Bad Sex in Fiction: extracts from the 2017 shortlist

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Have you noticed it in the air? Perhaps it’s something etched onto the faces of passers-by, or the fuzzy feeling in your stomach that lifts you up and puts a smile on your face. That’s right – it’s that time of year again – the literary period that brings one of the greatest gifts of all to so many people around the world. In case you haven’t guessed by now, it’s time for the annual Bad Sex in Fiction award, which has just released its shortlist of nominated entries, even as further nominations continue to pour in.

If you’re a fan of spasming muscles, shooting blobs of “lo-cal genetics”, sighs, moans, groans and general limb-flying raunchy madness, then you’re in for a treat.

All eyes are now on the judges at The Literary Review, which founded the award, to see who will be crowned this year’s winner – and whose name will be added to our long-running connoisseur’s compendium.

We’ve listed the full set of shortlisted authors below, along with their literary extracts. Enjoy!

The Seventh Function of Language – Laurent Binet – “fuck me like a machine”

“He tips her back and lays her on the dissecting table. She takes off her skirt, spreads her legs and tells him: ‘Fuck me like a machine.’ And while her breasts spill out, Simon begins to flow into her assemblage. His tongue-machine slides inside her like a coin in the slot, and Bianca’s mouth, which also has multiple uses, expels air like a bellows, a powerful, rhythmic breathing whose echo – ‘Si! Si!’ – reverberates in the pulsing blood in Simon’s cock. Bianca moans, Simon gets hard, Simon licks Bianca, Bianca touches her breasts, the flayed men get hard, Gallienus starts to wank under his robe, and Hippocrates under his toga. ‘Si! Si!’ Bianca grabs Simon’s dick, which is hot and hard as if it’s just come out of a steel forge, and connects it to her mouth-machine. Simon declaims as if to himself, quoting Artaud in an oddly detached voice: ‘The body under the skin is an overheated factory.’ The Bianca Factory automatically lubricates her devenir-sexe. Their mingled moans ring out through the deserted Anatomical Theatre.”

The Destroyers – Christopher Bollen – “the billiard rack of my penis and testicles”

“Do me a favor,” she says as she turns. She covers her breasts with her swimsuit. The rest of her remains so delectably exposed. The skin along her arms and shoulders are different shades of tan like water stains in a bathtub. Her face and vagina are competing for my attention, so I glance down at the billiard rack of my penis and testicles. “Let’s not tell Charlie and Sonny about us. Let’s leave them out of it. You know how this kind of thing can become a telenovela for everyone else.”

Mother of Darkness – Venetia Welby – “diabolical torso”

“They lie beneath molten sunrise, head nestled in inner elbow, mould of muscle mingling flesh with flesh, one body, soul within soul. The green grass curls around Tera’s left breast as she curves her sleek physique around Matty’s diabolical torso like a vine. Paralysed, complete, the marble statue of the lovers allows itself to be painted by the dawn’s lurid orange spillage. Shards of innocence, they lie in the sweet, sweaty chill of the morning light. Darkened by the sun and dust, Yang curls round s-curved Yin, a perfect fit.”

As a God Might Be – Neil Griffiths – “getting to bed would be awkward”

“The kiss was an order and a disguise. She pushed her hand into his jeans and felt for his cock. She was experienced enough to prepare for disappointment. Her tongue sought out his tongue and whipped around it, teasing it out. There was the taste of whisky, the fresh basil from the salad. Both knew that from where they were standing, getting to the bed would be awkward; he still had his boots on.”

The Future Won’t Be Long – Jarett Kobek – “hypercharged by orgones”

“We made love and we had sex and we had sex and we made love. But reader, again, I implore. Mistake me not. I am not your Pollyanna, I am not your sweet princess. We fucked, we fucked, we fucked, we fucked, we fucked, we fucked. We fucked in the effluvia of our bodies, we fucked in the scent of it, in the sheer stench of it, in the garden of our human flowering. Stained sheets, stained clothes, stained souls, stained towels. Fucked until my pussy ran dry and was rubbed raw, fucked until the Captain yowled outside my door, his gray paws smacking against the wood, fucked until Jon’s daily erections withered into nothingness, unable to support a third or fourth condom, fucked until the arrival of my period, pausing only until the heavy flow ceased, then fucking as Jon’s penis turned cartoon red with my discharge, fucked until celestial bodies rotated on their axes and reversed course in the Heavens, until the bed broke, until the building itself became hypercharged by orgones. Our fucking was a pulsing wave, a holy burst of scared geometry, a congress of wonder.”

War Cry – Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill) – “like Dr Livingstone and Mr Stanley exploring Africa”

“‘Yes…’ he said, taking the robe off her, without the slightest resistance on her part, and laying her down on the bed. ‘I want to explore you, like Dr Livingstone and Mr Stanley exploring Africa…’ He gave her a little kiss on the lips, but then his head moved down her body, following his right hand as it ran down her breastbone and then around each of her breasts in turn. They were not large, but they were pretty and in proportion to the sleekness of the rest of her; the long, flowing lines of a body that was naturally athletic, gifted with speed and strength but still entirely feminine.

Her nipples were a delicate shade of coral pink and they were standing up for him as proudly as little guardsmen on parade. ‘Here for example,’ he whispered, taking her left nipple between his finger and thumb, squeezing it slowly, gently, just to the point where she gave a little gasp and arched her back, and then he ran the palm of one hand over that same nipple touching it as faintly, delicately as he possibly could while his other hand squeezed her right nipple so that she was engulfed by two totally different feelings at one and the same time. Then, still working her right breast with his hand, he lowered his head over her left breast and started playing with it with his lips and tongue and teeth: sometimes kissing her skin, sometimes flicking the nipple with his tongue, then very gently biting it, taking infinite care to apply just the right amount of pressure. Her hands were running through his hair and then stroking his back and then, as he brought his head over to her other breast, she moaned and shuddered with pleasure, her fingernails tore at his skin and her buttocks began to writhe as the need for him took hold.”

Here Comes Trouble – Simon Wroe – “he remembered his parents were in prison”

The details of what happened in that bed, while engrossing, have no business in this report. Nor is it certain that, put into words, they would survive the imprisonment. But it is worth noting that when people shed their clothes they lose certain trappings and conventions. A clothed body is always human or human-like, a naked body always animal or animal-like. Only at close quarters is the full extent of a body’s wildness revealed, like when a bird gets trapped inside a house. One is moved to not entirely human thinking then. One goes towards its animalness.

[…]

Sometimes during he would think about where he was and feel a start of fright at doing this in his father’s place of work – until he remembered his parents were in prison and couldn’t catch him and this would fill him with relief.

 

So, what do you think? Which of these writers deserves to join Morrissey and co on the full list of winners since 1993?

For more information about the award, visit the Literary Review website.

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Nominations are in for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2017

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Nominations continue to come in as the Literary Review prepares to announce the winner of the notorious ‘Bad Sex in Fiction’ prize, which aims to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction.

Books nominated so far include The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent BinetThe Destroyers by Christopher Bollen, Mother of Darkness by Venetia WelbyAs a God Might Be by Neil GriffithsThe Future Won’t Be Long by Jarett KobekWar Cry by Wilbur Smith (with David Churchill), and Here Comes Trouble by Simon Wroe.

Read extracts of the passages that earned this year’s nominated authors a place on the Bad Sex Award shortlist here

The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature. Monique Roffey’s The Tryst, despite being heavily nominated, is therefore not eligible, even though it is full of the sort of lines that tend to be picked up by the judges, such as ‘He lightly kissed my breasts, his beard all grassy, like a great sea sponge.’

Many people also nominated Vince Cable’s novel Open Arms for consideration. However, Open Arms does not qualify simply because its author is a Member of Parliament.

“Fuck me like a machine”

Among the choice passages chosen in this year’s shortlist is the following extract Laurent Binet’sThe Seventh Function of Language: 

“He tips her back and lays her on the dissecting table. She takes off her skirt, spreads her legs and tells him: ‘Fuck me like a machine.’ And while her breasts spill out, Simon begins to flow into her assemblage. His tongue-machine slides inside her like a coin in the slot, and Bianca’s mouth, which also has multiple uses, expels air like a bellows, a powerful, rhythmic breathing whose echo – ‘Si! Si!’ – reverberates in the pulsing blood in Simon’s cock. Bianca moans, Simon gets hard, Simon licks Bianca, Bianca touches her breasts, the flayed men get hard, Gallienus starts to wank under his robe, and Hippocrates under his toga. ‘Si! Si!’ Bianca grabs Simon’s dick, which is hot and hard as if it’s just come out of a steel forge, and connects it to her mouth-machine. Simon declaims as if to himself, quoting Artaud in an oddly detached voice: ‘The body under the skin is an overheated factory.’ The Bianca Factory automatically lubricates her devenir-sexe. Their mingled moans ring out through the deserted Anatomical Theatre.”

The winner of this year’s award will be announced on Thursday 30 November. They will join a long line of illustrious authors – or not so illustrious, in the case of 2015’s winner, Morrissey – to have picked up the booby prize (pun intended, of course), which stretches back to 1993.

Italian novelist Erri De Luca scooped the 2016 award for his book, The Day Before Happiness.

You can read extracts from all the Bad Sex in Fiction Award-winning books in our connoisseur’s compendium.

For more information about the award, visit the Literary Review website.

Nothing in the Rulebook will continue to monitor all updates relating to the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards with (possibly too much) interest.

A repulsive horror? How famous writers responded to winning the notorious ‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’

 

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Bulging trousers, gasps, moans and sighs – all feature heavily in the award winning passages of “bad sex in fiction”.

Every year in November, the lovers of literature hold their breath as they await news of the winner of one of the most notorious ‘booby’ prizes in the world: the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Founded in 1993 by the Literary Review, the award causes titular delight among its hordes of fans, and has developed from a cult-prize into a world famous event – this year’s shortlist and award ceremony was covered by major newspapers and mainstream TV news channels across the globe.

Italian novelist Erri De Luca scooped the 2016 award, which recognises those authors who have produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. A general consensus seemed to form relatively quickly that this year’s shortlist (which can be read here) didn’t quite live up to 2015’s, which was won by Morrissey. But perhaps this has less to do with the featured writing in both year’s shortlists, and more to do with the way Morrissey reacted to the news his book, The List of the Lost, was first shortlisted – and then announced as the winner.

Indeed, describing the prize as “a repulsive horror”, Morrissey told Uruguayan newspaper El Observador that he had “many enemies, and their biggest motivation, as you know, is to try to use all your achievements against you.”

So perhaps it was the added drama of Morrissey’s reactions that made the 2015 awards seem that bit spicier compared to Erri De Luca – who reacted by ignoring the whole thing.

With that in mind, how have previous winners of the notorious prize responded to the news? We’ve brought together a few choice reactions from these famous authors below.

“Honoured” – Rachel Johnson
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Rachel Johnson’s novel Shire Hill was singled out for her book’s slew of animal metaphors, including comparing her male protagonist’s “light fingers” to “a moth caught inside a lampshade”, and his tongue to “a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop”. Literary Review deputy editor Tom Fleming was also disturbed by the heroine’s “grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside”.

Johnson said it was an “absolute honour” to win, taking her place alongside former winners including Norman Mailer, Sebastian Faulks and Tom Wolfe. “I’m not feeling remotely grumpy about it. I know that men with literary reputations to polish might find it insulting,” she said, “but if you’ve had a book published in the year any attention is welcome, even if it’s slightly dubious attention of this sort.”

Read Johnson’s full extract alongside the other winners in our Connoisseur’s Compendium.

“Not the least bit surprised” – David Guterson  guterson_300.jpg

David Guterson snaffled the bad sex prize for his fifth novel, Ed King, a modern reimagining of the Oedipus myth. Judges were swayed by a scene introduced as “the part where a mother has sex with her son”, and including the passages: “these sorts of gyrations and five-sense choreographies, with variations on Ed’s main themes, played out episodically between 10 pm and 10 am, when Diane said, ‘Let’s shower'”; and “she took him by the wrist and moved the base of his hand into her pubic hair until his middle fingertip settled on the no-man’s-land between her ‘front parlour’ and ‘back door’ (those were the quaint, prudish terms of her girlhood)”.

“He says in brackets that these are quaint, prudish terms but I don’t think that is sufficient justification for using them,” said Jonathan Beckman, the Literary Review’s assistant editor.

The American author took his triumph in good spirits, saying in response that “Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I’m not in the least bit surprised”.

Read Guterson’s full extract alongside the other winners in our Connoisseur’s Compendium.

You can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can’t make him get it.” – Tom Wolfe  Wolfe_at_White_House.jpg

American author Tom Wolfe, 74, best-known for his novel Bonfire of the Vanities and for his eccentric dress – he normally wears a white suit and carries a cane – was awarded the Bad Sex award for his novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. Judges were swayed by a number of passages of “ghastly and boring prose”, with the following extract drawing particular ire:

“Slither slither slither slither went the tongue. But the hand, that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns – oh God, it was not just at the border where the flesh of the breast joins the pectoral sheath of the chest – no, the hand was cupping her entire right – Now!”

Wolfe did not react well to news his novel had won the infamous prize. He described The Literary Review as “a very small, rather old-fashioned magazine”, and went onto say that the British literary judges who awarded him a prize for the year’s worst sex in fiction simply did not understand that his description of a first encounter was meant to be ironic.

“There’s an old saying – ‘You can lead a whore to culture but you can’t make her sing’,” he said. “In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can’t make him get it.”

“I purposely chose the most difficult scientific word I could to show this is not an erotic scene,” he added. “There’s nothing like a nine-syllable word to chase Eros off the premises.”

Read Wolfe’s full extract alongside the other winners in our Connoisseur’s Compendium.

“I blush to read my offending prose” – Iain Hollingshead

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British journalist and novelist Iain Hollingshead received the 2006 award for his book Twenty Something, specifically because of his description of sex on page 46 of his novel, in which he writes:

“I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly. She slides one of her slender legs in between mine.

Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair.

She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I’m inside her, and everything is pure white as we’re lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.”

Judges were particularly keen to highlight the use of the phrase “bulging trousers”, and upon receiving the award, Holligshead wrote an entire article in the Daily Telegraph about the experience.

He said when he first discovered his book had been shortlisted, he “wasn’t too ashamed” because he was “sure I wouldn’t win”.

Yet, when he was announced as the winner, he wrote “I blush to read my offending prose now […] apparently the judges wriggled with mirth at [some of the phrasing] and I don’t blame them. Shamefully, it could have been even worse.”

He added:

“There’s something very British, of course, about celebrating failure. Some writers deserve to be taken down a peg or two, but most nominees take the awards with the good humour with which they’re intended. […] But there’s also something very British about the whole approach to sex. We’re good at smut, less good at genuine erotica. It is difficult to imagine the French or the Italians running a similar award.

It was once said that the English have hot-water bottles rather than sex lives. I think it’s more that we’re still not sufficiently grown-up to read and write about it properly.

No matter. It’s all harmless fun. Until now, friends’ concerns about my budding literary career have revolved around the possibility that I might, unfairly, be confused with the rather more successful Alan Hollinghurst, author of The Line of Beauty.

Since this surprise victory, I feel we’re on a level playing field. And he can keep his Booker Prize.”

Read Hollingshead’s full extract alongside the other winners in our Connoisseur’s Compendium.

“I deserve a Blue Peter badge for my description of sex” – Janet Ellis
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Not an eventual winner of the award, and so placed at the end of this short list, but Janet Ellis nonetheless makes an appearance after her novel The Butcher’s Hook was nominated for the 2016 award, and she wrote a lengthy article in The Guardian in defence of her own book.

The panel of five judges at the Literary Review singled it out for a surprisingly agricultural passage in which Ellis’s heroine Anne consummates her passion for butcher’s apprentice Fub.

“‘Anne,’ he says, stopping and looking down at me. I am pinned like wet washing with his peg. ‘Till now, I thought the sweetest sound I could ever hear was cows chewing grass. But this is better.’ He sways and we listen to the soft suck at the exact place we meet. Then I move and put all thoughts of livestock out of his head.”

In her article, Ellis claims that she should be praised, rather than singled out negatively, for being willing to write about sex, because “I didn’t set out to titillate or shock, but to have skirted around the issue would have been cowardly. I didn’t let imaginary hecklers get in the way of what I wanted to write, or worry someone who’d watched me when they were a child would suffer the trauma of finding out I was a grown woman after all.”

She added:

“Writing about writing about sex is also difficult, of course. If you’re not describing what happens (when you can use all the available words any which way you choose, in an attempt to make a very old act seem new) you’re a hostage to fortune. Every phrase risks alerting the double entendre police, who are eager to nudge each other in the ribs if anything naughty arises (see?).

[…]

The paragraphs they’ve pulled out (sorry) for the shortlist are scarcely erotic, and weren’t designed to be, but the cumulative effect must have caused some flushing at least. I take some comfort from the fact that if, after such an avalanche, my writing stood out like a ski pole, I must be doing something right.”

Read Ellis’s extract alongside the shortlisted entries for the 2016 awards here.

 

So, dear readers, what do you think? How should writers react to winning prizes of the ilk of the Bad Sex Awards? With good humour and grace? Or are they right to feel aggrieved and challenge the ethos behind the award? Should they react at all? Sebastian Faulks, a previous winner in 1998, ignored the award at the time; but then paid homage to his ‘achievement’ with a couple of references to the experience in his 2015 novel Where my heart used to beat.

There’s no easy answer, of course; but let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

 

Sex in fiction: What we shouldn’t write when we write about sex

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Your sex scene doesn’t have to include every position featured in the Kamasutra. Photography by Roberta Cortese.

Frenzied penises, bulbous salutations, bulging trousers, howling, groans, sighs, minty-flavoured tongues, awkward positions and spasming muscles: these all things you would expect to find in some of the winning entries of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Since its debut in 1993, the #BadSex award has been a somewhat light-hearted – with quasi elements of seriousness – spectacle. First created to highlight those authors who have “produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel”, the award nonetheless also stresses an important purpose: “to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory, or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them”.

The awards have increasingly grown in status and are an ever more eagerly anticipated literary event. We’ve previously compiled extracts of all the winning entries (which can be found here), and reviewing these certainly helps us identify those “outstandingly bad” sex scenes the folk at the Literary Review seek to discourage. Consider, for instance, last year’s winning entry from 2015 – from Morrissey’s The List of the Lost:

“At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.”

While this account of full figured copulation may not get the pulse racing in the way the author initially hoped, and may even (gasp! Shock! Surprise! Never!) cause some readers to snicker and giggle in amusement; is simply highlighting perceived examples of “bad sex” enough to stamp out cases of these scenes in fiction? It seems more thorough analysis is needed in order to help identify just what it is about these scenes, such as Morrissey’s, which should be avoided by writers – and what authors can do to avoid adding their name to the growing list of Bad Sex in Fiction award winners.

It is, of course, well known that one of the toughest tasks facing writers is to write well and honestly about human sexual relations. It is, after all, technically difficult to convey passion in a way that does not end up sounding either absurd, cringe worthy, or strangely perfunctory and clinical.

Perhaps a problem here is that, in writing about a subject that is still – for whatever reason – vaguely taboo, authors sometimes have a tendency to forget one of the first rules of writing: to “show”, rather than “tell”.

Indeed, it may be more important for writers to focus on the emotional aspect of any sexual encounter between characters, more so than the physical aspect. The physical side of things may be important, but the emotional side may be even more so – especially if there’s a connection between sex and identity.

Often, it seems as though writers have a tendency to forget this rule, and instead begin to overthink their sex scenes. This can see awkward similes begin to invade the text, as with 2001’s Bad Sex award winner Christopher Hart’s Rescue Me, in which sex is likened to a Ranulph Fiennes Antarctic expedition:

“Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole. And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. At last, disastrously, I try squeezing her hand painfully between my bony thighs, but this only serves to inflame her ardour the more. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror….she will surely want to pitch her tent.”

Such similes are again on show in 2005’s winning entry – Winkler, by Giles Coren – in which a character ejaculates “in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.”

And this tendency to overthink things can also make it seem as though writers are sometimes reaching for a thesaurus, when they would be better off reaching for a simpler alternative to better convey their intended meaning. As such we have Tom Wolfe’s character in I am Charlotte Simmons exploring a character’s “otorhinolayngological caverns” (if you have no idea about what otorhinolaryngological means, then join the club! But a quick google search will tell you it relates to a medical practice involving the ear, nose, and throat – so we’ll leave you to decipher just what Wolfe was trying to get at in his description of sex, there).

One of the clearest results of writing in such a way is that any frisson that should be conveyed during the scene is lost: so instead of sincerity, the writing distances both themselves and the reader from the scene being described.

Part of this may come down to a lack of confidence – which may seem strange considering some of the authors who have won the award are literary titans who have won some of the biggest prizes in literature. Yet, as erotic romance writer Lily Harlem has said, “A lot of writers aren’t confident enough to write about what’s actually happening. They talk about other things like stars exploding above them, rather than talking about how it actually feels and the emotions. You need to get into the heads of characters for realistic emotion, and dialogue as well is importance – people very rarely have sex in silence.”

It is perhaps this lack of confidence which can also see many writers begin to rely heavily on cliché and euphemisms. Again, this might seem strange considering the calibre of the Bad Sex in Fiction Award recipients. Yet writing about a character’s throbbing “manhood” or “bulging trousers”, accompanied by “screams of passion” or “gasps and sighs” will do to the writing what clichés and euphemisms do to any other scene – which is to make the writing feel awkward, tired, limited and unoriginal.

These are important points to make, because the Bad Sex in Fiction Award is not about bad sex; but rather, about bad prose. In an article for the Financial Times, Jonathan Beckman, senior editor of the Literary Reviewexplains:

“’Bad’ refers to the quality of the writing rather than the nature of intercourse. Unsuccessful, unpleasurable or abortive sex does not qualify per se; nor does kinky, brutal or unwanted sex, however unpalatable that may be.”

So, if you find yourself in the midst of writing a sex scene, and you start thinking it could be improved by using as many adjectives, similes and metaphors as possible to describe “eager manhoods” and women crying out “making a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren” (thank you to 1997’s winner Nicholas Royle’s The Matter of the Heart for that one), just take a moment to step back from your writing and think about the way you’re approaching your description of sex.

Sometimes, changing your approach to the way you’re describing the scene at hand may pay dividends. However, perhaps the most important question to ask – beyond whether you should copy a writer of Phillip Kerr’s calibre and opt to use a word like “gnomon” to describe the male sex organ (quick answer to that question: you shouldn’t) – is whether the sex scene you are writing is absolutely necessary.

This is because good and effective sex scenes should be integral to the story you’re trying to tell. They must advance the narrative and/or character development in a meaningful way, and if they fail to do so, they will look out of place. It’s important to remember that one of the reasons the Bad Sex in Fiction Award was originally founded was in response to a seeming trend among publishers who would insist an author or writer include at least one sex scene in their story – regardless to its relevance to the plot or story – simply reasoning that “sex sells”.

Such logic is a poor excuse for the inclusion of any written action if it is irrelevant to the plot of a novel. As Kurt Vonnegut said: “every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action”. Therefore, if your sex scene fails to do either of these, the best way forward may be to hit the ‘delete’ button, roll up your sleeves, and start afresh – perhaps leaving the scene out entirely. This is not to discourage authors from writing about sex; it is about encouraging them to write well.

 

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Bad Sex In Fiction Awards: The Connoisseur’s Compendium

Spasming muscles, groans, whispers, licked ears, sweat, bucking, otherwise central zones: if you hear those terms, you know you can be only be reading about one thing: the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, a prize established 25 years ago by the Literary Review.

Each year since 1993, the Bad Sex in Fiction Award has honoured an author who has produced an outstandingly bad scene of sexual description in an otherwise good novel. The purpose of the prize is to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature.

The Award was established by Rhoda Koenig, a literary critic, and Auberon Waugh, at that time editor of Literary Review.

Because we wouldn’t want you having to sift through the archives, we’ve brought you this: a compendium of all the winning entries, featuring extracts of the very best bad sex in fiction. Enjoy!

 

1993: Winner – Melvyn Bragg’s A Time to Dance – “the ram of sex”

“We came together, do you remember, always tenderly, at first standing, like a chivalric introduction to what was to be a voluptuous sensual battle? Just stood and kissed like children, simply, body to body, skin to skin, you slightly stirring against me, myself disregarding for those seconds the ram of sex aching below.

And then we would be on the bed and I touching you, hungry. Eyes closed, fingers inside you, reaching into the melting fluid rubbered silk – a relief map of mysteries – the eager clitoris, reeking of you, our tongues imitating the fingers, your hands gripping and stroking me but also careful not to excite too much. […] and so I would fuck you gently and then more strongly and finally thrust in hard and suddenly let everything go. “Slam into me,” you used to say. “how you just slam into me!”

 

1994: Winner – Phillip Hook’s The Stonebreakers – “mad mobile sculpture”

“His hand set out on a magnificently daring journey across limitless expanses of thrillingly unfamiliar flesh, exulting in the possession of unknown territory. He traced an exploratory path from the nape of her neck, over her breasts, under her straining buttocks

 […]

Soon they were no longer bodies on a bed. They became some mad mobile sculpture manipulated this way and that in the throes of its own creation; two forms in search of positions of perfect linkage.

 

1995: Winner – Phillip Kerr’s Gridiron – “gnomon”

“Quickly he threw off his own clothes and rolled on top of her. Detaching mind from over-eager gnomon and its exquisitely appointed, shadowy task, he began to make love to her.

When they had finished they lay under the sheet and watched TV. After a while Mitch glanced at the gold Rolex submariner watch on his wrist.

‘I ought to be going,’ he said.”

 

1996: Winner – David Huggins’s The Big Kiss: An Arcade Mystery – “Squeaked like wet rubber”

“’Stick it in’, she whispered. I moved up the bed and pushed inside her. Liz squeaked like wet rubber. She grabbed my love-handles and ground her hips against me, her eyes black saucers staring into mine as she hooked a yoga-leg onto my shoulder. We went through a medley of our favourite positions. When Liz saw that I was about to shoot my blob of Lo-Cal genetics she turned onto her stomach, lifting her arse to get a hand to her clitoris and chase me to an orgasm. She made it just in time.

We lay panting with the sweat cooling on our bodies.

Things were better between us after that but it didn’t last long.”

 

1997: Winner – Nicholas Royle’s The Matter of the Heart – “making a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren”

“But Ambrose banished the thought and reached for a condom. Yasmin grinned and writhed on the bed, arching her back, making a noise somewhere between a beached seal and a police siren. And then he was there. Slowly at first, dead slow – she liked that, he knew. Then speeding up gradually to gain a rhythm until he was punching smoothly in and out of her like a sewing machine. Her noises increased in volume until she was producing a throaty ululation.”

 

1998: Winner – Sebastian Faulks’s Charlotte Gray – “a means to some vague, profounder union”

“It seemed incredible to her that this bodily feeling was so specific, when her purpose in it all was to use the act only as a means to some vague, profounder union, far removed from flesh and sheets and physical sensation. Meanwhile her ears were filled with the sound of a soft but frantic gasping, and it was some time before she identified it as her own.”

 

1999: Winner – A.A. Gill’s Starcrossed – “like a cigar”

“His tongue is long and hard and tastes of mint. We don’t say anything, but he pushes me to my knees in the middle of the shop. It’s difficult to undo his flies. I put my hand in. It’s hot and damp, and then, Christ; it’s amazing, huge. It just goes on and on, as thick as…’

‘As a magnum? A jeroboam? A methuselah? A bitter pump?’

‘A fucking salami. Shut up, John.’

***

‘…he takes his clothes off until he’s just wearing his boots. I hook my nails into his really taut bottom and he pumps and nearly chokes me.’

‘How did he get his trousers off over his boots? I mean, does he take his boots off and put them back on again?’

‘Shut up. I pull my dress off and I’m naked. He reaches down and roughly grabs me between the legs. I can feel his long, bony finger slip inside me. His thumb slides into the crack of my bottom and lifts me like…’

‘A bowling ball? A six-pack?’

‘Like I was light as a feather.’

***

She got to his cock and stuck it between her teeth like a cigar.”

 

2000: Winner – Sean Thomas’s Kissing England – “his dinky little JVC”

“It is time, time … Now. Yes. She is so small and compact and yet she has all the necessary features … Shall I compare thee to a Sony Walkman, thou art more compact and more – She is his own Toshiba, his dinky little JVC, his sweet Aiwa … Aiwa, aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwa aiwaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh …”

 

2001: Winner – Christopher Hart’s Rescue Me – “like Sir Ranulph Fiennes”

“Her hand is moving away from my knee and heading north. Heading unnervingly and with a steely will towards the pole. And, like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Pamela will not easily be discouraged. I try twitching, and then shaking my leg, but to no avail. At last, disastrously, I try squeezing her hand painfully between my bony thighs, but this only serves to inflame her ardour the more. Ever northward moves her hand, while she smiles languorously at my right ear. And when she reaches the north pole, I think in wonder and terror….she will surely want to pitch her tent.”

 

2002: Winner – Wendy Perriam’s Speak Softly – “a seductive pin-striped foreskin”

“She closed her eyes, saw his dark-as-treacle-toffee eyes gazing down at her. Weirdly, he was clad in pin-stripes at the same time as being naked. Pin-stripes were erotic, the uniform of fathers, two-dimensional fathers. Even Mr Hughes’s penis had a seductive pin-striped foreskin.”

 

2003: Winner – Aniruddha Bahal’s Bunker 13 – “the Aryan denominator”

“Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed. In spite of yourself a soft whistle of air escapes you. She’s taking off her trousers now. They are a heap on the floor. Her panties are white and translucent. You can see the dark hair sticking to them inside. There’s a design as well. You gasp.

‘What’s that?’ you ask. You see a designer pussy. Hair razored and ordered in the shape of a swastika. The Aryan denominator…

As your hands roam her back, her breasts, and trace the swastika on her mound you start feeling like an ancient Aryan warlord yourself…

She sandwiches your nozzle between her tits, massaging it with a slow rhythm. A trailer to bookmark the events ahead. For now she has taken you in her lovely mouth. Your palms are holding her neck and thumbs are at her ears regulating the speed of her head as she swallows and then sucks up your machinery.”

 

2004: Winner – Tom Wolfe’s  I am Charlotte Simmons – “otorhinolaryngological caverns”

“Hoyt began moving his lips as if he were trying to suck the ice cream off the top of a cone without using his teeth … Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns.”

 

2005: Winner – Giles Coren’s Winkler – “like Zorro”

“And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he’d ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.”

 

2006: Winner – Iain Hollingshead’s Twenty Something – “bulging trousers”

“I can feel her breasts against her chest. I cup my hands round her face and start to kiss her properly. She slides one of her slender legs in between mine.


“Oh Jack, she was moaning now, her curves pushed up against me, her crotch taut against my bulging trousers, her hands gripping fistfuls of my hair.


“She reaches for my belt. I groan too, in expectation. And then I’m inside her, and everything is pure white as we’re lost in a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles.”

 

2007: Winner – Norman Mailer’s The Castle in the Forest – “as soft as a coil of excrement”

“Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni’s death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One – that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. it surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.”

 

2008: Winner – Rachel Johnson’s Shire Hill – “like a cat lapping up a dish of cream”

“JM’s hands are caressing my breasts, now, and I am allowed to kiss him back, but not for long, for he breaks off, to give each breast the attention it deserves. As he nibbles and pulls with his mouth, his hands find my bush, and with light fingers he flutters about there, as if he is a moth caught inside a lampshade.

Almost screaming after five agonizingly pleasurable minutes, I make a grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside, but he holds both by arms down, and puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is.”

 

2009: Winner – Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones – “a soft-boiled egg”

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. ‘No,’ she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.”

 

2010: Winner – Rowan Somerville’s The Shape of Her – “it tore a climax out of him”

“Naked from waist to toe, a faint wedge of paleness from a few hours of sun, streaked with shadows in the candlelight; the triangle of pubic hair, blond, a thin line bunched darkly, like desert vegetation following an underground stream. He placed his hand on the concave stretch that was her belly, letting two fingers rest in the yawn of her navel. He slipped downwards, grazing the tight skin of her waist with his fingertips. He reached her hair line and the muscles of her belly hardened as she raised herself up onto her elbows. She stayed his hand and drew him, yanked him, into a smothering kiss. She released his hair from her fingers and twisted onto her belly like a fish flipping itself, her movement so brusque his chin bounced off her head.

He grasped the side of her hips, pushed her away and pulled her to him with a slap. Again and again with more force and velocity. Tine pressed her face deeper into the cushion grunting into the foam at each thrust.

The wet friction of her, tight around him, the sight of her open, stretched around him, the cleft of her body, it tore a climax out of him with a final lunge. Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.”

 

2011: Winner – David Guterson’s Ed King – “the family jewels”

“In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and starting at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.”

 

2012: Winner –  Nancy Huston’s Infrared – “a delirium of restrained desire”

“In a delirium of restrained desire, I weigh, stroke and lick Kamal’s balls, then take his penis in my hands, between my breasts, into my mouth. He sits up, reaches for me and I allow him to explore me in turn. He runs his tongue and lips over my breasts, the back of my neck, my toes, my stomach, the countless treasures between my legs, oh the sheer ecstasy of lips and tongues on genitals, either simultaneously or in alternation, never will I tire of that silvery fluidity, my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water, my self freed of both self and other, the quivering sensation, the carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways, propelling you bodiless and soulless into undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate…”

 

2013: Winner – Manil Suri’s The City of Devi – “statisticians the world over rejoice”

“Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.”

 

2014: Winner – Ben Okri’s The Age of Magic – “the universe was in her”

“When his hand brushed her nipple it tripped a switch and she came alight. He touched her belly and his hand seemed to burn through her. He lavished on her body indirect touches and bitter-sweet sensations flooded her brain. She became aware of places in her that could only have been concealed there by a god with a sense of humour.

Adrift on warm currents, no longer of this world, she became aware of him gliding into her. He loved her with gentleness and strength, stroking her neck, praising her face with his hands, till she was broken up and began a low rhythmic wail … The universe was in her and with each movement it unfolded to her. Somewhere in the night a stray rocket went off.”

 

2015: Winner – Morrissey’s The List of the Lost – “the otherwise central zone”

“At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.”

 

2016: Winner – Erri De Luca’s The Day Before Happiness – “my body was her gearstick”

“My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach. With a swerve of her hips, she turned me over and I was on top of her. She opened her legs, pulled up her dress and, holding my hips over her, pushed my prick against her opening. I was her plaything, which she moved around. Our sexes were ready, poised in expectation, barely touching each other: ballet dancers hovering en pointe.

She pushed on my hips, an order that thrust me in. I entered her. Not only my prick, but the whole of me entered her, into her guts, into her darkness, eyes wide open, seeing nothing. My whole body had gone inside her. I went in with her thrusts and stayed still. While I got used to the quiet and the pulsing of my blood in my ears and nose, she pushed me out a little, then in again. She did it again and again, holding me with force and moving me to the rhythm of the surf. She wiggled her breasts beneath my hands and intensified the pushing. I went in up to my groin and came out almost entirely. My body was her gearstick.”

 

2017: Winner – Christopher Bollen’s The Destroyers – “the billiard rack of my penis and testicles” 

“Do me a favor,” she says as she turns. She covers her breasts with her swimsuit. The rest of her remains so delectably exposed. The skin along her arms and shoulders are different shades of tan like water stains in a bathtub. Her face and vagina are competing for my attention, so I glance down at the billiard rack of my penis and testicles. “Let’s not tell Charlie and Sonny about us. Let’s leave them out of it. You know how this kind of thing can become a telenovela for everyone else.”

 

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