Learn to write erotica – centaur sex anyone?

A workshop hosted by a Mills & Boon editor aims to help people write better sex scenes

I'm not sure if it's the whips and chains on one wall, or the edible posing pouch at eye level distracting me, but I'm finding it difficult to craft great literature. I bet Salman Rushdie doesn't have to work like this. We are in the basement of Sh, a women's sex shop in London, and for 10 minutes, the only sounds are scribbling pens, rustling paper and the occasional bit of heavy breathing.

This erotic writing workshop, held by Anna Boatman, an editor at Mills & Boon, is sold out. Blame the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, obviously. There are millions of people – women, mostly – who want to read erotic fiction, and apparently many who want to write it. Ash Lodhi, a 20-year-old student, writes bizarro fiction (weird stories, basically), and, she says: "I put a lot of sex scenes in my sci-fi so I thought I would come here to brush up." What does she find hard about writing sex scenes? "Making it sound realistic and not being repetitive, because I tend to use the same one – apart from positions changing." We laugh awkwardly. She also writes erotic fan fiction, she says, often based on House, the American medical TV drama. "It's Hugh Laurie! You can't not write a sex scene about Hugh Laurie." She flips back to the inside cover of her notebook, where she has glued a picture of the actor looking stubbly and handsome-ish, like a regional TV newsreader on his day off. "Look at that."

"There has never been a better time to think about erotica," says Boatman, sitting in front of us, citing the genre's mainstream success in the last year, before running through a brief history of Mills & Boon erotica, for people who thought the company published only swoony romances. She points to the cover of Antigua Kiss, a book from 1982: "This had our first cunnilingus scene. It went down very well." I stifle a giggle.

Fifty Shades introduced its readers to BDSM, she says, so we should think about what the next popular subject could be: "Someone said it could be centaur porn." Everyone laughs, and somebody wonders aloud if the horse part is the front or the back. "Anything can work if it's executed well," says Boatman. "Threesome stories are becoming more popular, and erotic non-fiction is coming through now."

The laughter lifts the embarrassment, and Boatman – a fresh-faced woman who can say the words "centaur porn" without a smirk – gives sensible tips: "The intensity is going to come from caring about the characters and understanding why the sex they're having is important to them." She asks us to think about what they need to overcome. "Conflict is at the centre of stories that are sustained. What is at stake for your character?" Writing erotica "can be quite embarrassing, but if you don't feel comfortable writing about sex, your readers are not going to feel comfortable reading it".

Several women appear to be very comfortable reading out what they have just written. The standard is pretty good, and some of the language pure filth; Boatman gives excellent feedback. Jill Ellis's story, which features the words "damp patch", builds a vivid picture of a couple of office workers and a glass of water. Jill, 57, has written children's stories, but now wants to get into erotica: "Seeing as it's so popular, it's an avenue I wanted to explore." Her friend Trish, 48, a beauty therapist, says: "What has changed my writing is talking to clients of all age groups who read these sorts of books. They just want a good story."

"Without the story," agrees Jill, "it's just porn isn't it?"


Emine Saner

The GuardianTramp

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