You don't detect any of that mildly unsettling frisson that ricochets off people dedicated to the pursuit of carnal fulfilment. The sexiest word you could apply to her would be buxom: yet even then it's not barmaid buxom, but buttoned-up buxom. She sits hunched forward, hands crossed protectively across her chest, legs crossed as well; her whole body language in flagrant contradiction to the skintight orange-pink dress that plunges into a deep cleavage, skids round plump curves and hangs on for dear life to wide haunches.
Child-bearing hips, perhaps? FP-K doesn't know. She's never been pregnant, she says; but hopes she soon will be, since that was one of her main reasons for getting married.
Married? Fiona Pitt-Kethley married? The self-styled female Casanova, married? Yes indeed. She first lost her virginity at 19 and has now at last, after a tireless 23-year-long search, met a man she describes as her sexual and intellectual equal. Reader, she married him in a quiet wedding at Hastings Registry Office on 16 December.
A statement issued to her friends, headed grand master weds poet, added winsomely, "James has now formally adopted Fiona's cat KGB" (how do you formally adopt a cat?) "and her seagulls, Mr and Mrs Pantagruel, not to mention some of her bad habits." The announcement, printed on pale pink paper around an etching of plump cherubs blowing their own trumpets, concluded: "We couldn't face a large reception, but hope to celebrate with some of our friends individually in 1996."
Her new husband, James Plaskett, is a chess player, a grandmaster, nearly six years her junior. "I think chess players are near the edge of madness, but sane," she says. Like poets? "There's some similarity between poetry and chess, though I draw on memory far less."
What is he like?
"My father was a terrifically eccentric man and there are elements of similarity between him and James: chiefly that they're both very good with animals. My cat took to him straightaway and as soon as we were married she purred ecstatically for about 12 hours. It was like something mechanical." Goodness, it's as though she knew!
The new Mrs James Plaskett (she intends to keep her maiden name for literary purposes), sits on my sofa. Her hair, which only a year ago (she tells me) was platinum blonde, has just been hennaed, perhaps to indicate that she is no longer sexually predatory. It's still fairly startling, as are the short crimson fingernails and wobbly kohl-rimmed eyes. Most surprising of all are her flat, boat-like black shoes. You don't even see nuns wearing shoes like that nowadays.
Nevertheless, FP-K insists, publicly and often, that she has sampled more than 100 men in the course of her spinsterhood. For years, she kept up a steady flow of poems and books in celebration of her own liberated sexuality. She went where no nice girl dares to go, screwing Greek fishermen and Chinese guides, strange men in Amsterdam and lots of men in Hastings. She screwed anyone who caught her fancy, chiefly in order to write about it. It came over as a sort of ideological bravado: FP-K - the Woman Who Would. Hence my surprise and curiosity on hearing that she had married, since she has never before shown any inclination for the role of wife.
For the past decade she has also managed to whip up a surprising amount of publicity by claiming to be unjustly neglected by the literary establishment. Her current work in progress, about the red-light districts of the world, has yet to find a sponsor. "People were upset that I didn't take a moral stand against prostitution." She recently sacked her agent and her latest publisher recently sacked her. FP-K didn't take this lying down. She protested vigorously to the literary world at large via the London Review of Books, but even that journal is now in her bad books for having accepted a poem three years ago which they recently decided against publishing, although rather sportingly they let her complain about this in their Letters pages.
Why does she feel she lacks proper literary recognition?
"Sexism," says FP-K firmly. "If a publisher breaks a contract I won't knuckle under and behave like a doormat. That's made me a few enemies." Well, maybe; and maybe the books and poems just won't sell enough copies to cover their costs. Publishing is a cut-throat business these days. Her latest work (a tour of the Greek classical world, with many a Pan- like coupling thrown in) got reviews that were nothing short of appalling. But self-doubt has no place in FP-K's armoury.
I ask about all those Greek fishermen: Wasn't it very dangerous? She might have been attacked, beaten up, raped.
"No, because I always talked to people first. Also I consider myself reasonably able to handle situations. I'm quite a good judge of character. I felt that, even in a situation that might be humiliating to someone else, to me it would always make good copy." Looking at her, the notion that she has performed a one-woman sexual marathon seems impossible. Her manner is nervous and hesitant; her demeanour maidenly. I offer a plate of flaky pastry mince pies and she nibbles at them decorously, not eating with gusto, but wiping the crumbs tidily from her lips. She eats them all, though. No time for lunch, she explains.
She talked with clinical detachment about her sexual encounters and never once used the word "pleasure" throughout our interview, preferring "experience". What, I asked, you mean, varieties of sexual experience? New positions; perversions, even? No, she didn't mean that. When pressed for details, she revealed that she had enjoyed discovering that a Greek accountant used a rubber band to secure his condom in place. "It just seemed so perfect for an accountant and I like all these funny bits of human behaviour." This was the nearest she came to making a joke. Apart from that, FP-K comes across as a dauntingly humourless woman who takes herself very seriously indeed. I soldiered on. What physical types was she most attracted to?
"Generally I prefer dark men to fair. Most of the men I've gone for were completely hairless, bodywise."
FP-K claims that her USP has always been that she gave sex away for free. Had she ever thought of charging for it, I enquired ... since she has never made any secret of her poverty.
"No, I never worked as a prostitute. I toyed with the idea of being an escort girl in my late twenties but never really got round to it."
We talk about her newly-wedded state. She says she intends to be faithful and hopes her husband will be, too. Remembering a notorious and prolonged passion she had cherished for Hugo Williams, a poet and another woman's husband, which culminated in publishing her effusive and embarrassing letters to him, I ask whether there are any circumstances in which she might tolerate infidelity.
"I think except in absolutely exceptional circumstances I'm in favour of fidelity - even if sexually bored or physically exhausted. I think even if I were worn out by a young baby, some tolerance should be extended. In the past I've only been faithful for short periods because I tend to believe it's a good idea to screw around before marriage and gain experience."
And now she hopes for a baby?
"Every parent I've spoken to says they've learned a lot from a child ... it's another kind of experience in a whole area I haven't touched on."
That word again: experience.
What about giving birth ... is she apprehensive? After all, she is 41.
"My mother had me at 39. I was the world's worst birth: four days. I am curious to see if I have my mother's sort of experience, though certainly I hope it doesn't take that long. I'm probably more conscious of the way my anatomy works than my mother was."
Does she worry that promiscuity could be a difficult habit to break?
"Not if I find enough variety in one person. It's a matter of finding somebody worthwhile to hold your interest. James has such an interesting mind that I feel there's a lot more to be explored there. In the past I've had relationships with people beneath me in intelligence, and conversation ran out fairly quickly. Sex has been the number one interest in my life for the past 20 years. It's been an area I've written a lot about. I don't know of anybody else who's had sex with all sorts of men and then written about it - though most of my friends would call it 'looking for Mr Right'."
It is odd to hear her talk in this deadpan fashion about the joys of sex. She invariably uses the word "screwing", and indeed there seems something mechanical about her approach. She reminds me of people who become exercise addicts; who go to the gym and sit joylessly bicycling until they have clocked up the required number of kilometres. It occurs to me that FP-K's entire sex life might be an elaborate fiction. She could easily have been a virgin all those years. After all, no lover has ever crawled out from under the bed to sell his story to the tabloids: i was pitt-kethley's sex slave or, fiona used me as her toy boy! Even her long passion for Hugo Williams was, much against her stated wish, apparently platonic.
Perhaps I have stumbled on FP-K's secret and she is, in fact, much cleverer than she has been given credit for. Sensing a gap in the market for the Confessions of a Female Casanova from Hastings, she sucked her pencil and plugged it. But then I remembered the Greek accountant and the rubber band, and decided reluctantly that she might be telling the truth after all. What a shame. It would have been far more interesting as fictionReuse content