Thanks to the swelling popularity of EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey, the sight of commuters reading erotica on public transport is commonplace. In the early Seventies, however, it was a rare thrill. So recalls author Brian Aldiss, now 86, whose first sex-themed novel, The Hand-Reared Boy, was published in 1970.
“I was once sitting on the train from Oxford to London,” he says, “opposite a young woman who was reading The Hand-Reared Boy. I thought, 'Fantastic!' When we stopped, I got off [the train] and said, 'You're reading a book I wrote. Do you like it?' She was terribly embarrassed. I said, 'Let's go and have a coffee, or go to your place?' A generous offer, I thought! But she was pretty snooty about it, or shy.”
Aldiss is best known for his science fiction writing, but The Hand-Reared Boy was the first in a trilogy featuring his semi-autobiographical protagonist, Horatio Stubbs. It is perhaps best described as a “cumming-of-age” story: “I lay back in a swoon,” says Horatio of a teenage encounter with the housemaid. “The feeling rose and flowered and burst magnificently, and my body seemed to churn into dozens of delighted particles. It was my first orgasm.”
The saga including A Soldier Erect (1971) and A Rude Awakening (1978), is being republished as an e-book by HarperCollins' experimental imprint The Friday Project, as are all the works from Aldiss's 60 years as a writer: a back catalogue of nearly 100 books. Was he tempted to use a pseudonym for his erotica? “No. And anyway, there's a lot of sex in a lot of my other books.” Were he writing Stubbs again in this liberated age, he says, “I'm sure there are other things that I'd include. All sorts of disgusting things.”
'The Horatio Stubbs Trilogy' is available as an ebook, £7.99