Red-hot fun

2014-01-28 18:21

Take three writers with feminist flair, a razor-sharp sense of humour and a healthy attitude to sex and what do you get? A steamy novel with a difference, that’s what

It’s as steamyas a discarded thong on a hot summer’s night and is causing a major stir here and overseas.

A Girl Walks Into a Bar is a raunchy read where you get to decide which of several paths the heroine (i.e. you) should take. It’s full of no-holds-barred sex – but unlike the Fifty Shades scenario, this time the woman is the one calling the sexy shots.

Stood up by a girlfriend and all dressed up, the lead character walks into a swanky bar and… the rest is up to the reader. Will she drink tequila with a rock star? Flirt with the gorgeous barman? Accept a ride from a bodyguard with the keys to his boss’s car? Head home to her sexy neighbour? You get to decide – and you can go back and choose an entirely different fate for the heroine until you find one that titillates you the most.

Girl is the first in a three-part series by Helena S Paige, the pseudonym of three writer friends: Helen Moffett, Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick.

Why the three of you?

Sara Lotz  We all bring different strengths to the team – like an erotica-writing Transformer. Helen is a superb editor and erotic-writing master, no one can write cringe-free sex scenes like Paige, and

I am really good at making coffee – which is essential for any writing team.

Paige Nick Landing in this position – where I get to work with Sarah (who is a plotting genius of note) and Helen (who’s taught me more about editing in a year than I suspect I’ll learn in the rest of my life) – was major good timing and good luck. Sarah saw our strengths from the beginning and pulled us all together.

Helen Moffett I believe good things always come in threes.

 What was the spark for the book?

SL We were discussing the erotic writing boom over lunch one day and the idea of melding the choose-your-own concept with steamy content came up. We were tired of the virgin-being-controlled-by-the-rich-and-powerful-man scenario and writing something where the reader was in control seemed like a fun way to address this.

 Who came up with the structure?

SL We all collaborated on the storylines, but the structure of a choose-your-own book has to be planned like a military operation. Each plot thread impacts on the next, so it’s a little like the literary version of a Sudoku puzzle. For example, the reader can choose to interact – or not – with a particular character, which will then lead her onto another possible choice, and so on.

PN When we draw up our plots, they look like mad scribbles done by a five-year-old

who has just inhaled four marshmallow mice and a litre of Coke.

Is this something new in adult fiction?

SL We don’t think anyone’s mashed up the choose-your-own format with erotica in quite the same way, but we’d call it a fun twist on two established fictional concepts rather than something revolutionary.

How did the writing work in practice – did you have staggered deadlines, regular meetings, that kind of thing?

SL The deadlines on the three books in the series were extremely tight, but we’re all workaholics, which helped.

PN We meet up to plot and divvy up the work at the beginning of each book and then mostly work by email, sending through our chapters once we’re done.

Then we all over-write and edit each other’s work. We get together now and then if we need to discuss edits or to drink champagne and talk dirty.

Was it difficult or did the story just flow?

SL Paige and Helen are the only writers I know who can write a sex scene in less time than most people take to do the deed.

PN I like a quickie. And Sarah really does know how to keep a plot ticking along. The nice thing about a threesome (ahem) is that if you get stuck, there’s always someone to help dig you out.

HM Because I write a lot of serious academic stuff, working on these books is like taking a mental holiday. It’s especially helpful when Paige and Sarah work out the plot details, then I find the writing races along.

Did you use personal experience – or personal fantasy – as inspiration?

SL That would be telling! Everyone finds different situations and scenarios erotic, and we’re no different.

PN For me, it doesn’t matter where the inspiration comes from (I get mine from everywhere and anywhere), as long as each scene is fresh and sexy in its own way.

HM It helps that we all have very vivid imaginations.

Is it typically South African?

SL Our intention was to make the books as universal as possible. The reader has to be able to put herself in the Girl’s position (the You in the books).

HM We wanted readers in Brazil, South Africa and Taiwan, for instance, to be able to imagine themselves in the situations and scenarios.

What was your partner and/or family’s reaction to the idea?

SL My husband didn’t bat an eyelid. He’s used to me collaborating on everything from hard-core horror novels to zombie books, so erotica was probably a welcome change.

PN My family has been nothing but supportive. Nervous, but supportive.

HM My nearest and dearest were thrilled for me. Once they established we were using a pseudonym.

And your publishers?

SL All our publishers have been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive. There are buses emblazoned with the Girl logo in Spain, and our Brazilian publisher put together a press-pack that included a board game and sex dice.

PN One of our European publishers organised a giveaway with branded knickers and condoms.

Any fabulous lost-in-translation moments while you were writing?

SL It’s almost impossible to avoid bad puns when writing about sex.

PN Sarah and I once had a 20-minute conversation about whether you could have sex while flying a helicopter. Turns out you can’t. There was also much debate about whether cock rings are sexy, which culminated in a trip to a sex shop and a fair amount of squealing.

HM The funniest bits by far are the comments we write to each other in the margins. I once wrote a rather juvenile line of dialogue about sex being magic. Back came Sarah’s response: ‘My God, she’s in bed with Harry Potter’. One day we’ll publish the marked-up versions.

Any delicious coincidences or happy mistakes? Other gremlins and hiccups?

SL: It’s incredible how few words there are to describe sex without resorting to flowery language and dire euphemisms worthy of Bad Sex Writing Awards. We’d kill for a sex thesaurus.

HM: The first time I had to read aloud from one of the books at a book fair, I had just promised Sarah’s mother I would not say the word ‘cock’. So I had to read all about, er, roosters while blushing scarlet…

Finally, let’s turn the tables. If you were a girl in a bar, would you:

• Flirt with the hot young barman?

• Take the sultry woman you met briefly up on her offer of a drink?

• Set your sights on the charismatic rock star in the VIP section?

• Go home and finish writing the next book so you don’t miss your deadline?

HSP We’d probably take advantage of all four options – we’re good at multi-tasking.

More about the writers

Sarah Lotz’s novels include Tooth and Nailed and Exhibit A. She writes young adult books under the name Lily Herne with her daughter Savannah and urban horror novels as SL Grey. Her next novel, The Three, and its sequel, Day Four, will be turned into a TV mini-series in London. She signed a six-figure deal for the two books before last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

Paige Nick is an award-winning advertising copywriter and weekly Sunday Times columnist who covers ‘everything from sex and dating to general lunacy’. She has also published two novels – This Way Up and A Million Miles from Normal.

Helen Moffett is a writer, poet, activist, editor and academic who has lectured in Alaska and Trinidad. Her collection of poetry, Strange Fruit, was published in 2009 and she co-wrote Bob Woolmer’s Art and Science of Cricket with Bob Woolmer and Tim Noakes.

The second in the three-part series, A Girl Walks Into a Wedding, came out in ebook form in November (the books are all released as ebooks first and as paperbacks a few months later).

Publication rights have been sold to American and British publishers and translation rights to 16 countries, including China, France, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

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