In Support of Sexy Books

I’ve been thinking about sleaze.  I haven’t really – I just wanted to use the word, because it’s a great word.  SLEAZE. But what I actually want to talk about is sex.

The reason this came to mind?  Among other things, it was the fact that I recently read A COURT OF FROST AND STARLIGHT.  (*Mini review* I’m a Feysand shipper all the way so this was a must-read. I’ve read a few reviews reacting with a certain cynicism to this novella, described as ‘bridging the gap’ between the events of A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN and the next book, which I hear will focus on Nesta and Cassian.  I can see why some people have been frustrated by it, as it’s definitely a different proposition to the previous three books. It’s more a study of domestic detail – a meander through the daily lives of the inner circle as they prepare for the solstice. But I loved this. Tbh I had occasionally found myself longing for these quieter moments, particularly towards the end of the original trilogy when there was so much action and jeopardy and huge-scale stuff happening.  I really enjoyed this more contemplative study of relationship dynamics and how places and people heal after wars, running alongside the usual cheeky banter and antics. *Mini Review Ends*)

I rate a lot about Maas’ writing (her world building, her dialogue, her characterisation) but another thing I REALLY rate is the way she writes sex.  Sex is so much harder to write than people think and I think she gets it so right (when it’s so easy to get so wrong). What I love is how distinctly female it is – how owned by the female perspective.  For so long women have had sex ‘happen’ to them in books – even when it’s seen through their eyes they are taken; they are preyed on like a predator (or in the case of FIFTY SHADES – whipped by a psycho!  Sexy?! In what world?!). Maas’ heroines are full of a real, visceral passion, a desire that they are willing to indulge and act upon.

Maas has this amazing talent to write gorgeous men who are powerful and strong, but who are also looked at and enjoyed as things of beauty by their female partners, and by the readers. There is something genuinely empowering in reading her love scenes – a sense of equality that is at once exhilarating and inspiring.  I balk at lending these books out in the school library where I work, but only for fear of what the parents of my patrons might say if they read Chapter 55 of A COURT OF MIST AND FURY (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read these books and, if you haven’t, this chapter is one of the reasons why you must). In terms of what I myself feel is right and wrong for young people to read I am more than happy with these books.  I think sex positivity is important, and these books have that in spades. I am a dedicated member of the movement to eradicate the idea of young women (in their own minds as well as those of men) as sexual prey. I am also a dedicated member of the movement to eradicate the idea of young men (in their own minds as well as those of women) as predators. I have two daughters, and I want them to come to maturity in a world where sexual dynamics are aligned along a principle of equal partnership.

And I think we’re getting there.  Politics is one thing, and it has its part to play, but art (and therefore culture) also has a massive (maybe bigger) part to play in the story of us.  Humanity and its history are just the stories we tell in any case. And so the movies we make and watch, and the books we write and read (especially when we’re young and still forming our ideas) are going to be a crucial part of how we see things in the future.

I’ve never shied away from love scenes.  I love writing them and I’ve been told I’m not too bad at them. On the other hand I’ve also had feedback to suggest that some people think I go too far.  But I’m sticking by what I’ve written and here’s why: I want young people to read my books and feel empowered by the idea of wanting someone and being wanted back.  I want them to feel strong and sexy when they’re admired by someone they admire. I want them to look at the person they desire and see how beautiful they are and allow themselves to think that and feel that and say that and act upon that.  They don’t have to justify these feelings, or moralise them. Everybody makes mistakes so those are OK too. It’s fine to let it get messy – after all, this stuff is, by its very nature. If people think that’s going too far, it’s just something that I’m going to have to live with.  I’m not going to settle for anything less than brutal emotional honesty when contributing in my own small way to the story of us.

I know I can’t write sex like Sarah J Maas (can anyone?), but I’m going to keep writing it all the same.  And I’m going to keep writing it the way I do. It’s a brave new world, sexual politics wise, and I think it’s incredibly exciting.  I find myself constantly questioning things now that I had never even realised were so ingrained in my psyche. For a new generation coming through, free from those old beliefs, I believe that beautiful writing about desire and sex is going to be so important in reinventing the way they see themselves and their encounters.  So I think it’s important that I (as well far more skilled writers than me) keep writing about young people who own their own desire, and aren’t afraid of it, because these are the kind of people I think we’re all hoping to see in the shiny new future that increasingly feels like it’s just around the corner.  

All Roads Lead to Ventura

So here’s a question I keep getting asked… Is THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES:

a) a prequel?

b) a standalone?

c) the first part of the Ventura series?

d) the final part of the Ventura series?

The answer, my friends, is both far more complicated and surprisingly simple. And it is:

e) all of the above.

Right from the start, I have always known the Ventura’s origin story would have to be told. THE LONELINESS OF DISTANT BEINGS took us right into the middle of the Ventura’s several-hundred year mission so that, like main protagonist Seren, we are thrown into this rootless existence, hurtling through space in a tin can with no context, no history, no connection and also no hope of seeing the final destination. I wanted the reader to feel that lack of any past or any future beyond the walls of the Ventura, to experience that claustrophobia first hand.

In THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES the main character is also trapped, albeit in a different way. Bea, great grandmother to Seren, and potential Ventura recruit, is working full time while still at school in the rural Wales of 2050, where life is tough and uncompromising, and going nowhere fast.

Like Seren, Bea knows very little about love. But where Seren’s family life is all about structure, to the point where she feels there’s no space for real feelings, Bea’s family has no structure, no stability, and has been blown apart by the mess and havoc wreaked by the randomness of human emotion. All Bea knows about love is that it’s destructive, that it ends badly, that it can go unreturned and eat you up inside.

These aren’t the only ways in which Bea’s life is an inside-out mirror to Seren’s, but to say any more would provide too many spoilers all round. Suffice it to say that the series as a whole, and each part within it, are, at heart, about feeling trapped and finding a way to freedom. They are about main characters who are brave, determined, and who overcome obstacles and take repeated steps into the unknown in the quest for the future they know is right for them. They are about loss, agency, sacrifice, following your dreams, desire, growing up, being flawed, living with an invisible illness, what makes us human, and the unpredictable and uncertain beauty of love.

I love a beautifully rendered trilogy but, if you’re not careful, they can be predictable, or they can run out of steam. With my all-of-the-above third entry I was aiming to try something a little different. Why not make a series where, like one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Books’ from the eighties, you can find your own way into the story, following the clues and finding the links between the three, creating your own route through to the end? After all, writing a story is only ever half of the process. It only lives once its playing in the mind of the reader, like a movie on a screen, and I love the idea that his story could live in more ways than just one.

Originally written for Bkmrk, and appearing here https://bkmrk.co.uk/kate-ling-why-a-prequel/