Shake off your inner mother

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
English teacher shows students how to write steamy novels without blushing. Dorothy Lepkowska reports

By day she extols the virtues of Jane Austen and the Bront s to her pupils.

But beyond the school gates, Julie Cohen writes her own romantic novels and has become something of an expert on sex scenes.

The 34-year-old head of English at St Mary's school in Ascot, a private Catholic boarding school for girls, has been tutoring aspiring novelists on how to write love scenes.

Last month, she was invited by the Romantic Novelists' Association's conference to head the tutorial on "sexy bits".

Ms Cohen, who came to Britain from the United States 12 years ago and has been teaching at St Mary's for seven years, said: "Sex is a potentially difficult topic to write about, but I believe the way to approach it is in the context of romance.

"Novelists find it difficult because of their inner editor - I also call it the inner mother - which is that little voice asking you what your mother would think if they knew you had written this.

"It is a fear of the way the reader will think of you, and whether they see it as a reflection of the writer.

"But we can all combat our inner mothers by remembering that the scene is what is happening to the character, and as a writer you have to divorce yourself from it."

During the seminar she gave everyone a strawberry, which she asked her students to eat and then write about the experience.

They were asked to think about texture, taste, noises and smells in the room, and all the emotions they experienced while eating the fruit.

The idea was that sex was not just about the technicalities but about emotions and the environment in which the act was taking place.

She added: "When writing a love scene, it is a case of more emotion and less mechanics. If you are going to be explicit, you need to write about feelings rather than whose hand went where."

Ms Cohen began her first novel three-and-a-half years ago but says it was "really bad".

She later joined the Romantic Novelists' Association and became involved in a local writing group in Reading, where she lives.

"Being around other writers gave me the support I needed," she said.

Her persistence paid off and she is writing a novel for Mills and Boon, due to be published next year.

"The working title is Dej... Vu, but that will have to change as the publisher wants something sexier," she said.

Ms Cohen believes her interest in writing and romantic novels has helped her work as a teacher.

"Having experience as a writer helps me to explain a lot of the concepts in literature, especially to my older students," she said.

"At the same time, being a teacher helps with the writing because it gives different perspectives and widens the horizons."

And do her pupils know that she writes about sex and romance in her spare time?

"Well, they will now," she said.

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