When I tell people that my recently completed novel is called Juliet, Naked, they pretty much always make the same joke: Oh, you’re trying to sell some books! My stepmother and my mother-in-law both provided variations on this theme within twenty-four hours of each other last week. Gosh, how we laughed!
And though it’s true that all extra sales accruing as a result of promises made in the title will be welcome (and we cannot, I’m afraid, refund anyone who might be disappointed when they discover that Juliet, Naked is the title of a fictional album), I think the days when people are prepared to shell out for prose nakedness are long gone. Now that each of us possess the means to watch real women having sex with real men, or real women, or real animals, at the click of a mouse, I¹m not sure there’s any real money to be made by from a few paragraphs of fictional smut.
Incredibly, those days existed even within my lifetime. Who now would dream of reading the almost unreadable Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the hope of arousal? And yet when Penguin published the book in 1960, it sold two hundred thousand copies on the first day, two million in the first year. Many of us can remember our fathers buying copies of Lady C, as it became known, and then John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, written in 1749, but banned for over two hundred years; I can even remember seeing a copy of Couples by John Updike in the boot of my dad’s car, and I doubt he’s read an Updike novel since. Another book marketing tool gone; another advantage nullified. We’re doomed.
A long time ago, I interviewed Jilly Cooper for the Sunday Times, and asked her about an image in her latest novel that troubled me: she had compared a pair of female nipples in a state of obviously extraordinary arousal to a couple of biro caps. ‘Awful’, she agreed cheerfully. ‘Terribly unsexy. It was probably because I was writing in a great hurry and casting around for some image and there were masses of biro caps all over my desk with no biros in them …’ Perhaps we writers only have ourselves to blame.