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A Girl Walks into a Bar

Cape Town trio release the world’s first major choose your own adventure erotica book series for women

When “A Girl Walks into a Bar”, book one of a ground-breaking three-part erotica series, struts its way onto virtual shelves in July 2013 (it goes to paperback in November), its trinity of Cape Town-based creators will take their place in history.

The collaborative effort is the world’s first sexually centred choose your own adventure (CYOA) series for females backed by heavyweight publishers, and behind every lustful choice, every loin-stirring conundrum are Paige Nick, Sarah Lotz and Helen Moffett. The three are all prominent players in the South African literary world, and after a few too many bottles of something on a hot summer’s day in 2012 they decided to pool their talents and write something that would put the reader in control.

For those poor, unfortunate souls who missed out on the CYOA craze of the 1980s and 1990s (over 180 titles were produced and 255 million copies sold) the format, which is based on principles of interactive gaming, gives those turning the pages the chance to play white-robed fates, spinning, measuring and cutting the strings of their own, often tragic, destinies.  And while during their reign over the adolescent world, CYOA books covered nearly every known literary genre – from sci-fi to historical fiction – they purposefully stayed away from romance.

Helena S. Paige, the pseudonym of the Mother City threesome, saw an opportunity to resurrect a slightly spunkier version of the multiple-ending series, and, more importantly, wanted to create erotica that would put women in charge of their own sexual choices.

The concept not only treats females to their own unfettered fantasy land (one book holds countless storylines), but also further begs questions that first cropped up when E. L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” became ‘acceptable’ reading for a mainstream audience: Are women in the midst of a sexual re-awakening? And if so, what role does literature play in that movement? Is it a catalyst for change or merely a barometer measuring a newfound feminine freedom to desire more, to want to have sex more?

We asked the Mother City trio behind “A Girl Walks into a Bar” what they think, and we also managed to score a few juicy details about the forthcoming work along the way.

Q & A with the forces behind “A Girl Walks into a Bar” Why the decision to dive into the big, bad world of erotica? Aside from Paige’s Sunday Times musings, it doesn’t seem to be your normal bread and butter?

Sarah: I get a real kick out of coming up with (sometimes) crazy ideas for writing projects, but I knew I didn’t have the chops to do this idea justice – hence the collaboration. Sure, erotica is far outside my comfort zone, but that’s the joy of genre-crossing. The short and most honest answer is: I did it for fun.

Helen: I’ve been writing erotica on the side for years. My first published poem and my first published short story were both fairly filthy (and funny). And it really annoyed me that just as erotica for women was going mainstream, there was a resurgence of the idea of the rich, powerful, slightly cruel but secretly wounded man initiating the wide-eyed, innocent young woman. So 1950s. So, I jumped at the chance to do something fresh and empowering and fun, asking the question: “What if women could get to choose what they want sexually?” Do you think it’s become more ‘okay’ for women to read erotica? Why? What’s changed?

Paige: Absolutely. I think we owe E. L. James a huge debt of gratitude. Whether you love or hate “Fifty Shades of Grey”, there’s no denying that she managed to bring lady porn out of the closet and make it an acceptable, even cool thing to read. Or perhaps there’s an argument that it wasn’t so much the book itself, but it was just time – we were culturally ready for it.

Sarah: I think it’s always been ‘okay’. Mills & Boon novels have included fairly explicit sex scenes for years, and independent publishers have been publishing excellent erotica for decades. But, as everyone knows, thanks to some clever marketing and concomitant word of mouth, the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon propelled it into the mainstream. I would definitely encourage readers who enjoy erotica to explore what the indies are putting out. Each of your books is being released electronically before going to paperback. What role do you think eBooks have played in the mainstream consumption of erotica?

Sarah: I suppose that readers who still think of erotica as a guilty pleasure welcome the anonymity of reading it on an eReader. And it doesn’t hurt that readers can now access the books that push their buttons at a push of a button.

Helen: I agree with Sarah – busy mothers might not want to leave a book with a bodice-ripping cover lying around (“Mummy, why is that lady’s chest bare? And what is the man doing to her?”). I think that together eReaders and “Fifty Shades” have created perfect conditions for erotica to flourish outside of niche markets. We know Cape Town hearts vintage, but why resurrect the choose your own adventure format?

Sarah: I loved these books when I was younger (still do!). Marrying the choose your own adventure format with erotica is the perfect way for readers to be in control of the storyline – not everyone finds the same situation or type of partner sexy, after all. The books are a huge challenge to write though, which, again, is part of the fun.

Helen: I’d never even heard of them before, but instantly fell in love with the concept – that a story about sex could be a story about choices, with the reader in charge. BDSM? Golden showers? Sex tarps? How racy is the series?

Paige: It’s pretty racy. In the run up to the launch a lot of people have stopped me and asked, “But it’s not really going to be that explicit, is it?” And I have to tell them that it kind of is.

Sarah: The sex is explicit, but while racy, I wouldn’t say it’s transgressive (although that is a subjective thing – one woman’s transgression is another woman’s vanilla). We’ve also tried to include humour and acknowledge that sex can (and possibly should) be funny. 

Helen: I don’t even know what some of those terms mean…

Paige: Yeah, me neither, what’s a sex tarp? *Races to Google* Lesbian threesomes? Would you say the books would be mainly of interest to heterosexual women?

Sarah: There is an option where you can enjoy an erotic encounter with a woman, but we are most definitely not treading on the toes of the great LGBTQ erotica that’s out there! Do you think women’s idea of what’s especially naughty has gotten more hard-core? Was this something you thought about during the research and writing process?

Paige: I don’t think I’m the right person to answer this one. In the process of co-authoring these books, I’ve discovered that my moral compass might be a little cracked, if not entirely broken, so best I hand this one over to Helen and Sarah.

Sarah: As I said before, sexuality is subjective. I suppose “Fifty Shades” got readers talking openly about BDSM (not forgetting that its portrayal in the book annoyed the hell out of the BDSM community), but hard-core means something different to everyone.

Helen: There are a lot of grey areas here (pardon the pun). Since the 70s there’s been a call within the feminist movement for women to be bold about exploring what they want sexually (think of books like Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden). Perhaps, for educated, middle-class women, there is more freedom to say what they want – I hope so. When we started writing though, we decided there were a few things we weren’t going to tackle. If you want to marry your horse, for instance, this book isn’t for you. Nobody likes a spoiler, but we can’t resist, which of the endings is your favourite?

Paige: (Spoiler alert) I like the rock star thread the most.

Sarah: There’s a thread with a bodyguard that’s my favourite  – mainly because it involves a car and I’m a petrolhead.

Helen: My favourite thread involves a boy-toy barman... but my favourite ending (another spoiler coming) is where the heroine curls up on the sofa with hot chocolate and her favourite DVD – ALONE. I love that with all the breathless, hot sex on offer, there is the option to go home and enjoy ‘me-time’. How do you think a South Africa that’s known to be quite sexually conservative will take to the series?

Sarah: I hope readers will see it for what it is – pure escapism. I doubt we’re going to shock anyone with it; although, my mum, who helped proofread the manuscript, did object to the number of times the word ‘cock’ was used.

Helen: I doubt that the kind of people who might find it shocking will be reading it. I just hope people will find it a fun, saucy, well-written read. What did you enjoy most about writing it?

Paige:  I loved every minute of it, from the collaborating to the writing bits. I would find myself smiling as I bashed away at my keyboard. The research is pretty fun too. When you’re writing a sexy book you get to do all sorts of dodgy things, all in the name of research, of course.

Sarah: The collaboration aspect. I’ve always avoided writing sex scenes in my books, so working with Paige and Helen has been a real eye-opener and (ahem) learning experience.

Helen: The laughter. If Paige and Sarah weren’t such brilliant writers, they could easily go into stand-up comedy. I wish we could publish a version of the book with their cheeky comments in the margins – they made my sides ache at times. So much of the work I’ve done as an academic and an editor is deadly serious, so it’s been the most wonderful experience to work on something totally centred on pleasure, on fun, on hilarity.

By Stephanie Katz


Wondering what other pages are worth turning this year in South Africa? Have a gander at our far less explicit recommended reading list


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