I loved Aoife Brennan’s debut novel. Often, erotic writing involves a lot of wonderful yet implausible characters and sex. I enjoy that as much as the next horny human, but with The Cougar Diaries, Aoife has written something that feels real, something that feels like a genuine, contemporary novel, but with some fantastic, explicit fucking thrown in. You can read my 5 Star review of her book here, but here’s her enjoyably honest interview.
CD: What first made you want to write an erotic novel?
Aoife: A long time ago I corresponded with Rowan Pelling of the Erotic Review. I loved her editorship of the magazine and hoped to contribute at some stage. Well, I was married then so say no more! (joke) but I just didn’t have the courage to put pen to paper. Fast forward through divorce and my world fell away. It was both traumatic and liberating. I wrote my first serious novel with a lot of sex but not erotica, although there were 499 instances of the word fuck in the prose. I was also planning my next non-fiction book about divorce, although for planning read talking in the pub about the gestation of the idea.
Then when I became seriously broke and was receiving visits from bailiffs (not a joke) I decided I’d better write a fast, racy novel to turn a penny. Hey presto from my non-fiction gestation The Cougar Diaries was born.
CD: Why did you decide to use a pseudonym and what was behind your decision to give that same name to your main character?
Aoife: Actually, it was my agent’s idea. I wrote the book in the third person initially. And the character was Aoife Brennan. Then at the very last moment I decided against using my own name as the author because, well for a number of reasons. At the same time, my agent advised me to change the novel from the third person into the first person narrative.
So, the novel was presented like a diary in the first person narrative and it works really well I think. Especially in book two when I really get into my stride. I am not ignoring your question by the way about the decision to use a pseudonym. Aside from my teenage children begging me not to go public with this book, the decision was based on uncertainty. What if I wrote my novel and no one liked it? How embarrassing would that be? In a word: awful.
CD: How closely does Aoife’s life resemble your own?
Aoife: If I step back and describe the plot arc of the novel then you might say it was very similar, but when you get closer and look at the detail it is very different. I describe the novel as if I was in a bonk buster, or my life squeezed through the fiction mill. They say that life is stranger than fiction. I totally agree and so was happy to borrow great chunks of my life to convert into fiction.
CD: This is a very realistic tale – how important was it for you to write something that felt true to life as opposed to something more escapist?
Aoife: OK, confession time. I don’t like to read escapism. My preferred reading is something by Cormac McCarthy, Colum McCann, Carol Shields, or Ian McEwan. So when it came to writing it was important I could write something that I also wanted to read.
Some of the realism was also actually, factually real. My youngest child felt I had stolen some of her dialogue. For example I quote the younger teenager saying that when he was with me, he didn’t like his father very much, and when he was with his father, he didn’t like me very much. And my youngest is correct – I stole that line verbatim from her mouth. I also stole it as it really described in a sentence how kids feel about their parents post-divorce. In Book One there was so much I wanted to say about the divorcing state; my non-fiction book exploded into the fiction, or was that vomited all over it! Not sure, but the net cumulative effect was a lot of women say I have stolen their lives. And that makes me very happy.
CD: Did you get turned on while writing this book?
Aoife: Absolutely. When I write I have to be there at the centre of the action. I am watching or being or seeing; it can be a bit jumbled up emotionally, but I feel as though I am writing from the inside out. So, for the sex scenes I am totally turned on. However, being in that zone does not just relate to the sex scenes, it stands true for all my writing. For example, in Book Two there is a funeral of a minor character. I cried real tears as I wrote those scenes, Then when I went back and edited them, I cried again.
And it is even more intertwined than that. I get turned on by the simple act of writing. If I write a good sentence or paragraph, I go back and consume it like a starving hobo, again and again. Writing turns me on full stop!
CD: Do you always prefer to date younger men these days – are you a cougar?
Aoife: Life is funny. After my divorce I felt I was on the scrapheap of life. I felt as though my life was over, and certainly with regard to my sexual life. Then I discovered to my surprise that I was actually attractive to younger men and was shocked and delighted and chuffed to be honest. Since my divorce I have only dated younger men, I am not sure that is what I sought or if the universe sent the young men to me. Technically I guess I am a cougar, but the fat lady has not sung yet. My next life partner may even be age appropriate (as my children try and encourage me).
CD: Give us a celebrity name who would be closest to being your ideal man for a one night stand, and another for something more meaningful.
Aoife: Hmmm that is an interesting question. I fancy the pants off Michael Fassbender – I even met him briefly – and he would be my choice for both. He is age appropriate too. I would also love to have a meaningful friendship with Stephen Fry – is that allowed?
CD: Tell us about the second part of The Cougar Diaries – what can we expect?
Aoife: Draws deep breath. Ok, Book One is all about sex and divorce. Book Two, just finished last week, is all about sex and austerity. It is an unlikely combination but it works really well. Ireland is going through a very tough time now but it is not generally recognised outside the country. The main reason for the smoke screen is twofold: a rapid polarisation of society in Ireland with the ruling elite gathering the remaining wealth and power to themselves and secondly the finance moguls in Europe don’t want to let on that austerity is not working.
So, Aoife Brennan, ordinary women with kids and struggling with the vicissitudes of everyday life, is living in post Celtic Tiger Ireland and is a witness to the terrible struggle the Irish people are facing, with growing evictions, suicides and poverty. Add into that mix love, sex, swinging, dishonest lawyers, retribution and yet more love and you have an idea of the potent result. Oh, and there is Fenton, the Richmond park legend. What more could you ask for? Ah yes, Book Three which will be coming along shortly.