A passion for sexy writing

By Sue Leonard

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LAST September, Caroline McCall attended a masterclass on writing for publication.

When the publisher asked the participants what they read, most said literature. Caroline’s answer shocked the class.

“I said I liked to read erotica; and I told him I wrote it too,” she says. “You should have seen the look on his face.” Caroline didn’t care. Her erotic e-books were being published with US publisher Ellora’s Cave. She’d published three with the company’s Blush imprint, and when she learned they planned to publish hardcore erotica, she decided to write that, too.

Caroline rang her friend, Eileen Gormley, and asked if she’d be her co-writer. Eileen agreed.

“I’ve e-published some young adult books, and I’d just finished a paranormal romance,” says Eileen. “I was at a loose end and I thought it would be fun.”

First came the plot.

“Our heroine, Lexi, is 39. She’s a bit overweight and she’s just divorced from her husband. She wanted to try something different. The guy she gets together with pretends he likes normal sex, but he’s really a sexual dominant. They’re both pretending to be something that they’re not,” she says.

They each took a character. With ten days until the deadline, they wrote furiously, sending the scenes to each other by email. Having completed the required 30,000 words, they sent in the manuscript. The publishers liked the story, but wanted to spice up the action.

Both aged 50, Caroline and Eileen do not conform to anyone’s idea of an erotica writer. Eileen has three children, two of them are teenagers, and Caroline is a civil servant who owns five cats. So how did they imagine and write scenes sizzling enough to satisfy readers of bondage, dominance and submission?

“We’d try and out-naughty each other,” says Caroline. “Eileen would write something. I’ll read

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it and go, ‘Oh my God. How can I better that? I have to get in touch with the naughty in myself’.”

Eileen writes when the children are at school, and tops up by writing in cafés.

“When I write the raunchiest sex scenes, I might have a glass of wine to push my inhibitions a little bit. I’ll read Caroline’s scene and think ‘wow’. Then try hard and top it. I tell myself I can be as filthy as I like, because nobody will read it but me. Then, when I’ve tidied it up, I send it straight to Caroline.”

Caroline fits her writing in after a long working day. She writes for two hours, or more, every evening, and also on Saturday mornings.

Doesn’t her husband mind? She laughs.

“I’m the ideal wife. He can watch rugby for hours and hours and I’ll never complain. He laughs at me a bit, but he’s the one bringing me coffee and my laptop on Saturday mornings, to make sure I get to write,” she says.

But what does he think of the sex scenes?

“He wasn’t interested in the milder romance books. But he got hold of my Kindle recently, and he read our book. I think he was a bit shocked. He wondered how I knew all that stuff. It certainly put a glint in his eye,” she says.

Do the husbands benefit? Eileen laughs.

“You’re writing all this sexy stuff. Then you get to bed and think, ‘I’ve had sex. I’m exhausted.’ It goes into the page rather than the bed,” she says.

Caroline and Eileen have had mixed experience of online publishers.

They trust Ohio-based Ellora’s Cave, who sell 190,000 copies a month. But it’s a rigorous procedure.

“They take on four of 100 authors, and it takes new authors three months to hear back,” says Caroline.

“You sign a standard publishing contract, but there’s never an advance, just royalties. Then, you’re into edits. There are three or four rounds of them, all by email, and then there’s publicity. We were accepted early in March for publication in July.”

Ellora Cave was set up by Tina Enger 12 years ago, because traditional publishers turned down her steamy romances. They told her that women didn’t want to read explicit sex scenes. She didn’t agree. The e-books available through Ellora’s Cave, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble sell throughout the world.

“But you have to use American spelling,” says Caroline. “I got a roaster of a rejection on the first manuscript I sent. The editor said, ‘I couldn’t see beyond your spelling and cultural references.’ You have to conform to how Americans speak. It’s a constant battle and a big learning curve.”

The two love writing e-books. They like the length — 30,000 words; they like writing a series of books and have mapped out another four for the Taboo series. They think they’ll earn more money than with a traditional publisher. But they would both love to see their books on the shelves in Easons. Their timing appears perfect.

Since they wrote Angels Demons and Doms, the world of print publishing has changed. The success of Fifty Shades of Grey, originally published as an e-book, has stunned book editors. Along with its two successors, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, it dominates the bestsellers list in Ireland as elsewhere.

Are they worried about ‘coming out,’ as erotica writers?

“I think it’s exciting,” says Caroline. “When the cover came out, I passed it round the break table at work. Someone said, ‘you’re a manky bitch’.”

“My parents laugh at my writing,” says Eileen. “They don’t know what I write, and refer to it as ‘that Star Trek stuff.’ I don’t think they’ll take it seriously until they see the book in a shop.

“And my 15 year old daughter is mortified. She’s horrified her friends might find out that her mum is writing smut.”

* Angels, Demons and Doms, by Caroline McCall and Eileen Gormley, is available from Jul 11.