Wednesday 2 December 2015

Morrissey performing with a tambourine

Singer Morrissey won this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award for his debut novel on Tuesday evening.

The former Smiths frontman declined the invitation to attend the awards ceremony, however, the University of Northampton’s Professor Richard Canning was there.

Here, you can read the Subject Leader for English and Creative Writing’s blog, written on the eve of the awards – followed by his summation of the night’s events:

Tuesday 1 December 2015

‘I review new fiction releases sometimes for The Literary Review, a small magazine which is the sister paper of the satirical magazine, Private Eye. The Literary Review was begun by Auberon Waugh, Evelyn Waugh’s son, and has always been thought of as irreverent: it doesn’t respect fame, longstanding reputations, and its reviewers are encouraged, always, to tell it like it is.

Late in life, ‘Bron’ developed a strong distaste for sex scenes in works of literary fiction, which he felt were usually appallingly written, as authors struggled to poeticise the experience. A prize was established in 1993 — ”to draw attention to poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction, and to discourage them”. Works of pornography or erotica weren’t eligible, though: the books in contention have to have highbrow aims or aspirations.

Each year, The Literary Review shortlists a handful of works of fiction and hosts a Bad Sex Awards party, to which all its contributors are invited. I’ve duly gone along to the ‘In and Out (Naval and Military) Club’ in London’s St James’s district for the past few years, where you can rub shoulders with the great and the good of literary London, plus the odd publicity-hungry celebrity, and the person nominated to present the award. Three years ago that was Carry On and EastEnders actress Barbara Windsor; two years ago, actress and author Joan Collins; and last year, Northamptonshire’s own Rev. Richard Coles (whose memoir of 2014 was, to note in passing, uniformly well-written!)

Winners have included the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg for 1993’s A Time to Dance, Sebastian Faulks for Charlotte Gray (1998), and, last year, the Nigerian-born novelist and poet Ben Okri, for The Age of Magic. Increasingly, authors have been turning up to collect their own trophies, whereas previously, their hapless editors or literary agents might have had to take a shameful bow. Still, there’s no such thing as bad publicity: today’s publishing houses generally relish the promotional opportunities in being named and shamed.

Tomorrow night — Tuesday 1st December — the 2015 Award winner will be announced at the In and Out. Odds-on favourite to win is former Smiths vocalist (Steven) Morrissey, whose debut novel List of the Lost was universally panned by reviewers earlier this year. He goes head-to-head with American authoress Erica Jong, whose Fear of Dying returns us to the characters found in her 1973 novel Fear of Flying, and six other contenders, all but one of them male.

For those who have revered Morrissey’s lyrics, his fumbling descriptions of sex in the novel came as a profound shock. Take this excerpt, which will be read out by a po-faced actor at tomorrow’s ceremony:

“Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.”

Will the Mancunian songsmith win? Will he, or any other shortlisted author, dare to show face?

I’ll have to pop along to the Bad Sex Awards 2015 Party to find out!’

Wednesday 2 December 2015

‘Last night saw all of literary London toast the uncontested winner of the competition to find the worst erotic scene in literary fiction published in 2015. Former Smiths singer and now solo artist Morrissey beat seven worthy competitors to the title, for his debut novel, List of the Lost. Morrissey did not grace the Bad Sex Award Party — held by the Literary Review magazine at the In and Out Club, St James — with his presence, and nor did any of the editorial team at his publishers, Penguin Books. It was suggested that the event’s non-vegetarian catering may have played a role. Instead music critic Charles Shaar Murray received the award from British-Italian celebrity lawyer Nancy dell’Olio, making a pithy speech in acceptance, which suggested, however, that he was no fan of the Mancunian winner’s writings or music.

Morrissey’s publishing career at Penguin has been controversial from the start. In 2013, his Autobiography was published immediately into the Penguin Classics list, thus sharing the famous black-jacketed imprint with everyone from Homer to Charles Dickens. List of the Lost wasn’t announced as a ‘Classic’ in that way — but reviewers united in their horror at the bizarre writing style, and apparently unedited, meandering prose. The sex scenes were picked out for particular ridicule — but have now received due recognition, courtesy of The Literary Review’s notorious annual award. Three cheers for Morrissey!’

Prof Canning’s blog piece was originally published on the University’s blogging website Medium​.

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