The story behind my book
Krissy Kneen is the author of The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. Here she tells us about writing a novel that references a lot of other books.
Originally my publisher pitched the idea to me. He thought I should write an erotic fiction book referencing the classic erotic texts. The idea excited me as soon as I heard it. I had been dabbling reading the classics of erotica but this gave me an excuse to dedicate an entire year of my life to reading them. It is such a vast field. There is so very, very much in the genre. It was almost impossible to start.
My process was a little scattered at first. I tried to read books in an order that I thought might relate to the manuscript. I wanted to have the novels that I was reading influence my book as it was being written. I wanted to ingest the style of the classics and let that infuse into the work. In reality this process was a great start but it didn’t allow for the way a book is re-written and edited. Some of the little hints and nods to books have disappeared or moved so that they now exist in the context of other books. In the end the classic erotic classics are still very much a part of my novel. They are physically represented in the text as well as being referenced and adding colour to the chapters. My character, Holly, joins a book club, so many of the books are physically in the story as Holly reads them. I named each chapter after one of the erotic texts and some of my characters are named after the stars of the classic stories. In fact this whole novel is about the power and joy of reading erotica.
In my novel, Holly can channel and intensify the sexual power that is stored in the books. Through her body it manifests as a blue glow accompanying sexual excitement. I like to think of novels as batteries. They are inert. They have no inherent power until someone reads them, then when you add a human imagination to the written words, you end up with something very powerful indeed. I have often read my erotic work in public and you can literally see a change in the audience as the power of the erotic imagination overtakes them. You see people shifting uncomfortably as they become aroused. Listeners feel flushed or restless. It is really easy to see how powerful words are when you read aloud to a group of people.
Choosing the books to use in my work was quite complicated. To keep myself on track I started my own sex book club in which we read the classics of erotica. Life imitating art. I would read an erotic classic and write a parallel chapter of my novel. Some of the books fitted nicely and some did not. I abandoned Madame Bovary, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Song of Solomon. Some of these books birthed half-formed chapters that were eventually cut from the final novel. I found I was particularly inspired to write by the Surrealists. Georges Bataille (The Story of the Eye and The Blue of Noon) and Louis Aragon (Irene’s Cunt) became central to my work. The surrealists take the sexual imagery straight out of dreams and put it up on the page. There is poetry in their work but also a disturbing quality. Reading sex is and should be unsettling. It takes what is ‘unspeakable’ and puts it right there on the page.
Of course I had my pre-loved favourites, Nabakov and Nin have always inspired me, but during the course of my year of sex-reading I discovered James Salter who will now always be one of my favourite writers. His novel A Sport and a Pastime is one of the most erotic books I have ever read. There is also an unsettling heat in the work of Yusunari Kawabata and his book The House of the Sleeping Beauties was a book that I really wanted in the book. For a while I wanted Holly to run off to Japan as I found some great Japanese writers of erotic fiction, but in the end, the majority of the books I was reading for research were written or set in France and so this led my character to embark on a Parisian Pilgrimage.
I couldn’t have written this book without the bedrock of hundreds of years worth of erotic writing. I built The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine on the foundations that these writers built for me. Because of the Marquis de Sade and Guillaume Apollinaire I have a context. I know where my book fits in the world and I know where it is taking the genre. Just like at a wedding, I am now sending my book out into the world and she is carrying something old from all the writers who have gone before her, something new that I have invented, something borrowed from the classics and something blue with the blue glow of sexual energy.