Arifa Akbar: Erotic memoir or a publisher's wet dream?

The Week In Books

When the French art critic, Catherine Millet, published a memoir of sexual exploits from her first masturbatory fumbles to group sex, The Sexual Life of Catherine M led to the blossoming of a sub-genre of the contemporary 'sexual confessional' with a slew of kinky first person accounts published in its aftermath, from a suburban mother's double life as an escort (Dawn Annandale's Call me Elizabeth: Wife, Mother, Escort) to an Italian schoolgirl's adventures (One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed), the Belle de Jour series, and Tracy Quan's variation on a theme (Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl, Diary of a Married Call Girl, Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl).

Most recently, the novelist Monique Roffey announced that she would be bringing out an erotic memoir, With the Kisses of His Mouth, next year, reflecting that "it's quite a rare thing, really, a literary account of the last ten years of my love and sex life – published under my own name." As compellingly written as it is likely to be, a rare thing it is not. According to Rowan Pelling, former editor of The Erotic Review, the popularity of such memoirs has peaked, although they tend to be written, tantilisingly, under a sexy pseudonym and not by a recognisable author. Often begun as blogs with material that blurs boundaries between autobiography and fiction, publishers have become astute to their selling power; the most viewed blogs are pounced upon and packaged in pink, spangled dust-jackets to be marketed at close proximity to chick lit, like Bridget Jones's leather-clad older sisters. What they often have in common is their 'primary research' into the sex industry, whether it be the insights of a high end call girl such as Dr Brooke Magnanti, or a professional dominatrix such as Kitty Stryker.

Peter Ayrton, the publisher at Serpent's Tail who brought Millet's book to the UK in 2001, says the appeal for publishers picking up on blogs was knowing this work had already created a buzz. On reflection, he feels the trend towards erotic memoirs is a feminist endeavour. The assumption is that their readers are "men in macs", but at Millet's book readings, fans were overwhelmingly female, he points out.

Others are not so unequivocal. Speaking at a 'Critical Sexology' seminar today, Dr Kaye Mitchell, from the University of Manchester's Centre for New Writing, sets out to discuss whether the growth of such literature is a sign of liberated times, or if it is merely reflecting, as Natasha Walter's book, opposite, might suggest, the growing sexualisation of women.

Dr Mitchell says on the one hand, the genre gives expression to women's myriad desires - gay, straight or sadomasochistic; on the other, women's identities appear to be built entirely around their sexuality. "They've given women a voice to talk about their sexualities...but the emergence of blogs has come from what was originally a private diary form which is now out there, and public. So there's a sense that sex can only be thought of as a secret to be exposed." She also sees such accounts - as subversive as they first appear online - to bear out a popular romance narrative by the time the publishing marketting machine has finished with them, so they resemble 'Bridget Jones in a brothel.' Pelling has known numerous sex bloggers who are put under pressure by publishers to follow this narrative arc, in which the central subject realises, after "shagging the entire office, that she really was looking for her Mr Darcy, after all!" While Pelling is not calling time on the genre, there some insiders who are. Bitchy Jones Diary, an edgy, S&M blogger decided last month to sign-off from a genre that dwelt too much on 'what he likes, not what I like'. "Kink's broken. I don't really want to play. Something inside me does, but that something is trapped inside the meat of me that hates all this fucking pornified, PVC clad, patriarchy eroticising bullshit that stifles everything...good that kink could ever be."

P.S.It is highly ironic that the winning novel of the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction - announced at a glittering ceremony in Abu Dhabi this week as Abdo Khal's Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles - is banned not only in his homeland of Saudi Arabia but also in the UAE. It does not do much in the way of good PR for the Gulf region, which is straining to reinvent itself as a liberal centre, and place itself, at great expense, on the international cultural map. Add to that an arson attack at the Jeddah Literary Club (where Khal sits on the board of directors), which further raised doubts about the advancement of culture and literature in the Kingdom, and you have a rather embarassing situation. Al-Jouf literary club was severely damaged by a major fire last Sunday afternoon, according to Arab News.

a.akbar@independent.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?