Innuendo and smut were the watchwords at the Artesian, the buzzy bar of the Langham Hotel, London recently. Crammed into the slick new venue was a raucous harem of female novelists and their partners, all celebrating the launch of In Bed With, an anthology of erotic short stories.
Here was the writer Rachel Johnson, winner of last year’s Literary Review Bad Sex Award, tossing back a mane of blonde locks, prompting envious shrieks from the socialite Santa Sebag Montefiore, who admitted to asking her salon stylist “for a Rachel Johnson”.
Letting her hair down in a different way was Kathy Lette, swapping uncouth puns over a peach cocktail with her In Bed With co-editors Imogen Edwards-Jones, Jessica Adams and Maggie Alderson.
It seemed somehow appropriate to have a view of Broadcasting House over the road, home of so much filthy talk recently. But there was no room for Jonathan Ross-sized egos – most male guests were subservient hubbies, from the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore to Lette’s Geoffrey Robertson QC and writer Joan Smith’s other half, Dennis MacShane MP.
Each author had written under a nom de porn so the talk of the night was who had written which story. The playwright Louise Doughty claimed a contract of secrecy prevented her from confirming or denying she was “Cressida Bedwell”; rumours persisted that Johnson was Minxy Malone. But whither Jilly Cooper? These authors are her natural heirs, after all, perpetuating a world where thighs quiver and breasts heave – with the women firmly on top.