes a good point here. I don’t think there are many female writers out there who didn’t read some of their mum’s books with the naughty bits in, as teens – you know, stuff like Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins – girls, I think, are more inclined to explore these images of desire, and thus as adults are possibly more inclined to write about them? Mark Edwards aside (who makes a good job of it, so to speak), I think females might have the upper-hand when it comes to making sex scenes sexy and not cringey! My biggest problem with sex scenes is when people use what I consider to be THE WRONG WORDS, especially too many of the wrong words… Doing research for this article I searched several novels for certain words and found that ‘penis’ came out as a very over-used word (especially by male authors) – please… come on. It’s cock, surely?

[STEPH] I totally get that, there’s nothing more likely to put you off your stroke than a badly used sex word. ‘Her sex’ is particularly cringe-worthy to me, as are ‘lady-parts’; she’s a woman, therefore all of her is a lady part – be specific! My only exception to this is that I think it’s important the choice of word fits the character – so if the character is very repressed maybe they would call it ‘her sex’ (shudders) but if they’re a tough talking, kick-ass woman that’d be the totally wrong fit.

While we were writing this the only area of disagreement Susi and me had was over ‘panties’. I have the word panties in DEEP DOWN DEAD at least once – during flashback to when my lead character was working as a stripper. It works for the scene and it works in the American voice, but I know the panties set Susi’s teeth on edge!

Even if you decide you’re going to include it, writing good sex is a tricky business. Too little information and its just confusing, too much and it reads like a sex manual – neither are much fun, and neither are sexy – so how to get the perfect balance? If the nominees in the annual Bad Sex Award are anything to go by, the more metaphors and similes used when describing sex increase your risk tenfold. Critically acclaimed writers can fall foul of this too. And, if you’ve not already had the chance, I recommend listening to the hilarious Bad Sex Award special podcast by the brilliant Two Crime Writers and a Microphone.  Listening to Steve Cavanagh and Luca Veste reading out each nominated scene makes the pitfalls of writing a sex scene abundantly clear!

[SUSI] Exactly. Just as in the art of seduction itself, writing a good sex scene involves giving it just the right amount, and no more. The words used are important, and you need to make sure it’s just the right length (ahem!) – any more and you’re venturing into erotica territory, and that’s not what we’re talking about here (btw, for brilliantly written erotica/crime – try something by Ava Marsh… for grubby but nonetheless entertaining erotica/crime… try L.S Hilton‘s Maestra) As author Mel SherrattWatching over You – says, go for the ‘hot and horny, but quick scenes.’ This is spot on. Don’t get too graphic, but don’t be too scared to give us a decent flavour. My top tip for writing a sex scene – if it turns you on when you are writing it and reading it back, it will most likely have the same effect on the reader.

[STEPH] That’s a great tip! Another thing I’d say is that although books (and films) like Bond have always included a lot of sex scenes, and they’re always told from the male point of view. Personally I always give a little cheer when I’m reading a book and the female character takes the POV for a sex scene. Maybe that’s one of the subconscious reasons I wanted to write a sex scene from Lori Anderson’s point of view. Maybe I just like to see girls on top!

[SUSI] I agree. I definitely think women writing it from the female POV works best. You know, all the way through this, all I’ve been able to think about is the reverse cowgirl squat, which would be quite apt for Lori, don’t you think?

[STEPH] Oh hell yeah!!

So, we’ve had our say, what do you think – do you like a sprinkling of sex with your crime? And, if you do, what’s the most memorable sex scene in a crime thriller for you? Tweet us at @crimethrillgirl and @sjiholliday using #GirlsOnTop to let us know.

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Steph Broadribb is an alumni of the MA Creative Writing at City University London and trained as a bounty hunter in California. Her debut novel DEEP DOWN DEAD is out now – here’s the blurb: Lori Anderson is as tough as they come keeping her career as a Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills rack up, she has no choice but to take a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things go wrong. The fugitive she’s chasing is JT, Lori former mentor – the man who taught her all she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Find out more at www.crimethrillergirl.com.

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This article was first Published on Barry Forshaw’s blog: CRIMETIME

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You can buy my books here: SJI Holliday’s Amazon Page (and in all good book shops)

Join my mailing list HERE to be entered into competitions and receive my occasional newsletter.

Capricious Kitty (or “when characters come to life”)

Today I’m delighted to welcome Ava Marsh to the blog to tell us a bit about the heroine of her fantastic second novel EXPOSURE. Ava’s debut UNTOUCHABLE was one of my favourite reads of last year, and her second is every bit as good. if you fancy something a bit different (brilliantly written, engaging, twisty and twisted, dark and sexy!) give them a whirl… plus, there’s a fun competition at the end of the post to win a copy of the book, where you can find out exactly what Kitty Sweet has been up to 🙂

Over to you, Ava.

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I never believed all that guff you often hear authors say about their characters taking over the story. Thought it was just a fanciful way of making the endless slog of writing a novel sound more glamorous and mysterious than it really is. More magical, as if words and ideas sprang from some ineffable external source. Characters, I firmly believed, did exactly what you told them to do because, quite simply, you made them up. You, the author, were the one in control of this whole shebang – though of course, all readers bring their own stuff into the mix, and read between the lines things you never consciously intended to be there.

My author-as-god pragmatic approach remained intact until I met Kitty, the capricious ‘heroine’ of my latest novel, Exposure. I set about getting to know her the way I did most of my characters – deciding on her background, family situation, needs, likes, whatever. I carried out the exact same exercises I always use – a few character prompts, some brainstorming, a lot of thinking and scribbling ideas down on bits of paper. Armed with a rough idea of what I wanted to say via her character, and how the plot would unfold, I set forth into my first draft.

I quickly came unstuck. Kitty, apparently, had other ideas that didn’t seem to have anything to do with my original intentions for the story. It was all very frustrating. Whereas Grace from Untouchable was someone I got to know fairly quickly, someone I innately understood pretty much from the get-go, Kitty point-blank refused to cooperate. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get a sense of what made her tick.

This, needless to say, was all very disconcerting – I blamed myself, my methods, my inability to fully realise her character in my mind. Whatever I did, she remained slightly unknowable, as if I was peering at her obliquely through a pane of glass smeared with dust and dirt – I could delineate certain aspects of her personality, but couldn’t make out the whole. I began to feel genuinely sorry for her prison therapist, Yvonne, who seemed to be having the same trouble getting to the bottom of what was really going on inside Kitty’s pretty little head.

Looking back, I was being impossibly dense, but thankfully Kitty waited for me to catch up. Eventually, after drafting out most of the book, I finally got what she was trying to tell me – that nothing about her was quite what it seemed. As soon as I grasped this, everything fell into place. I had my character, and I had a much stronger grasp of the sort of book she wanted me to write. And Kitty, finally, sprang into life, in all her capricious, enigmatic, inscrutable glory.

The whole experience taught me a lot. Never imagine you’re in complete control of your characters or your world. Never assume that writing one book will be the same as writing the next. And never give up when your story stalls – the solution may be just around the corner.

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I’m a massive fan of both of Ava’s books, and I can tell you that Exposure is currently only £1.99 on Amazon – a bargain! But if you’d prefer a paper copy, I have one signed copy to give to one lucky reader… all you have to do is share this blog post on social media, and answer the question below (in the comments, please) – Ava will choose a winner on 31st October. (UK only, sorry!)

Good luck!

QUESTION: If you could choose a secret identity that meant you could do anything you wanted and no one would ever know it was you, who or what would you choose to be?

**COMPETITION NOW CLOSED: WINNER IS ALISON BARLOW**

Recent Reads

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 15.00.29Exposure – Ava Marsh

If you ever wondered what leads seemingly ‘normal’ people into the sex trade, this is the perfect book for you. A sharp, dark and edgy thriller with a cracker of a heroine and a neatly woven storyline. Ava Marsh is a talented writer with the wonderful knack of pulling the reader right in to the story, dragging them kicking and screaming right through to the explosive and completely unexpected ending. Highly recommended.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.58.36The Stepmother – Claire Seeber 

A psychological thriller in the style of a fairytale, this is something daring, different and impossible to put down. I loved and hated the expertly drawn characters in equal measure. I had butterflies throughout, awaiting the next twist, never quite knowing who was doing the dastardly deeds. This was an extremely clever read, and a refreshing change from the usual toxic marriage situation that is currently the fashion in crime thrillers. A quirkily written mystery from an excellent author. Read it now!

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.57.00Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

I’m a big fan of Haynes’ standalones thrillers, mainly because she writes creepy villains so, so well. This is a neatly woven story of a lonely woman, an isolated farmhouse cut off by inclement weather, and an old friend who may not be quite what he seems. Throw in some complicated family dynamics and a good dose of sex, and you’ve got a suspenseful, emotionally charged tale that will get right under your skin.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.55.25The Devil’s Work – Mark Edwards 

The office environment is a great setting for a creepy tale (nicely done earlier this year, too, by Tammy Cohen in ‘When She Was Bad’) and Edwards uses this dynamic to his advantage in his latest page-turning thriller. What’s the story with publisher Franklin Bird, who seems to know things about his employees that he shouldn’t really know? And what secrets from university are taunting Sophie Greenwood, as she returns to work and tries to take charge of a challenging project and an over-keen assistant who is seemingly doing all she can to bring her down? With his last book, ‘Follow You Home’ and now this latest offering, Edwards is tapping into his influences of King and Levin, to bring a good dose of horror into his everyday situations. Twisted and chilling, I dare you to try and put this one down.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.53.23I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid

This is a short, intense read (which I read late at night and early into the morning), a book that as soon as you finish, you really want to read again. Expertly written, stylish, oozing with suspense and in the end, very, VERY clever. If you want something a little different, that will stay with you and haunt you for a long time afterwards, read this.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 14.50.11Vanishing Point – Daniel Pembrey

An excellent short story by a writer who is fast becoming one of my favourites. This is about a rather dodgy sounding yoga retreat, and one man’s search for answers surrounding the death of his wife. Told with Pembrey’s characteristic wit and dark humour, not to mention his wonderful use of language, this is yet another tale that oozes so much authenticity that you just KNOW the author has spent time in a place like this. Brilliant.

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My latest novel WILLOW WALK has been getting rave reviews. You can buy it in all good bookshops, and the ebook is currently on offer on Amazon and Kobo. If you liked it, please leave a review 🙂

quentin

Untouchable by Ava Marsh #minireview

One of the many crime novels released this week, and one that I had the pleasure of reading early, Ava Marsh‘s Untouchable is a clever, sexy, murder mystery with one of the most intriguing female protagonists I’ve read in a very long time.

Here’s the blurb:

‘If you start feeling anything for a client – and it does happen – count the money. That always brings you back down to earth.’

Stella is an escort, immersed in a world of desire, betrayal and secrets. It’s exactly where she wants to be. Stella used to be someone else: respectable, loved, safe. But one mistake changed all that.

When a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella has a choice: forget what she’s seen, or risk everything to get justice for her friend. In her line of work, she’s never far from the edge, but pursuing the truth could take her past the point of no return.

Nothing is off limits. Not for her – and not for them.

But no one is truly untouchable.

My Review:

Wow – this book was an absolute delight! Quite different to my usual reads, and as an author I found myself in awe of the writing. The thing I enjoyed most is the strong ‘voice’ of the protagonist Stella. The sex parties that Stella and her ‘colleagues’ are embroiled in are disturbing and fascinating in equal measure, and the types of characters who ’employ’ these high-class escorts are nicely drawn, without being stereotyped. Despite the subject matter, the book doesn’t feel seedy – it feels all too real (and made me wonder how the author did her research!)

The language is crisp, direct and often humorous in tone, the storyline is intriguing and the pacing excellent. You want to know who Stella was and what happened to her ‘before’ – and little snippets of her past-life and her old friends are neatly woven throughout, as Stella finds herself mixed up in a murder case and with several unsavoury characters in her wake. She’s a very likeable heroine, and the author has portrayed her well with her astute characterisation. There are some inevitable parallels to be drawn with Belle du Jour, but this is no bad thing…

I believe this is a standalone, so it will be interesting to see what the Ms Marsh comes up with next… I suspect there will be more sex 😉

Highly Recommended: eBook is out now, paperback in August.