No sex please, we're shopping

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I have had a cutting lying on my desk now for about a month that I can't quite figure out, so I am going to reprint it here and now, so that you can cut it out and put it on your desk and try and figure it out for yourself.

It is from the Daily Telegraph, page 9, 22 February this year. It reads as follows:

CORRECTION. In our article "Sex and Shopping: The End?" on 8 February we incorrectly included Clare Francis's name in a list of authors of "sex and shopping" novels. We recognise that this is not a fair description of the novels of Miss Francis.

That was the entire item. Rum, eh? Why publish a correction to this tiny item, when so much of what appears in every newspaper is inaccurate but never gets corrected?

One possible scenario is that the people at the Telegraph responsible for the feature called "Sex and Shopping: The End" had met for a little post-mortem after it had come out, and they had started feeling guilty.

"Hey, guys, you know we included Clare Francis's novels among the sex and shopping sagas? I've been thinking. Maybe we were wrong."

"In what sense?"

"In the sense that she doesn't write sex and shopping novels."

"Then why did you include her in the feature?"

"I rang up a man at Oxford who is studying airport novels and has read her stuff. He didn't object to the description of her books as sex and shopping."

"But what is a sex and shopping novel, anyway?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, that was what the whole piece was about!"

"So explain!"

"Well, I didn't actually read the piece."

"I thought you wrote it?"

"Yes. But I didn't read it. Nor have I read any of Clare Francis's novels so I think it was unfair to call them sex and shopping novels. I think we ought to print a correction. Otherwise I'll just go on feeling terribly, terribly uneasy about the genre we assigned her to."

That's one scenario.

Another is that Clare Francis herself read the piece and saw red at being included among the sex and shopping novelists, and got on the phone to the Telegraph.

Anther scenario, of course, is that the sex and shopping novelists all got together one morning for coffee, read the piece and saw red at having Clare Francis included among their number so they got on the phone to the Telegraph to demand a correction.

At this point you are expecting me to put you out of your misery and explain, once and for all, what a sex and shopping novel is. But I'm sorry. I don't think I can. I have occasionally read books in which sex took place, or seemed to be taking place (so hard to tell sometimes), and in which shopping also took place, often at very expensive shops, but the two activities never seemed to coincide as they should:

"Do you have any silk house coats?" said Arabella to the handsome young assistant. "Something cool and soothing to the skin? In apricot, perhaps?"

The young assistant, whose name was Desmond, looked at Arabella's skin. It looked good. He put out a hand and felt it. It felt good, too.

"I think I have just the thing for madam," he said huskily. "Perhaps if madam would care to come into the changing room ..."

"Are you staying in here with me?" said Arabella roguishly, as the young man brought the flimsy wrap into the changing room and showed no signs of leaving.

"That is up to madam," said Desmond, shyly helping Arabella to undress ...

That's what I call sex and shopping, and I only wish I had time to take you through to the scene where Mrs Lomas, the senior house-coat buyer, finds both of the characters naked except for a credit card, and stays to join in.

I seem to have strayed from the point. What emerges from the whole affair is the extreme importance of describing your novel correctly. I mention this only because tomorrow, here, I am starting the serialisation of a new novel.

It is not, pace Clare Francis, a sex and shopping novel.

It is more up her street than that.

It is a sex and shipping novel.

More precisely, a sex and single-handed sailing-around-the-world novel.

It is called Woman Overboard by Elsie Fairfax and it starts here tomorrow.

Don't miss it!

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