Why I keep it chaste: 2013 365 Challenge #228

I believe I thought only of you

Watching the last episode of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice by the BBC this morning (I can’t believe it’s nearly 20 years old), as research for my post, I realised why I don’t read or write erotica or even mildly graphic sex scenes. 

The emotional tension as Elizabeth and Darcy (Ehle and Firth) walk along a muddy lane trying to tell each other they’re in love, is gripping. I feel it right through to my fingertips. It churns in my tummy. I’m fully involved in the moment, in their story and their characters.

The scene brings to mind the early tension in a new relationship. The brushing of hands, the accidental touches, maybe the gentle rubbing of feet under the table. All the anticipation and uncertainty as two people try and discover if there is mutual attraction. I felt it when I wrote the feet massage bit in Claire and was unsure where to take it next. In a modern book or movie, Claire and Neal would be in bed naked in the next scene. Maybe in real life too. It’s even happened to Claire already in the novel (although she wasn’t naked). But it doesn’t feel right for my writing. 

My favourite moment in Nanny McPhee

My favourite moment in Nanny McPhee

I’m not suggesting I’m a prude or that I haven’t jumped into bed with someone I hardly knew. But with the relationships that lasted – the ones that mattered – the testing-the-ground courtship went on for longer. There was so much more emotional build up in trying to work out if my regard was requited. I guess it goes back to my post on delayed gratification. Anticipation is good.

Even though I’ve been in a relationship for nine years, married for seven, I still get goosebumps remembering some of those moments (and, sorry hubbie, they weren’t all with you!)

Erotica is too obvious for me. Yes it’s sexy. Yes I do like to read it occasionally and, as a hormonal teenager, would flick through Mills and Boon to find the naughty bits. But even they were mostly about suggestion and less about explicit description. For me a book, or a TV show or a movie, is all about working the imagination. If too much is presented, there isn’t enough opportunity to invest your own emotion into the scene. Less, in this case, is definitely more.

The power of a swoony look

The power of a swoony look

There was originally a fairy graphic sex scene at the beginning of Baby Blues, but it’s since been toned down. It’s there for a reason: to show something about Helen’s relationship with Daniel. It’s not a coincidence that we don’t see a sex scene between her and Marcio. Their relationship isn’t about the physical (especially as she’s pregnant when they meet) although they are physically attracted to each other.

Even as I’m writing this I think I’m going to add a few more ‘will he won’t he’ moments, more accidental hand touches and lingering looks. Because that’s the stuff I like.

Even though I know they’ll get together in the end, that’s the stuff that brings back happy memories and makes my skin tingle. And given how many people watched and keeping watching the original BBC Pride and Prejudice I can’t be the only one who likes good old fashioned swoony romance, right?

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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“Found you.”

Claire turned without volition, then cursed her reaction. Dragging her eyes back to contemplation of the cave in front of her, she didn’t respond to the triumphant words. She felt him lean against the rail next to her, and shivered.

“You do make me laugh. Why are you playing these games? I fancy you, you fancy me, what’s the big deal?”

Dropping her hands from the railings, Claire turned and continued on her way through the reserve. Despite the beauty of her surroundings, she barely saw the towering trees and tumbling streams. She had enjoyed the first part of her walk in glorious solitude, as most people had chosen to chill out by the bus rather than wander through the woods. Trust Neal to catch her out.

“Are you playing hard to get?” Neal gave one of his deep chuckles as he caught up with her in two strides. His hand grasped her arm and she shook him off, even though his touch left a trail of goosebumps.

“I’m not playing hard to get, I’m not chicken, and I’m not interested.” Claire ignored the rhythms of her body that belied her words and lengthened her stride. She felt the man hesitate, before catching up with her again.

He walked at her side along the path, matching her quick strides with ease. She felt her breath quickening and knew she couldn’t keep up the pace for much longer without panting. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing how much he affected her, she shortened her steps a fraction and gazed out into the green depths.

The path ahead narrowed to a wooden bridge over a rushing stream. Claire longed to stop and take in scene. She wondered if Neal would get the hint eventually and let her enjoy the walk in peace. It didn’t seem likely. 

At least he’s shut up.

He followed her like a shadow around limestone cliffs and past gorges and waterfalls. They reached a natural tunnel through the rock; the highlight of the walk, according to Claire’s guidebook. Claire eyed it with dislike. It wasn’t long, but it was narrow. She didn’t fancy being in a confined space with Neal. He was considerably taller and stronger than her. So far he’d been gentlemanly in actions, if not in attitude, but she still felt his presence like that of a predator.

Correctly interpreting the stiffening in her shoulders and the tension on her face, Neal gave a low laugh.

“Don’t fancy getting cosy with me? You didn’t seem to mind on the beach.”

When she said nothing, he shrugged. “I’ll go first, if you like.”

With another laugh, he walked round her and entered the tunnel. His broad shoulders filled the space and stole the light. Claire waited until he was almost through before entering herself.

Neal waited for her at the other end, blocking the exit. His face was in darkness and the only thing she could fathom of his mood was that he wasn’t smiling.

“Now I have your attention, let’s clear the air. Tell me this isn’t what you want.”

Before she could speak he bent down and grazed his lips across hers. It wasn’t the crushing kiss she had braced for and it unnerved her. Before she could tell whether it was welcome or not, the pressure was gone.

Inhaling deeply, Claire caught the scent of moss and aftershave and sweat. Her ears filled with the sound of her ragged breathing above the rushing of the river somewhere beside them. Neal took a step back and his face became visible. Claire looked up into his chocolate-brown eyes and tried to read the expression held within them. For a moment there was seriousness and fire. Then his features shifted and the deep laughter was back.

“Chicken,” he murmured. Then he turned and strode away along the path, leaving her standing confused and alone.

***

Books and Films: 2013 365 Challenge #227

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Swoon

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Swoon

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about books versus films. There seems to be a lot of chat about it on Facebook and Twitter – I guess it’s a perpetual source of debate. It isn’t a subject I have a clear view on. I’ve watched movies of books I adored and been disappointed. I’ve read books after seeing an amazing film and hated the written work. Some books – like ET or Abyss – are almost like study guides to the movie, adding in so much back story and depth to an enjoyable two-hour visual experience.

One thing that has solidified in my mind, if not always born out in my emotions, is that film and book should always be viewed as separate pieces of art and each be judged on it’s merits. I say not born out in my emotions because – as a former historian – I like accuracy. I like to know a piece of historical fiction is based on some level of fact. I hated that Memoirs of a Geisha was presented as truth and yet was entirely fabricated.

So when I watch a film of a book I know well – especially if I’ve read the book recently – I get irritated by what seem to be arbitrary changes. Re-watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend, I remembered that Dobby helped Harry with the second challenge, not Neville Longbottom. However, since becoming an author, I found the change no longer bothered me (much). On the whole the conflict was the same. Harry couldn’t do the task and, at the 11th hour, was saved by a friend. The story arc was unaffected by the change in detail, and lots of unnecessary animation was avoided.

The old ones are the best!

The old ones are the best!

It can be much the same way when writing a novel: dialogue can be moved from one character to another, gender can change and even locations be shifted when revising a first draft and yet the original story remain intact. I’ve changed character’s ages, nationalities, hobbies, I’ve killed off siblings and parents, sacrificed no end to fulfill a story. (Today I had to change the details of Claire’s story when I researched glow-worm tours and found out they were done in a boat.)

To a certain extent such changes are inevitable from book to screen. You can’t cram five hundred pages into two or three hours – no matter how much a picture tells a thousand words – without changing something. Also books are unique in their ability to present internal motivation. Without the ability to see inside a character’s head, some elements have to alter to allow the character arc to be accountable.

The hardest thing I find when watching a movie version is casting. If it doesn’t match my mental image (or if they change white skin to black, Pelican Brief I’m looking at you) it’s too hard to process. I couldn’t watch the Twilight movies because none of the characters looked as three-dimensional as I had imagined them in my mind. (Sorry, terrible first book aside, I loved the whole series.)

The best of all worlds is seeing a movie poster before reading the book so the right people are in my head while I read. With big fantasy movies like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, watching the movie (a suitable time after reading the book, so the memory is flawed!) enhances my re-reading of the novels. I’ve never been very good at imagining big castles or battle scenes in detail.

No kisses in Jane Austen: adding them is good!

No kisses in Jane Austen: adding them is good!

The same goes for costume dramas of the long BBC sort. I’ve just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice (finished it at midnight last night. Pass the coffee, please) and I enjoyed it all the more for the ability to visualise the rooms, settings and characters more fully than Jane Austen’s words ever offered. We don’t learn much about Elizabeth except that she has fine eyes and a muddy skirt. While I read, I had the lovely Jennifer Ehle in mind as well as the delectable Colin Firth. It’s the best of all worlds.

As ‘research’ for this post I got to watch the last episode on YouTube. I love the marriage and carriage scene at the end, with the beautiful chaste kiss. No such thing in the book, but who doesn’t love a wedding? The book and TV series combined to generate a deeper emotional experience.

As an aside, I’ve had people say my Dragon Wraiths front cover helps to visualise Leah and set the tone for the book. Maybe that’s why it’s such fun casting actors for your own works, so you can assist others in seeing what you see. For example Colin Egglesfield is Marcio in Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes. Oh yes.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire sat motionless, every nerve, every inch of her skin alert and listening. The dark closed in around her as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Eventually a pinprick of light shone in the black. Then another, and another. She heard gasps around her, and craned her neck to see.

There, up above, like the stars being revealed by the setting sun, hundreds of tiny green lights blazed across the roof of the cave. The space was larger than she had imagined: the lights emphasised the vastness, as their eerie glow illuminated the contours of the ceiling.

The motion of the boat rocked Claire’s senses, calming her agitation. The walk through the cathedral cave had left her prickling with tension as she’d sought to keep her distance without giving away her unease.

Claire felt movement behind her and stiffened, waiting. She thought she could feel hot breath near her cheek. Resisting the urge to turn around, or brush at her face as if shooing a pesky fly, Claire gripped her seat and continued to focus on the glow-worms. Her ears filled with the sound of breathing, punctuated by the dripping of water. Waitomo. Water cave. Focussing on the facts, on what she would write in her blog, Claire casually leant forwards to get a better look at the luminous universe above her head.

As if the movement freed her, Claire felt the hoops release from around her lungs, letting in dank, stale air. Suddenly she needed oxygen. The boat became a prison. She wanted to push at the people around her, jump over the side and swim for the exit visible in the distance. Digging her fingers into the seat until it seemed her knuckles might cut through her skin, Claire concentrated on breathing in and out. She thought she could hear a chuckle behind her, but she refused to turn round.

At last the boat bumped against the shore. Claire scrambled forwards, not waiting for the guide’s offered hand. Almost tipping the boat in her haste, she gave a sob of relief as her feet touched solid ground. Without looking back, she strode up the slope and into the light.

*

Claire rested her back against the damp stone and gave a shaky laugh. When will you learn, missus? You should never have got into that pool.

The last twenty-four hours were a blur of panic and hiding. She’d fled from the beach pool as soon as the guide told them it was time to get back on the bus, draping her sarong around her tingling skin and practically running off the beach. If the driver had been surprised to see her sit at the front of the coach he didn’t comment, although she sensed something pass between him and Neal when the latter boarded a few minutes later. He’d chuckled as he walked past, setting her heart racing.

Claire had gone straight to her room at the hostel, not even leaving for the legendary fish and chips when the rest of them did. In the morning it was more of the same, and at the gold mine too. Constantly sticking near the guide, paying attention to the tour, taking notes and pictures. The perfect image of an enthusiastic tourist. All the while her brain had churned, trying to make sense of her emotions. That she was attracted to Neal was undeniable. That he was dangerous, equally so.

He’d beaten her in the tour; climbing into the boat when she was already seated, and taking a place just behind her. He had breathed one word during the journey, a whisper of a sound that she heard as, “Chicken.” His voice, more than the word, had set her pulse racing.

What do I do now? I don’t want to stay in this town longer than necessary, but that means getting back on a bus with him, checking into another hostel and knowing he’s sleeping down the corridor. Why me? I’m not exactly his type.

As she thought the words she knew they weren’t true. Neal had watched her since day one. Not flirting, not making advances. Just watching. Like a panther in the long grass.

Claire shivered. The caves had been cold and she’d left her jacket on the bus. Realising the rest of her tour had gone back, Claire hurried away, not wanting to be left behind again.

When she arrived at the bus it was full and the driver was just beginning his head count. A quick scan of the interior showed her there were only a few free seats. She took one at the front, next to a middle-aged man wearing glasses and a tank top. She could almost feel Neal’s smirk from his position towards the back of the bus.

Feeling like a cornered mouse, waiting for the pounce of soft and deadly paws, Claire pulled out her book and pretended to read.

***