Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

Tag: Waterloo

Let’s talk about sex. Or not.

Today I’m delighted to welcome back Tom Williams to my site to talk about…well…sex actually.

Over to you Tom…

With The White Rajah having just been republished by Endeavour, I find myself thinking once again about sex. As you do.

The thing is that there is a bit of sex in The White Rajah. Hardly any. Rather less than the average romance these days and almost certainly less than today’s Daily Telegraph. It’s all very sweet, and very consensual, because although The White Rajah tells the true story of James Brooke – the man who Conrad based Lord Jim on – and it features pirates and battles and Victorian politics, there is at its heart a love story. And [spoiler alert] there are no female characters.

It turns out that there are people who still get quite agitated about this. Who knew?

Sex in books, it seems, is still a pretty contentious issue. Back in the days of obscenity trials, it was clear what you could and couldn’t write about when it came to sex. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is possibly the most famous example, but other books to run foul of the UK censor included UlyssesLolita, The Well of Lonelinessand Tropic of Cancer. Nowadays, though, we (or at least all the nice liberal London folk and the sort of people who read blogs like this) like to mock gently at the poor repressed darlings of yesteryear. Today writers can write, and readers read, pretty much whatever they want to.

Well, as Evelyn Waugh’s Mr Salter might say, ‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’ For while my literary friends are happy to explore the “thematic explorations of the relationship between surrender and freedom, the nature and demands of love, and the spiritual aspects of sexual desire” in Pauline Reage’s Story of O (thank you Book Rags Study Guides for that gem), there are other readers out there who see the world rather differently. This is from an Amazon review of Leslie Thomas’s The Secret Army:

But we also see a country overflowing with sexual immorality. Yes, s£x [sic] did and does take place, but open oral s£x in streets or respectable married women regularly having multiple partners, even being passed from person to person? Perhaps, but surely very rarely, and not anywhere else as a regular occurrence except in Mr Thomas’ mind, I expect.

The question of how much sex is too much (or too little) is, apparently, a constant concern of publishers. One author I know, whose ‘erotic’ novella seems pretty tame, told me that her publisher had asked her to hold back on the kink, while another, writing a straightforward romance, was apparently told to include more explicit sex.

Adding homosexuality into the picture and some Amazon reviewers are ready to condemn The White Rajah out of hand:

Pity that such an excellent story should be ruined by the sexual obsessions of the author.

I think Tom Williams spoiled a great yarn by introducing a ‘gay’ element into a well known and loved adventure.

At the same time, several reviewers on other sites have complained that I shy away from explicit details. (Apparently I’m not nearly obsessed enough.)

The one disappointment I had, and why I give it three stars rather than four, is that the relationship between the narrator and Brooke is related in very timid detail.  [Goodreads review]

Nowadays the notion that characters don’t have sex and that their bedroom activities don’t affect their broader relationship is simply silly. But how much detail do we need? Even well-known ‘mainstream’ authors often seem to feel the need to describe their heroine’s enthusiastic response to the hero’s thrusting organ, though I would have thought most of us could imagine it for ourselves. At the other extreme, though, we have books that avoid explicit sex but replace it with childish innuendo that I would think many adult readers find much more embarrassing. (I’m naming no names, but I have at least one mega best-seller in mind.)

Obviously, some writers are seeking to shock or excite and, for them, this isn’t a problem. But what about romantic fiction? What about old-fashioned adventure stories? What about literary efforts like Julian Barnes’ dreary Sense of an Ending with its sad little paragraph about masturbation. (Uck!) I was going to say that it was a problem for everyone except children’s writers, but in the age of Heather Has Two Mommies, sensible children’s authors are questioning whether ignoring sex in books for children and young adults is really a good idea.

So: close the bedroom door and leave everything to the imagination? Or bring on the whips and chains and explain exactly what she means when she says that she loves him to death? I’m guessing most of us will go for somewhere in between. But where? I have a friend who was astonished by Fifty Shades because she had never imagined such things. Other friends would regard an evening with the eponymous Christian as a bit on the dull side. How can any author write a book with real characters with real lives that can satisfy all their readers without shocking any of them? And is it even worth trying?

Frankly, I’ve given up worrying about it. If a book with a gay hero is going to horrify you, I recommend my Burke series with a rather aggressively heterosexual bloke having his way with a whole series of women. (I can hear some people tutting, but he was a real person and must have possessed extraordinary charm or stamina or both.) But if you can bear the idea that one of the great heroes of Victorian Britain was almost certainly gay, then read The White Rajah, enjoy the pirates and the politics and share Brooke’s love of Borneo and its people and let the sex look after itself. It generally does.


Buy Link-



Have you ever noticed how many authors are described as ‘reclusive’? I have a lot of sympathy for them. My feeling is that authors generally like to hide at home with their laptops or their quill pens and write stuff. If they enjoyed being in the public eye, they’d be stand-up comics or pop stars.

Nowadays, though, writers are told that their audiences want to be able to relate to them as people. I’m not entirely sure about that. If you knew me, you might not want to relate to me at all. But here in hyperspace I apparently have to tell you that I’m young and good looking and live somewhere exciting with a beautiful partner, a son who is a brain surgeon and a daughter who is a swimwear model. Then you’ll buy my book.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. I’m older than you can possibly imagine. (Certainly older than I ever imagined until I suddenly woke up and realised that age had snuck up on me.) I live in Richmond, which is nice and on the outskirts of London which is a truly amazing city to live in. My wife is beautiful but, more importantly, she’s a lawyer, which is handy because a household with a writer in it always needs someone who can earn decent money. My son has left home and we never got round to the daughter.

We did have a ferret, which I thought would be an appropriately writer sort of thing to have around but he  eventually got even older than me (in ferret years) and died. I’d try to say something snappy and amusing about that but we loved that ferret and snappy and amusing doesn’t quite cut it.

I street skate and ski and can dance a mean Argentine tango. I’ve spent a lot of my life writing very boring things for money (unless you’re in Customer Care, in which case ‘Dealing With Customer Complaints’ is really, really interesting). Now I’m writing for fun.

If you all buy my books, I’ll be able to finish the next ones and I’ll never have to write for the insurance industry again and that will be a good thing, yes? So you’ll not only get to read a brilliant novel but your karmic balance will move rapidly into credit.

Can I go back to being reclusive now?


Many thanks Tom.

An interesting perspective- and I for one, outside of erotica, agree with the sentiment that sex can get on with itself very well. Of course within erotica (and I do not count Fifty Shades as part of that genre), the attention to – shall we say ‘detail’- has to be more thorough!

Happy reading,


Guest Post from Tom Williams: Who is Susan?

I’m delighted to welcome Tom Williams back to my site today to talk about his latest book, and a young woman called Susan!

Over to you Tom…

My books are a simple history of a man who finds his best friend has fallen in with villains in 1859 London. Admittedly his attempts to save his friend end up in all sorts of adventures with spies and crooks and fights with the police and much underhand business…Then again, there is the story of young Susan.

Susan has been recruited to help our narrator, John Williamson, who has been recruited to pass off bad sovereigns – a much more difficult part of the business of making money by forgery than the manufacture of the coins in the first place, which was practically a cottage industry in 1859.

Back Home

Susan, when I met her, did indeed seem a nice enough girl. Her father had been a baker, but on his decease (‘Just upped and died’, she told me, ‘on a Tuesday, just after he opened the shop,’) her mother had been unable to make the place pay. The family had got into debt and Susan had left for the Metropolis in the hope of repairing her fortunes, but, like so many other young girls, she had fallen in with bad company and, being desperate for money and having no reputation left to preserve, she had turned to selling her body to survive.

Susan still had a little of the bloom of the country on her, though she was already developing a certain hardness in her features which seems common to women who make their money as she did. Still, once Michael and I had dressed her up in clothes that we purchased especially for the business at hand, she could pass as respectable.

Our first foray was made that afternoon to the Burlington Arcade. Michael assured me that my companion’s appearance would be entirely unremarked there. So, having dressed myself in my smartest suit, I repaired to Piccadilly with her on my arm.

Burlington Arcade

Burlington Arcade

Despite the new outfit, the girl could not but look what she was and anyone watching our progress through the West End would see a gentleman with his poll. This was a role that, given my nature, was one that I had never played before. I must admit that, in anticipation, I had believed that I would be mortified with embarrassment, and was uncertain that I would be able to pull it off, but, in the event, I found myself but one of many promenading with a woman clearly not my wife. Indeed, once I had opened my eyes to what was going on around me, it seemed that the Burlington Arcade was as rife with vice as Seven Dials – but in the Arcade the women were much better dressed and the signs of pox less immediately visible.

Accompanied by this woman, it seemed natural that we would find ourselves loitering in front of a jeweller’s window. She pointed enthusiastically at the display, while I made as if I were anxious to be off down the street. Once I was sure that our dumb show had been noticed by the staff inside the shop – one of whom, I could swear, was trying unsuccessfully to hide his smile – I shrugged resignedly and went in alone, pointedly leaving my companion outside. With every appearance of embarrassment and awkwardness, which required little in the way of acting on my part, I indicated that I wanted a small bracelet from the window display. I had carefully chosen an item that might reasonably be purchased with ready money. The assistant picked it from the window and, without being asked, made it up into a neatly wrapped packet.

‘Sir will be taking his purchase with him?’ he asked, struggling to conceal his smirk.

I nodded, blushing.

‘That will be three guineas, sir.’

I reached into my pocket and withdrew three golden coins and three (real) shillings, which I slapped onto the counter, grabbing at my parcel and heading toward the door. The assistant was clearly amused and watched as I hastened towards my lady friend and passed her the package. She immediately threw her arms around me and, from the corner of my eye, I saw the shop man, his eyes glued to this indecorous display, toss the coins into a drawer without any proper examination at all.

*  *  *

After a lifetime of respectability, writing research reports for government and management, Tom now writes historical novels. He is a man of spotless integrity, whose greatest vice is occasionally dancing tango with women who are not his wife.


Tom’s books:

The Williamson Papers

The White Rajah:


Back Home:

And here are the stories about James Burke.

Burke in the Land of Silver:

Burke and the Bedouin:

Burke at Waterloo:

Burke at Waterloo

I blog at

My Facebook author page is

My Twitter handle is @TomCW99


Many thanks Tom- another great blog.

Happy reading,

Jenny x

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