It was the poet John Lydgate who said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” This rings true for books too. Every reader has their tastes and opinions, and as writers who are we to argue. Moreover, personal preferences and self-values can enrich an experience, including reading a book.
As an avid reader I am the same. So when I started writing my first thriller, I took heed of the widely acclaimed advice to write the book you wish to read. I decided the novel had to be a page turner; the characters had to be interesting and flawed; a strong and engaging plot needed to ensue; and there had to be shocking deaths and tasteful eroticism. A cocktail that I personally enjoy and hoped would interest a broad range of readers.
However, at that time I was a regional president of a multinational company with a public responsibility. Hardly a role that could be associated with blood, gore and sex. So I chose a pseudonym, one that combined my father’s nickname for me with a surname that could easily roll off any international tongue.
After selling a few hundred, feedback was overwhelmingly positive but online reviews remained but a handful. Though the ratings are top, I continue to encourage feedback as ratings only become credible above a certain tally. So far I have refrained from going back and rewriting a released version as I fear this would be detrimental to the zeitgeist of the original story. But one particular aspect that makes me doubt this followed various remarks with regard to “too much sex”. Could I indeed reach more people if I toned it down? Admittedly, and in hindsight, several erotic passages in DEATH COMES TWICE may have been inflated, too graphic or unnecessary to the story. I even got the comment that ‘Mr Hyde’ is a sex maniac, but is he? Am I…?
At the same time I can’t help thinking that our society is over-sensitive to sex. It was Mark Twain who said, “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” For me, and many with me, it remains puzzling why violence is mainstream, whereas nudity and sex remain marginal? Why do so many people freak out at nipple-gate, whereas a topless male can happily blow someone’s brains out?
I find conservatism around sex both petty and destructive and in my books I purposely exaggerate and provoke debate by creating a fictional caricature. It is no accident that I portray strong, independent women who utilise their sexuality unashamedly towards the gullible male. And also portray persons in wheelchairs who may have lost sensations, but not their feelings and sexual desires.
Being Dutch, I am undoubtedly more liberal in such things and in the anonymity of a pseudonym, even more so. But whatever I do, the essence of learning needs to remain; that persons in wheelchairs are no different than anyone else. Though highly prominent in my books, sex is but a supporting element to the whole play. I have tried to tone this down in DEATH AS A CHALLENGE and DEATH IS A RIDDLE, leaving more to the imagination – thanks for the tip Celine (!) – but for now at least, I have no plans to go back and change the originals.