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What it’s like to have your book translated into 8 languages

I’ve been promising to do this for ages, and I’ve finally got round to it. For those of you who are interested in such things, this is what it’s like to have your book translated into other languages. Sadly, it involves no globe-trotting on my part.


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Guest post: Nikki Gemmell on Tenderness in I Take You

Nikki Gemmell I Take You | Betty Herbert

Today’s guest post is from Nikki Gemmell, author of The Bride Stripped Bare trilogy.

(Psst: scroll to the bottom for a chance to win a copy of I Take You)

It’s an uneasy bedfellow for that most leonine of words: masculinity.  It shouldn’t be.  Because the combination of the two qualities can be hugely arresting, especially in an erotic sense.  It’s a word that this modern world seems to have such  short shrift with.  We shouldn’t.  The word is tenderness.

Tenderness was, in fact, the original title of D.H. Lawrence’s depth charge of a novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  A celebration of that most gentle and generous of words is at its core.  Lady Chatterley, in a seminal moment, explains to her gamekeeper lover, Oliver Mellors, what’s so striking about him; what lifts him above and beyond any other man she has ever known:

“Shall I tell you what you have that other men don’t have, and that will make the future?”

“Tell me then,” he replied.

“It’s the courage of your own tenderness, that’s what it is.”

Her upper class husband, Clifford, has an utter absence of tenderness.  He sits with his coterie of men, in Nottinghamshire’s grim and cold Wragby Hall, philosophising about sex – and in the process deadening it.  Nothing is instinctive, warm, spontaneous; nothing deeply felt.  It is relentlessly interior existence.

The book is about two people awakening in a natural world uncracking from winter’s harshness, through mutual tenderness, from previous sexual experiences that have chipped away at them, dulled them.  Marriage in both cases has been enormously depleting.  Flattening.  And the word is about so much more than mere sex.  It denotes a way of being: instinctive, loving, unafraid.  A courageous way of being, out of the ordinary.

Why do so many men, even in this day and age, feel they have to mask their tenderness?  To me it’s associated with strength, compassion, confidence; the movingly well-rounded male.  And sex anointed by tenderness, well, that’s the best type of all. The word is spiritual, earthy, deeply biological.  It’s what I’m interested in writing about now; a way of sex beyond the Fifty Shades era.  And I’ve turned back to a novel from 1928 to lead me on the path.  What is the most potent quality when it comes to erotica?  To me it’s honesty.  The frisson of connection.  I’m sure Lawrence didn’t set out to shock when he wrote his revolutionary novel, but merely to be scrupulously honest.  And honesty, of course, is the most shocking thing of all.

Lawrence’s Mellors rages against the world of 1920s England because he thinks it’s been leached of all tenderness.  He begs for warm-heartedness, in words utterly relatable in this day and age.  He tells his Connie, despairingly, that he believes in:

“…being warmhearted. I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come all right. It’s all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy.”

So true.

My just-published novel, I Take You, like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, has the pursuit of tenderness at its core.  It’s an updated version of Lawrence’s novel involving a banker, his wife and the gardener of a beautiful communal garden in London’s Notting Hill, a world of basement extensions, private jets, Chanel suits and ladies who lunch – and a white van man with a big chip on his shoulder who crashes most subversively into it all.  There’s a social and political dimension to the book too, just like Lawrence’s novel.  Mine ends in the summer of the London riots of 2011, with all the jarring disconnects between people of the area coming to a head.

The challenge as a writer was in finding ways to freshen – invigorate – the writing of sex in this post-Fifty Shades era.  We’re flooded, of course, with a brazen new openness, all around us.  Everyone’s seemingly doing it, or thinking it, or reading it – in increasingly bold ways.  Where does it all go from here?  Could it possibly be that this new decadence, effulgence, represents a tipping point of some sort, an inexorable slide into a waning?  What on earth follows?  A flinch into extreme conservatism perhaps, a vast reining back; or a return to a more natural way, with how our bodies look and what we actually do with them.  It remains to be seen, but it’s the latter I’m exploring in I Take You. The book is about finding ways of connecting with another person on a profound rather than superficial level.  Discovering ways of connecting that are invigorating, reviving, rescuing.

Tenderness – the great softening – is key.  What’s one of the most alluring images of a man?  The sight of him cradling a baby.  It goes to the heart of the biological instinct.  That combination of virility yet tenderness is intensely erotic, potent.  As Maya Angelou said, “the quality of strength lined with tenderness is an unbeatable combination.” And of course, in most porn there’s an utter absence of it.  Porn that our young men and even our boys, wedded to their screens, are finding increasingly easy to consume.

We need to nurture tenderness in our men, starting with those boys around us – and how they relate to the world.  Because in adulthood tenderness is a vastly underrated quality, especially when it comes to sex.  As is gentleness, as is generosity.  Teaching our boys the courage of their fledgling tenderness, when young, means they’ll only benefit as adults – as will the women all around them.  As John Ruskin said:  “…the first universal characteristic of all great art is Tenderness, as the second is Truth. I find this more and more every day: an infinitude of tenderness is the chief gift and inheritance of all the truly great men.”  Lawrence was interested in what makes a truly great man, as am I.  Hence, I Take You.


Nikki Gemmell’s I Take You, the conclusion to her Bride Stripped Bare trilogy, is out now in paperback.

I have two copies to give away – just follow @52Betty on Twitter and tweet the following message to enter:

‘Win a copy of @nikkigemmell’s fabulous new novel, I Take You: #ITakeYou’

Competition closes 7th August 2013 at midnight. Entrants must be over 18 and have a UK postal address. The winner will be drawn at random. No correspondence will be entered into over the result.

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The Other Rules

I got chatting to Barbara Carrellas after her UK launch for Ecstasy is Necessary last night.

Guess what we talked about? Yup, Fifty Shades of Grey. For anyone who writes about sex for a living, it’s a hot topic. Partly because we’re all obsessing over the alchemy of the book, what makes it so spectacularly successful (read: why is she making so much more money than us, dammit); and partly because we’re all a bit world-weary at the sort of critical response that has attempted to ignite a moral panic over what is, essentially, a pretty tame book.

In any case, we were both slyly impressed at the way EL James has Christian Grey laying out the rules of engagement. This has often been picked on for being clunky, controlling and unsexy; but in many ways it’s an accurate reflection of how BDSM relationships actually work. Granted, few people go as far as getting their lawyer to draw up a written contract – and Gray’s seems more like a catch-all disclaimer than a statement of erotic intent – but the terms of the exchange are often carefully negotiated in advance, so that both participants can feel safe, even when they’re playing with risk.

It’s always struck me that those of us who do not own a dungeon (or even a pair of handcuffs) could learn a great deal from BDSM practitioners. In  many ways our relationships are more emotionally risky, because we so often fail to negotiate our terms, both in the bedroom and out.

We lack the language to truly express our needs and desires, our fears and anxieties. We’ll bite our lip (not in the Ana sense) and put up with terrible sex, or no sex at all rather than talk it over. We will harbour secret fantasies for decades rather than try them out. We’ll have flaming rows in order to defend ourselves from really listening to our partners. And we’ll punish our lovers by withholding sex, even when it’s the thing we most crave.

Because it’s so tied up with attractiveness, and therefore our self esteem, sex is the thing that can hurt us the most. This means that there is often something within us that flinches away from addressing it. But a bit of negotiation – and, yes, ‘don’t touch my chest’ is perfectly acceptable and normal – would help us to clearly establish our boundaries.

The truth is that the spanking and whipping we find in Fifty Shades is the least threatening part of that relationship; it’s the exchange of power that carries the most risk, because of its potential to harm us emotionally. But we mustn’t forget that power is exchanged in ‘vanilla’ relationships too, in much more hidden ways. Sex is just the tip of an iceberg that also encompasses finances, the division of labour, family life, the language we use, and a million other shards of ice.

We can learn from the unsexiest bits of 50 Shades: bring the darkest things into the light, and negotiate them, not just once, but continuously. Or, for a better guide, try Barbara’s new book.

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50 Shades of Hot – Storify

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The Man Diet

Today’s guest post is from Zoe Strimpel, author of The Man Diet, which follows her quest to free herself of bad dating habits. You can find Zoe’s blog here


I’ve never been very good at food diets. But when it comes to following the different sort of diet prescribed in my new book, The Man Diet: One Woman’s Quest to End Bad Romance, I thought I was doing well. My motivations, you see, are greater than shedding a few centimetres around the waist (though that would also be much appreciated). They are about feeling good inside by cutting down on “junk food love”: Facebook stalking binges; callous sex; obsessing about men with friends, for example. The stuff that it’s hard to avoid, but that makes us feel like crap and erodes our self-esteem, just when we should be flourishing most.

But even the desire to be good to myself, to be the best woman I can be, has not kept me on the straight and narrow recently. I admit it: I’ve fallen off the Diet bandwagon once or twice in the past few weeks – and, unlike after a chocolate cake moment, I’m not licking my lips for more. In fact, I’m regretting my slip in resolve quite bitterly

The slide from grace began two weeks ago when I had arranged to see a guy for a drink. We’d met once at a dinner, and I’d followed up (breaking one of the rules of the Man Diet right there: No Pursuit). He acquiesced with charm and before we knew it, we were the last ones in the restaurant, draining a bottle of cava. We moved on, then, to the Groucho Club. Here, despite having had far too many drinks (breaking still another rule of the Man Diet: Cutting Down on Booze), he ordered us another. Then another. Suddenly we were kissing. It was terribly exhibitionist, but by this point I felt that my limits had dissolved in alcohol; and the inevitability of going home together felt overwhelming. A voice in my head said: “This is not going to be healthy for you. Sleep with him and feel rotten tomorrow when he shows no interest.” Echoing the voice was the question: “Why? Why do this?” My answer was that in addition to his being good looking and fun, a trophy of sorts, I felt it would be boring to pull out now.

And so the inevitable happened. A night of of pleasant-enough but ultimately forced passion ensued – forced being the only type of passion that happens when two people aren’t particularly enthralled by each other or bonded by insane chemistry. As he kissed me goodbye the next morning – I do have to hand it to him for his displays of affection even in the cold light of day – the arbitrary, programmatic nature of that kiss and the preceding ones hit me with a dull thud. This truly was anti-romance, and worse, now I had to put up with the deafening silence that would follow his exit (in addition to the hangover throbbing in my temples).

A few days later, I had an email from him, saying he would maybe see me “one day” again, but generally he was not comfortable with post-sex meetings with women he had no intention of dating. I felt crap and rejected, despite not wanting to date him either. I was also aware that I’d put myself in this situation and had nobody to moan to but myself.

See, one of the big problems with junk food love is that it is addictive. So having had one unsatisfactory experience, I quickly sought another to erase the bad taste left by this encounter.

I sought it with a truly hot guy, a friend of a friend. I was abroad and looked him up in his hometown. I had entered our meeting without expectations, but after three hours of intense conversation, and several drinks, I felt it would be a “waste” not to push it further. So further is where it went. Turning this encounter into a spot of junk food love was a particularly bad choice because I liked this guy. He was interesting and complex as well as really good-looking. But instead of leaving our evening with a “nice to meet you”, a peck on the cheek and the chance for it to develop into something real, I pushed it into the sexual sphere for validation. Why, I reasoned tipsily, have a hangover with nothing to show for it?

But as with so many men, the disjoint between night and day was as harsh as ever. Hot Man was all sweetness before the bedsheets were parted: as soon as the sun rose, the game changed vampire-style, and it was a case of hustling out to work as quickly as possible. Our delicate, new intimacy couldn’t withstand the flip from boozy, candle-lit night to factual, non-sexy day, though I wished it had. So, sitting in the taxi in last night’s clothes, I felt uncomfortably bloated on junk food love, and not a little melancholic.

There’s one upside to these encounters: they have reminded me just how useful the Man Diet is. My next step? Taking a leaf out of my own book.

The Man Diet was published by Avon on 30th November as ebook, with paperback to follow on 22nd December.


If you’d like to write your own Whisper, we’d love to read it! The submission guidelines are here.

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How to Stay Married by Jilly Cooper

When I was growing up, the 60s seemed relatively recent. I was not old enough to remember them myself, but it was clear that my parents did. It was reflected in their style, their attitudes, their musical tastes. It was familiar ground.

Yet How to Stay Married is the most extraordinary period piece. It’s a heady combination of the deeply traditional:

If a wife feels resentful that she is slaving away…she must remember that it isn’t all roses for him either. He has given up his much-prized bachelor status for marriage, and he probably expects…to come home every night to a gleaming home, a happy wife, and a delicious dinner.’

…and swinging free-love:

‘If you want to dance cheek-to-cheek with the most attractive man/woman in the room, wait until your husband/wife is securely trapped on the sofa in another room.’

Well, maybe not all that swinging. In this book, ‘affaires’ are inevitable, usually the woman’s fault, and to be tolerated; sleeping pills are swallowed willy-nilly; and a ‘slut’ is the keeper of an untidy house. Wives need to be treated with a ‘firm hand’, and men are like little gods who require cosseting and obedience. Women may well work (until children come along, when they must turn to making paper flowers for pin money), but they should tweak their hours so that they can get home in time to tidy up and have dinner on the table.

It’s as if the word ‘marriage’ means something different entirely. Or rather, perhaps the shock lies in the word ‘marriage’ representing a clear set of values and behaviours. Contemporary readers will be used to defining their own ‘marriage’ or relationship, finding a balance of personalities that works for them – or doesn’t. We are certainly not willing to make the level of sacrifices that young Jilly fully expects to make, just to keep our partners quiet.

None of this is meant as a word of criticism of the book – it’s a wonderful, enlightening read. Jilly’s voice is as pert and knowing as one of her characters, leaving the line between seriousness and tongue-in-cheek rather blurry. The all-night sex and cocktail parties sound magnificent. But the best bit is Jilly’s cringing introduction: ‘What a smug, opinionated, proselytising little know-it-all I was then,’ she says.

So, perhaps don’t read How to Stay Married for matrimonial advice. But do read it to giggle and gasp at how much we’ve changed within a mere lifetime.
How To Stay Married by Jilly Cooper, originally published 1969, reissued in 2011 by Transworld.

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Video Review – The Lovers’ Cookbook


Incidentally, this is the cover of the original edition, which is much nicer. What on earth happened to book design in the 70s, eh?

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