Thomas Sutcliffe: An unwelcome third party in literary fantasy

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As a way of attracting attention to a retumescent organ, Kate Copstick's suggestion that women don't write as well about sex as men was pretty effective. The Today programme immediately picked up the challenge, calling in Kathy Lette to repudiate the idea on yesterday's programme and here I am now, similarly goaded into mentioning the publication in question – The Erotic Review, which Copstick has just bought with her own money and will relaunch later in the month.

Copstick said that she wasn't thinking of hiring a female editor: "The Erotic Review almost drowned in oestrogen once and I'm not going to let that happen." Women will contribute to the magazine, apparently, but wary of their tendency to "complicate sex" and "make layers", Copstick would prefer it if male pens predominate.

The remark about complication and layering seems to be a coded way of saying "gerremoff now" – a suggestion that the erotic will play a lesser part in the new publication than candid (and presumably well-written) pornography. And, on the face of it ... or some other part of the anatomy ... that does seem a more brusquely masculine attitude. Copstick, by the sound of it, wants the prose to get results – and in this branch of literature, results are measured by engorgement and excitation, rather than by a lot of cerebral foreplay about the nature of sexual allure. I have some problems with her crude generalisation, not because I think women are just as well equipped for the job or because she's comparing apples with eggs, but because virtually nobody can write about sex well.

The problem is this. Visual pornography (or "erotica", if you want to be mealy-mouthed about what it is you're up to) is a form in which the maker is effectively invisible. There is the image – variably exciting one assumes, since tastes will always vary – and there is the viewer. This transaction is effectively private; there's no one else in there with you. The same is not true with prose. Style is always psychology, so like it or not (and I realise some people will) a third party sidles in beside you, with his or her predilections part of the deal. You can't look at what you want to look at, you must look at what draws the eye of that third party. More crucially, you can't leave what you're looking at feverishly un-named. That thing that's doing the plunging and that aperture that is moistly being plunged must somehow be framed in words.

It is, to use an analogy, the difference between watching a porn film and having it described to you by someone else while you sit blindfolded. While this might float someone's boat, for most people I think it would count as the wrong kind of threesome, since you would be reliant on another's sexuality to convey the object to which your own might respond. Vocabulary would seem too clinical or too poetic, too vulgar or not vulgar enough. At every verb and noun, the possibility of embarrassing fiasco would lurk because "transparent prose" is an oxymoron.

I seem to remember that Martin Amis was once asked in a literary interview whether he used pornography and that he answered with a conditional "yes". Only written, he explained. It was an answer that neatly got him off the hook of exploitation – but it also left me wondering how a critic so exigent would ever get an effect. Wouldn't he be too busy deploring the prose style to get an erection? And the more writing there is (the more self-consciously "fine" writing, I mean) the bigger the problem. It isn't impossible, of course, but the fact that Copstick was able to buy The Erotic Review for just £10,000 should have alerted her to the fact that it's bloody difficult. I don't think she can afford to cut her pool of potential contributors in half.

Rebekah's offer that Gordon and David didn't dare refuse

I confess that I felt a twinge of dismay on reading that both Gordon Brown and David Cameron had attended the wedding reception for Rebekah Wade's marriage at the weekend.

This is naïve, I know. Newspaper editors and newspaper proprietors have always been powers in the land and politicians have always had to take care not to put their noses out of joint. They probably feel that they need to take particular care right now, given that the balance of power between the Third Estate and the Fourth has tilted significantly in favour of the latter and an election is in the offing.

But even so, the whiff of compulsory attendance is hard to dispel – and hardly likely to advance our respect for politicians. Since the bridegroom was at Eton a few years ahead of Mr Cameron, I suppose there's an outside chance they actually knew each other – but surely only expediency can explain the Prime Minister's attendance. The bride wanted a trophy guest and the trophy guest dared not decline – despite the fact that he might plausibly have claimed that he had a lot more important things to do with his time.

Has Ann really got the voice of a Speaker?

I think we should all be voting in the forthcoming election for Speaker – rather than just MPs – given that the Speaker is there to protect the interests of Parliament (rather than the interests of individual MPs) and Parliament is us by proxy.

Even with its scandalously limited electorate, though, it remains an interesting campaign. I'm particularly intrigued by Ann Widdecombe's candidature – which would seem to me to have quite a bit going for it. No problems with controlling an unruly debate, I would have thought, and (whatever you think of her piety) no question marks over her integrity.

The only problem I keep coming back to is the voice – something of a central concern, surely, for a role with this title. Nobody, I think, could describe it as mellifluous or rich – and while beauty of vocal tone isn't an indispensable quality in a speaker, I imagine many voters will run a mental audition of each candidate shouting "Order! Order!" and try to imagine what it might feel like listening to it 40 or 50 times a sitting.

Perhaps they will feel Widdecombe's voice makes up in penetrating power what it lacks in music. Perhaps they will decide they can't bear to have it rasping their cochleas at all. But I'm pretty sure that it will play some part in the result.

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