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Monday, 11 November 2013 10:48

Q&A with Helena S. Paige

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A little over a year ago, three friends walked into a restaurant as Sarah Lotz, Nick Paige and Helen Moffett, and walked out as Helena S. Paige, the author of the "Girl" series that is making waves in the literary world. Over lunch, the three successful writers conceived of a series of "choose your own erotic destiny" books which made international literary headlines by scooping up almost two dozen publishing deals within a few weeks of being pitched to an agent. The first title in the series, A Girl Walks into a Bar: Choose Your Own Erotic Destiny, has been available as an e-book since July and has been released as a paperback in South Africa in November by the local publishing house, Jonathan Ball. The next one, A Girl Walks into a Wedding: Your Fantasy, Your Rules will hit the electronic and literal shelves this year.

KMS: It is not difficult to imagine that you have had a lot of fun writing the first two books of the series. Could you share some of your funniest moments of the past few months when you were working on A Girl Walks into a Bar, and its sequel, A Girl Walks into a Wedding?

PAIGE: Some of the conversations we find ourselves having are hilarious. I remember a very long, serious, detailed conversation about whether one could have sex while flying a helicopter. And then there was The Great Cock Ring Debate of 2013. We have to be careful what restaurants we go to, as not all are appropriate for the kinds of conversations we tend to have, mostly while shrieking with laughter.

HELEN: The best thing about this entire adventure is the laughter. When we're editing and collating, we circulate the manuscript and write comments to each other in the margins, some of which are hysterical. (Sarah still hasn't recovered from my description of a hero's "artisanal baked goods", and no, I have no idea what I was smoking that day.) One day we need to publish "The Girl – The Annotated Edition".

KMS: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the books?

PAIGE: Finding new words for vagina, penis, groan, thrust and pant. At one point Helen suggested that after this we write a sex thesaurus. As in sex, so in writing sex, variety is the spice of life. We tried very hard to keep things original and not use cheesy terms like lady garden, or throbbing manhood. And we banned all lip-biting, by way of homage to Fifty Shades.

SARAH: I find writing sex scenes extraordinarily difficult, and I'm not sure it's a skill that can be learned. Thankfully, Paige and Helen write all the sex in the books, and do so without the cringe factor that can make reading sex either uncomfortable or unintentionally hilarious. Maybe one day I'll have learned enough from my co-writers to take the plunge – I'll probably have to be drunk though.

KMS: Sex sells, always, but there seems to be a renewed, more intense interest in erotic fiction since the publication of EL James's Fifty Shades of Grey. Why do you think is this the case?

PAIGE: It might be a matter of main-stream acceptability. A friend was on the tube in London last month and there was a lady in a full burqa reading book two of the Fifty Shades series. The almost inexplicable phenomena of this book (right time, right place, maybe?) has done so much to make this an acceptable subject, whereas before perhaps it was more of a taboo subject in many cultural circles.

HELEN: Maybe it's related to the resurgence of erotica for women at exactly the same time that ebooks have gone mainstream. I think this has created "perfect storm" conditions for circulating and marketing erotica.

KMS: Have you had some surprising fan mail?

Surprising, no. I think when you write a series of choose-your-own-adventure erotic novels, you can't be surprised by some of the feedback you get.

KMS: Is there a topic that would be taboo for you to write about, individually or as Helena S. Paige?

PAIGE: For me it's not the topic you write about that's taboo, more how you write about it. I think any subject can be written about, if it's done sensitively and from the right perspective.

HELEN: Paige is braver than me. As an individual writer, my taboo list is quite substantial: I could not write scenes in which animals or children got hurt or killed, for instance. And although I write about sexual violence as an academic in a non-fiction context, I could never create fictional scenes involving that kind of violence, or even the threat of it. But then I am a famous wimp. Fortunately, erotica is all about pleasure, so (perhaps, ironically) for me as part of HSP, the writing we do is the opposite of taboo. It's all feel-good stuff – ahem, literally.

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Karina Magdalena Szczurek

Karina is a writer and literary critic based in Cape Town.

Website: karinamagdalena.com/
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