BY SOPHY KOHLER
Writing under the name Helena S. Paige, friends Helen Moffett, Sarah Lotz and Paige Nick have shaken up the international literary world, shoving E.L. James aside, with the launch of a series of erotic novels in which the reader gets to choose their own fantasy. The first two books, A Girl Walks Into A Bar and A Girl Walks Into A Wedding, are available in several languages and readers can expected a third title, A Girl Walks Into A Blind Date, later this year.
We had our way with them during a brief gap in their busy schedules:
How did you react when you realised just how successful the idea would be?
HELEN: Sheer disbelief. Those first emails describing the international rights sales had me pinching myself. A year later, it still doesn’t feel real.
PAIGE: It’s so unlike anything that’s ever happened to me, I didn’t quite know how to react. I still don’t. Gobsmacked is the closest word I can think of.
SARAH: I’m also still at the “pinch me” stage. We’ve been incredibly fortunate.
Was the book ever intended as a feminist piece, with the idea of giving some agency back to women, or is it just a bit of fun?
HELEN: Fun, first and foremost. But the idea was born out of a feminist rant about how if women’s erotica was going to go mainstream, why couldn’t women be in charge, be the ones making choices?
Did you have fun writing it? Were there any awkward moments during the collaboration?
HELEN: Writing as a trio is the most tremendous fun – we laugh so much, Sarah’s dogs start howling. Awkward moments: I am, ahem, a tad older than my co-authors, and a member of the last generation who remembers when a condom was something you used as back-up when you’d forgotten to take the Pill. Early on, I asked Paige and Sarah if there were any circumstances in which the Girl could have sex without a condom. (Yes, I know. *Hangs head.*) I’ll never forget the looks on their faces. That’s when we decided the Girl would always have safer sex.
PAIGE: On one or two occasions, in author meetings, I would suggest something and then blush furiously and hold my breath, hoping they wouldn’t think I was a massive sexually perverted freak. You have to have a relatively judgement-free zone to co-write a sex book. Writing these books has been so much fun, I often have to remind myself that it’s work.
SARAH: The only awkwardness I felt during the collaboration was when Paige dared me to write one of the sex scenes. Not my forte – you can either write sex or you can’t. I leave that integral part of the books to the experts.
Was it challenging having to combine three distinct literary styles into a single voice?
HELEN: I found that really enjoyable. It’s a lovely editing challenge, blending and mixing.
PAIGE: That’s not something I wanted to worry about while writing. I had to just get my parts of the story out and trust that we would smooth the rest out later. We’re also lucky to have a built-in, world-class editor.
SARAH: Paige and I are both commercial writers, so our “literary” voices aren’t a million miles apart. It helps having a world-class editor on the team to smooth over the cracks though.
What have your unique backgrounds added to the book?
HELEN: It helps that we all have such different skills. Paige is our Everywoman, with chick-lit chops (and she writes GREAT sex). Sarah is the Mistress of Plot, and also the fastest writer I know, which was helpful, given that we had to deliver three manuscripts in ten months. With my history as an editor, I get all Virgo, nag over tiny plot-holes, and scrub at everyone’s punctuation. Plus I’ve been writing erotica for a while, so it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do it professionally, as it were.
Have you had any reviews from male readers?
HELEN: Not formally that we know of – but Ben Williams, well-known to book-lovers around the country as editor of the Sunday Times book pages, has been very encouraging and supportive. And our gay male friends love A Girl Walks Into A Bar.
PAIGE: For some reason, the men seem to enjoy the lesbian scenes the most. I can’t imagine why.
Why have you banned comfy panties?
HELEN: We love them, really we do. But in sex scenes, they’re invariably comic. Not always the effect we want.
PAIGE: It’s bad enough that we have to get all our characters out of their clothes and finding ways to put on a condom: imagine if we had to deal with comfy pants, too!
SARAH: I approve of comfy pants. G-strings are of the devil.
When you read the book, what scenario do each of you end up with?
HELEN: Bags I the barman.
PAIGE: The rock star has always been my fave.
SARAH: The bodyguard, but mainly because of his car (I’m shallow like that).
What do you do to escape the stress of your demanding deadlines?
HELEN: I take my cats for long walks. Very good for my mental health, if not my reputation. But given that I now write erotica for a living, maybe that ship has sailed…
PAIGE: I like to mix business with pleasure, so I research.
SARAH: If I gave you an honest answer to that, I’d be arrested.
What’s next for Helena S. Paige?
HELEN: Honestly? A long holiday with lots of naps and books with absolutely no sex in them sounds rather tempting.
PAIGE: If all goes well, maybe more books?
SARAH: A massive gin and tonic, please.