Raw, disturbing, uncomfortable, unique.
When a writer is a non-conformist and tells stories that don’t meet the financial bottom line but rather spark debates, while making readers question ongoing status-quo or look behind curtains, hiding an average-looking family, that writer takes risks.
Cheryl Butler, the author of “A Proclivity to Prurience” speaks about confronting stereotypes, her need to share honest and raw stories and staying true to her story and self.
‘The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.’ Rudyard Kipling, quoted from Interview with an Immortal by Arthur Gordon, Reader’s Digest (July 1959).
As a person, I’m an optimist, fun-loving and silly, yet reading my books, you’d be forgiven for thinking the opposite, so why is that?
Is it some undiscovered side that is only expressed through my writing? Or is it the result of some deep trauma I’ve not yet come to terms with?
I’d disagree with both of those and suggest that I want to create debate; I want to delve into the psyche of people I would avoid in reality; I want to understand more about our world and what makes us us, in all our glorious imperfection. People’s differences, quirks, are what draw me to them, rather than push me away, and I’m fascinated by the disparities in our characters, so for me, it’s a given I should write about the very same. I would also like to add that my books write themselves, and I am just the facilitator.
So, what the hell does all that have to do with Rudyard Kipling? Nothing other than the fact that I see myself as non-conformist, I ‘own’ myself, but again, it’s something I can’t/don’t take credit for; it’s simply the way I’m made, and as such, it’s extremely difficult for me to do anything that doesn’t conform with my non-conformity, hence, A Proclivity To Prurience.
My novel is harsh. It’s uncompromising and direct, yet it is still full of emotion, much of which, however, is anger, but there is still enough to tug at the heartstrings. There are no heroes, no happy ending, but it hasn’t put my readers off… well, the majority, at least. It’s explicit, and there are many scenes involving sex, but more importantly, it’s realistic.
I started writing to rid myself of a niggling storyline that I couldn’t shake, yet my husband’s suggestion that I should try writing a book was initially met with mocking laughter! Five chapters in, and I was hooked, determined to see what Abbie and Joe got up to and where the story would end. Early on, however, I realised that the tale of a young man’s obsession with an older woman was not going to revolve around her love of board games (she doesn’t actually have a love of board games…), so I would need to write about that which we should not speak of; yes, I was going to have to write sex scenes, and NO ONE wants to do that, unless you’re writing erotica, and I DEFINITELY wasn’t writing erotica. I persevered, and the more I wrote, the easier it became, but then, no one else had read it yet…
Cut to a year later, and a meeting with my publisher, fine-tuning the marketing process, and I was taken aback by the fact that my novel was, indeed, to be categorised as erotica! I debated it for a while, but because of the language and content, it had to belong to that genre. If ever there was a time I was annoyed to be pigeonholed, it was then.
Erotica is designed (in my mind) to stimulate, to excite the reader in a fairly obvious way, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that was never my intention. I wanted to tell a story that was realistic, and whilst that would have to involve sex, in all its brutality and colour, it wasn’t intended to arouse. Added to that, two flawed and deeply troubled MC’s, gave some very disturbing plotlines that blurred the lines of morality and the law, but they were necessary.
Readers have contacted me to ask if that was my intention, to argue the inarguable; my response would always be, my intention was for you to ask the question, and then more. As an author, it is not my place to tell you what to feel about a character, how to assess him or his deeds, but to present specifics and allow you to decide for yourself, and I have done just that, creating situations that cause readers to question said situations, their perpetrators and, indeed, me; the upshot is a series of uncomfortable scenes that many would rather avoid – both writers and readers – but I felt were essential to the plot.
But isn’t life uncomfortable? And, don’t we all shy away from the nastiness we know exists, if it doesn’t affect us directly? Of course we do, but we can’t hide completely.
My aim was to defy stereotypes, in many ways, and highlight our own personal hypocrisies, that side of us that allows our nearest and dearest to behave as they do but condemn the very same behaviour in others, and I have done that; granted, not to many, but that is down to the nature of the book, this crossover of genres – erotica or thriller / thriller with an erotic edge or erotica with a thriller edge? Or neither, just a novel that depicts a society we long to believe doesn’t exist? That’s up to the reader, but so long as they get the underlying intonation, I’ll take that as success, no matter how many or how few copies I sell.
And this is what I wanted to do, draw people into a world they never wanted to enter, to encourage a different perspective, because that’s what we non-conformists strive to do. Having lived in a rather closed world, we want to open the doors and force the sheep into a different pasture, to taste different grass and experience a different view, because there is SO much more to see if you open yourself up to the peripheries and don’t confine yourself to the vision of tunnels.
At my age, I’m not going to change, and despite the difficulties associated with the unwillingness to follow the herd, I have never wanted to change, because I’ve witnessed the damage caused by concurring with the (sometimes marginal) majority, and what can be missed by not looking at the entire landscape of opinions.
Despite the internal debates I had when first faced with the reality of what I was writing, I wouldn’t do it differently now. My first three books are a trilogy, so with the same characters and an ongoing story, the explicit sex scenes have continued, and why not? Sex is a huge part of life, and an extremely interesting subject if you actually take the time to think about it. But regardless, that’s not to say there will be the same level of carnality in my next venture; if it’s not essential to the plot, it won’t be necessary; if it is, however, I have absolutely no qualms about including it.
So what’s the point to my musings? Simple: I have never felt the need to agree, compromise or change just to suit, and that is never more obvious than in my writing. I don’t want to write what you’re writing; I don’t want to write what’s expected of me, what will automatically sell, because that would be to settle, to be too obvious, and I’m not comfortable with that. Neither am I comfortable with going against the grain just because – what’s the point? I’m not a politician, so it’s not a prerequisite, but writing about distressing, unpleasant events gives a voice to those that may have experienced such times, and that deserves a place, but only if I can do it justice.
I was turned down by more publishers than I can remember, and it was always for one very obvious reason: my novel was too risqué.
I had many compliments, and no doubt if I’d softened the tone of it, the language, I may well have had better luck in the publishing world, but that would have compromised my story and, indeed, myself. Unlike the world of art or music, the world of books is still very safe, very reserved, and I didn’t fit the mould. There may come a time when the work I produce sits better within a genre or a trend, but I’m certainly not going to bust a gut to ensure that happens; I can no more write prescriptively than I can live that way, but it’s a risk I’m happy with, and I will continue to write what challenges me.