How could I possibly turn down an evening of romance chosen by Kat and read by Aussie media personalities? Especially when it’s all in support of International Women’s Day.
Alison from Customs House Library introduced the evening’s players: curator, blogger, freelance writer and romance expert Kat; entertainer PJ Lane; lawyer and alter ego of Elle McFeast, Libby Gorr; and actor Rhys Muldoon turned out to support International Women’s Day.
During Rhys Muldoon’s introduction, it was revealed that he has a passion for crime writing. ‘Not romance?’ Alison asked. He got a few laughs when he replied that they are two sides of the same coin.
Kat asked who has read a romance and enjoyed it. Most of the audience raised their hands. When Rhys got Kat to allow Jane Eyre as a romance, he raised his hand. Libby joked that hers come in a paper bag and PJ was ‘noticeably silent’.
Kat introduced romance and outlined the associated stigma, with the flipside that Australia has the highest number of romance writers in the world. It is also arguably feminist fiction because it celebrates the concerns of women, but the most derided subgenre is smut. Instead of repeating what Kat said, I’ll just add that I’m of the opinion that sex scenes in a romance or romantica should not be skipped. Not just for prurient jollies, but because it’s meant to contribute to the relationship and the story as a whole. More people should read some well-written, filthy, oh-I-couldn’t-possibly smut.
Appropriately enough, we were treated to aural foreplay, with the first readings being scenes of sexual tension.
PJ read a scene from Red Hot Renegade by Kelly Hunter where hero Jacob challenges his estranged heroine Jianne with his knowledge that she pleasured herself in his dojo and she cheekily teases him back about where she might have done it.
Libby read a scene from Soulless by Gail Carriger where Alexia Tarabotti realises Lord Connall Maccon has given her a love bite and wants to do some exploration purely in the name of science.
Rhys rounded out this part with a scene from Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen. A m/m romance set in New York during WWI, the scene was about one partner wanting to push the boundaries in public but being reminded of ‘standards’ by owners of various establishments.
As the performers read, I noticed that the rain battering the windows combined with PJ and Rhys’s rich male tones and Libby’s softer voice created an intimate atmosphere in the room, preparing us for what was to come (pun may be intended).
Get into the smut, dammit!
After the warm-up, our journey through raunchy romance stories really began. Our performers read some really hot stuff, which featured c-words of both male and female varieties as well as a p-word. I’ll leave it to your imaginations to figure out which one.
Rhys began this segment by reading from Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale. One of Kat’s favourites, it redressed the way the hero Allegreto took his virgin wife Elena against her will. Having never read this particular Kinsale, I later found out that giving up control was more difficult for Allegreto than this one scene alone could convey, which could prompt a whole other discussion about scenes out of context and goes back to my earlier point about sex contributing to a story. As he read, Rhys described Allegreto’s leashed male strength, Elena’s anger, passion and finally sadness because, at the end, she didn’t really want to hurt him.
Even without the benefit of full context, it was still a powerful excerpt but had a different flavour than intended. Can I just say, at the risk of traumatising those of you who remember him from his Play School days, that man has a voice made for smut. Oh. My. God. This was definitely the highlight of the evening for me, and hats off to Kat and Libbi for not spontaneously combusting while in such close proximity to Rhys while he read this. I’m not sure I would have had their fortitude.
In Interstellar Sparks by Shannon Stacy, Ilyna is an alien genetically engineered to appeal to humans. In the scene PJ read, she is self-pleasuring but needs something more. She watches a porn film about a horny housewife getting it on with an electrician, which she finds ridiculous if educational. PJ’s impersonation of the video’s horny housewife damn near brought the house down, it was so hilarious!
Ilyna decides that since the housewife had such a satisfying time, she needs an electrician of her own for a bout of real Earth sex. She looks an attractive one up in the directory, but needs a subtext for him to come over because the sparky in the movie ostensibly came (by which I mean made a house call :P) to make repairs. Her attempts at sexual subtext falls flat and PJ made the hero sound like such an ocker that he quipped that his electrician was Russell Crowe.
Libbi read Broken by Megan Hart. In the story, Joe tells Sadie about his many sexual encounters. Hers had a different level of intimacy to Rhys’s scene, having been written in the first person and going into the nuances of sex, warts and all. Bodies slapping, coarse language and no room for dignity. It kind of reminded me of what a contemporary Robin Schone might be like.
There were a couple of points where she had to stop and ease the tension for a moment. ‘Normally at this time of night, I’m reading a chapter of Thomas the Tank Engine.’
When she read about giving a graphically detailed blow job, she interjected, ‘I told you mine was worse than yours, Rhys.’ Without knowing what the others had been asked to read, I guess they all may have assumed their excerpts were the most embarrassing to read. I have to agree with Libbi about hers, though. I don’t think I could have done that in public. My blush would put a tomato to shame.
Kat said the smuttiest romances come in e-books rather than print and Libbi wickedly replied, ‘That’s because the pages stick together!’
We were running out of time, so Kat cut pretty quickly to an excerpt with an HEA (I just feel the phrase ‘happy ending’ may be misinterpreted here for some reason). PJ read the end from As Darkness Falls by Bronwyn Parry. Kat mentioned that the US market wanted to cut the sex scenes, but thankfully they were left in. I think it was because Bronwyn has a very down to earth writing style and her sex scenes aren’t especially graphic or flowery.
I thought it was a beautiful scene, but that may be partly because I’ve read this book and know what the characters went through to get to that point.
It was a really fantastic night. Kat chose excerpts that were well-suited to her performers and they really got in and sold what they were reading. It would have been great if there had been enough time to hear Rhys reading Nalini Singh, but it’s better to run out of time than spend the evening listening to the rain. Despite their awkward feelings, the performers all shone in different ways and played a large role in making the evening an absolute success.