A Novel Observed #12 – Drawing the Risqué Line

The Writing Stage

The Writing Stage

Well, after 16,000 words, we are now at the end of Sebastian’s first day in Steepleford. Only another six days to go!

Chapter 5, titled ‘Gluten Intolerance’, (read it HERE) took a little longer than the last couple, but only because I’ve had a lot of work on, which meant writing in any gaps that happened to open up. Standard!

We’ve had a couple of ‘bloody’s in the novel so far (the second being in this chapter), but there’s also a bit in here where Neil and Sebastian talk about the boar, Major Tom’s, more intimate parts. It’s not overly explicit, but it’s still touching on slightly risqué areas, as follows:

[Neil] beckoned Sebastian to join him. ‘Come and look at these.’

Sebastian edged round the back of the ark, so he wouldn’t have to squeeze past the bulk of Major Tom, to find Neil pointing to the end of the boar that wasn’t busy scoffing up the pellets. Beneath his not-very-curly tail and seeming to force his back legs apart, were two large bulges, about the size and shape of a couple of melons. Black, hairy melons.

‘Are those…’ he began, his voice a whisper. ‘Are those his… balls?’

‘Aye.’ Neil nodded proudly. ‘What a pair of beauties, eh? No wonder he makes so many fine, little piggies with those bad boys to work with – almost half a pint of semen in each one. Give them a little pat.’

Sebastian’s head swivelled to look at his companion. ‘Yes… That’s not going to happen. Not even with these.’ He brandished his gloves. ‘Anyway, shouldn’t we be feeding the rest of the pigs?’

‘Alright, alright. You’re keen all of a sudden.’

‘I’m really not,’ said Sebastian, heading back to the electric fence, taking a course that gave the most distance from the Major, while avoiding entering the toilet zone. ‘I just want to get it done and out of the way so I can get back and have another shower.’

‘Shower?’ said Neil, with more than a note of disdain. ‘We don’t have a shower.’ He began to head back too, but then stopped and called to Sebastian. ‘Here, can you guess how long the Major takes to impregnate one of ours sows? Just the delivery, you know, the end game?’

Sebastian turned back, frowning as he considered the strange question. ‘Dunno. Thirty seconds?’ he suggested.

‘Thirty seconds?’ said Neil, incredulous. ‘There’s almost a full pint to offload, remember.’

Sebastian raised his eyebrows. ‘What, longer? A minute? Two minutes?’

‘Try twenty minutes!’

I wanted to include this conversation for several reasons:

  1. To reinforce Sebastian’s distaste for the smallholding
  2. To communicate Neil’s pride and love of the smallholding
  3. Because it’s real – when you keep and breed animals, these things are important and get talked about

While I might have a similar conversation myself, even going into more explicit depth, when talking about breeding goats or chickens, it’s hard to know where to draw the line when writing a risqué passage. ‘Balls’, ‘semen’ and the idea of ejaculation are as far I go here, and even that seemed close to the edge.

Swearing doesn’t bother me especially and I don’t mind coming across it in books. I have, in fact, just finished reading Andy Weir’s The Martian, whose opening sentence is built around the ‘F’ word (and it is a frequent visitor throughout the novel, being accompanied by all its friends). Even Douglas Adams drops it in his Hitchhiker series, which I have to admit was slightly disappointing when I first found it. But both these authors, and many others like them, have made it clear from the outset that we should expect such discoveries in their writing.

The problem comes when authors have set themselves up as something else. Take J K Rowling for example. She is known as the author of the Harry Potter series, seven books aimed primarily at children. So when she casually dropped the ‘C’ word (and I’m not talking about the Cruciatus Curse) in on page 15 of her first adult novel, this really grated for me. In fact, it seemed almost irresponsible. So much so that I never finished the book. I enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling though.

I also recall reading an evangelical novel written by a Christian author, aimed at teens and young adult, which dropped in a couple of not-quite-as-bad swear words, which also seemed questionable.

This is kind of where I am at. Most of the books I’ve written to date have been Christian non-fiction. Surprise, surprise, this is because I’m a Christian and used to be a preacher. When I’m writing fiction, however, I can’t just forget all that – I have to be true to my beliefs and to my other writing… which leaves me with something of a fine line to tread. As mentioned, I’ve used a couple of ‘bloody’s in NT2S&S, but have avoided anything more offensive, and will continue to do so.

And so we come to the pig’s testicles. I still think it’s an important scene and I intend leaving it in, but I hope that the slightly risqué passage will not cause any offence or stop anyone from reading the book. It’s a tough call, but I have to draw the line somewhere and I guess that’s it.

For now…