Monday, January 3, 2011

My Kilty Pleasure: Thrills and Swoons

This post is going to be a bit saucy, so if you are reading this next to your octogenarian mother or using The Adventures of the Gingerbread Lady to teach your preschooler how to read, I would ask you to consider finding another post to peruse. You have been warned! (Mammy and Daddy, you might like to look away now.)

My mother loves to read and loves watching films, yet she hates smut and (whisper it) s-e-x in these media. She prefers nice BBC period dramas where everyone keeps their frocks on or books that follow a family dynasty but leave the copulation behind closed doors. This year, for Christmas, she asked for a few "nice books" to read and it was with great difficulty that I located some smut-free works. This involved a bit of censorship: I skim-read one or two to make sure the smut was at a minimum. I found a couple that look relatively mother-friendly, and failed tragically on another. The Smut Fail book is one called Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, - it's been out quite a few years, apparently, and there are half-a-dozen sequels. On the surface, it seemed okay: 700 pages of historical romance. But I was wrong. The smutometre went off the charts, dear readers, off the charts!

It tells the tale of a 1940s nurse who goes for a wander around some standing stones, faints and wakes up in Scotland a couple of centuries ago. As you know, I recently had a few fainting episodes myself and I am now sorely thankful that I came to my senses among the contents of my husband's toolbox because this lady quickly finds herself scooped up by a band of be-kilted Scots, one of whom she marries for some spurious reason, e.g. in order to gain protection from someone or other. The pair of them then fornicate up and down the Scottish highlands and lowlands, whilst getting to somewhere or away from someone. Disgraceful, readers, that's what it is: absolutely disgraceful. (And, on a side note, I would like to comment on the depiction of the Celtic peoples in popular fiction. I understand that it can be difficult to recreate a Scottish or Irish accent in print, but it's amazing how much we sound like pirates when an author tries: "Aye, arrrrr me lassie! Let's hop on me horse and ride to Edinburgh, arrrrr!")  But I feel I owe it to my mother to finish this filthy tome, in order to establish for once and for all that it really is not suitable for her little eyes.

Wallowing in the pages of Outlander, I was reminded of my own short-lived foray into romantic fiction. When I was 15 or 16, my best friend at school was an avid reader of Mills & Boon books. Mills & Boon, in case you are not familiar with them, are popular romance "novels" (cough), sold at newsagents and in supermarkets, as well as bookstores and in train stations. My best friend used to read them voraciously, swinging on the back legs of her chair with her novel hidden behind her geography book. When she got to a particularly saucy bit, the chair would flop down on to all four legs again with a resounding thump, startling Sr. Frances in the middle of her explanation about how a glacier is formed.

Nowadays, Mills & Boon are far racier than they were twenty years ago. By today's standards, what we read was terribly tame. But the basic premise of many of these books has not changed. We had the formula figured out and if it were not for the odious chore that was our university-entrance exams, we might have made our fortunes writing popular romances. Witness our research:

  • 1 chaste young woman named after a classical deity (Persephone) or foodstuff (Oregano)
  • 1 lonely, misunderstood millionaire named after an item in a DIY store (Wrench) or a random selection of vowels and consonants (Kytz). If he has a title, all the better. Counts are particularly popular: there's apparently nothing quite like being ravished by minor European royalty.
  • 1 implausible career for young woman (pottery designer, kite maker, full-time sweater knitter)
  • 1 dramatic scenario (woman washed up on man's private island with amnesia; woman taken prisoner by man for trespassing on his massive estate; woman forced into marriage to please dying father who always wanted to see her married off before he kicks the bucket etc.)
  • Add a  selection of euphemisms for body parts: members, mounds, rosebuds, cusps - all popular choices.
  • Mix in a liberal smattering of obscure adjectives for afore-mentioned body parts: glistening, heaving, turgid, tumescent (which, by the way, is not to be mixed up with fluorescent. It was a sad day when I discovered - many years later - that tumescent members do not glow in the dark.)
  •  Wrench and Oregano need a variety of interesting verbs to express how they communicate:
    "Come here," rasped Wrench. Oregano trembled, her bosom heaving. "No!" she murmured, "You cannot force me to marry you, Count Wrench von Tuchenstein! I will not be your wife!"
    Get the picture? Wrench will do a lot of rasping, growling, barking and snarling, whereas Oregano will probably go for murmuring, whispering, pleading and cajoling.
  • Finally, you need a resolution: in other words, the reason why Wrench was being a big ol' uptight meanie was that he was actually mentally tortured by his ex-wife!!! He didn't intend to be such a rapscallion - he just wasn't in touch with his feelings!!! When he admits that he really loves Oregano, their love can truly grow and their marriage blossom and she can give birth to their twins!!!
It's very reassuring to know that if my career Educating The Youth should ever come to a halt, I have a Plan B - I'll be able to churn them out in no time. I'll have to find a pseudonym, naturally, because I could get into a lot of trouble if my parents found out that I had become An Author of Smut.


Michelle said...

This post made me laugh! I've just spent a couple of hours making a list of all the books I have that I want to give away - I'm going to see if my work colleagues want any before they get taken to a charity shop (the books, not my colleagues!). One of the books was Outlander, or to use it's UK title, Cross-Stitch! I bought this book in Scotland whilst on holiday once, as both the Scottish theme and the title appealed to me, and read it a few months back. Little did I know just how much blatant s-e-x awaited me in the pages (and what a lot of pages there were). So I can completely understand your horror and outrage at the levels of smut contained within!

I also had a couple of Mills and Boon books to give away. I don't know how they came into my posession, but I haven't read them. When I was about 14 or so I went through 'a phase' and devoured M&B like there was no tomorrow. I remember the first time an author referred to the use of a condom, only the M&B term for it was a 'sheath'. I remember the first book I read in which the hero *actually cried*, because he was so in love with the heroine, which my 14 year old self thought was the most romantic thing ever! I remember one of the regular authors would never allow her characters to go beyond kissing, and the heroine always seemed to be called Chastity - I started to avoid this author's books due to the lack of 'saucy bits'. As for the two that I am giving away, their titles are: 'The Italian Billionaire's Pregnant Bride' and 'The Sheikh's Convenient Virgin' - don't leave much to the imagination these days, do they?

Reality Jayne said... try to find that book,Outlander, right Sounds scandalous.

Unknown said...

Let me strongly assure you: should you give up all noble attempts to Educate The (Feckless, Undeserving) Youth, you WILL make your millions writing for M&B, or whomever. As your Mammy would say: YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TALENT!!! And, Gosh, Outlander sounds great!!!

Unknown said...

I waited until my first year of uni to get together with my friend to write our very own Mills and Boon. The protaganists were Tamsin and Rafe, she wore tight emerald green sweaters that brought out the colour of her eyes and was won't to ignore rafe's gruff warnings not to wander off up a mountain clad only in said green sweater. But once she was stuck on the mountain with the emerald green jumper clinging wetly to her heaving bosom he couldn't wait to jump her bones, ahem, I mean rescue her. That was about as far as we got before the novelty wore off and the need to concentrate on essays kicked in.

By the way, my all time favourite euphemism from a Mills ann Boon is "seed pearl of desire". Me and the girls still snigger over that when when we've had a lemonade or two........

Susie said...

OK, you made me go and dig out Dangerous Masquerade, where the innocent but curiously sensual Laurie has had to pretend to be her selfish cousin, La Raine, for reasons I don't entirely understand and is now trapped in a relationship BASED ON LIES with La Raine's fiancee Rian. It was your fault.

'Doesn't it amuse you?' he sneered, staring down into her agonized expression. 'Surely the taste of victory is sweet to know that you've brought Rian Montgomery to his knees!'

Please write a Mills & Boon as it would be great, but I imagine very difficult to do unironically. Please have a go, though. I am so wanting to do it myself now, I will have to lie down until the feeling passes.

SpinMeAYarn said...

hi, nipped in here from Rav,
so I'm now rolling around the floor laffin me head off!!!
good post, I remember those M and B books, what about the ThornBirds, did that get passed around in your school too? with all the saucy pages turned down at the corners?
oh your poor mother, she would never have been able for the Outlander, all that bodice ripping, on the way to Glen A or B...
anyway, just to say enjoyed the post, will be back to check out your blog again,

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Hello Ladies,
Little did I know that this post would have your collective bosoms heaving with excitement. mlh79: we know you're not going to part with those books, so stop pretending. How could you? 'The Sheikh's Convenient Virgin' sounds like a classic.
FionaFluffy, I think you were on the right track with your M&B - you certainly ticked off many of the boxes on the list. The emerald jumper was a classy touch. I'm sure Tamsin might have even knit it herself in her career as a professional knitter (yes, that was in a book once. I'm quite sure the author has no idea how long it actually takes to handknit a jumper, but there you go.)
And Susie, I would urge you to put down the gardening mags and return to this Worthy Literature. When you're finished swooning, take up the pen and let your inner Oregano flow freely.
Liz: we had The Thorn Birds and, as I recall, there were Danielle Steeles, Judith Krantzes and there was even a Jilly Cooper, but that was too much for my innocence.

Shirley said...

I found your blog through rav (how could I resist checking out something that got you a telling-off from your mum?).

My mum loved M&B enough to join the club & in doing so got a free M&B canvas tote bag, complete with the rose logo. In 2nd year of high school, when my schoolbag finally gave up the ghost & mum needed to find me a new bag in a hurry, guess what I wound up carrying my books in? Did I mention that it had the logo on both sides? 25 years later, I'm still asked 'wasn't it you who had the M&B bag?'. That whole experience did rather put me off the books.

Great post - I'm off to have a look around the rest of your blog now, just as soon as I've added Outlander to my amazon wishlist.

Lisa said...

Hee, hee. Yep, Outlander was racy, all right. But I do have to say that it broke the mold in one way--the man was the inexperienced one for a change. I don't think I've ever read a bodice-ripper in which the girl wasn't a virgin and the man wasn't an expert seducer. And at least they were married. So, technically, they didn't "fornicate". ;-)

I'd love to read more about the florescent/tumescent confusion.

Gracey is not my name.... said...

No M&B here in the States that I know of...we have the Harlequien Romances instead...I've actually never read one of those, but I do own The Outlander, again haven't read it. It's actually in my garage and is in sorry shape...

But I do own up to a LOVE of historical romances and have read many.....

Great post!

Gracey is not my name.... said...

OMG! My word verification was funny is that? That's a word used regularly in those books to describe the hero.....(well rake is, not rakehy)

Erica said...

Oooooooh my goodness, as with all your posts, I loved every minute of this one. I laughed, I cried, I might have tinkled a bit.

While I admit that I do love the Outlander novels - I own that I love them, dammit - the only reason I can read most romance novels is for their inadvertently humorous turns.

As you mentioned, perplexing euphemisms abound, and I can only imagine what our younger sisters think sex is really all about, if this is their initiation into that world. One of the worst I ever read mentioned "those smooth, pulsing orbs of life". (Think meatballs, and you're in the right ballpark. HA! See what I did there?)

Always with the whorling spirals of desire coalescing into an evanescent explosion of stars and glittery unicorn farts behind the heroine's eyes, which are bravely closed tight against the onslaught of the hero's unquenchable passion... yeah. I've read a few. I've laughed at many. I still love that we do HAVE this genre, though!

:-) Erica

Blue Llama said...

You are hilarious!!! I laughed so hard that tears welled up! Haha! I am forwarding this on to my daughter to read as I know she would get a kick out of too. (And maybe a few pointers as she says she wants to write a novel too. Thanks for sharing!