If Only All Bad Sex Were This Fictional Writing sex scenes is a tricky business. Do it really badly and you could be awarded the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award, like this year's winner, novelist Rowan Somerville.

If Only All Bad Sex Were This Fictional

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As 2010 winds down, novelist Rowan Somerville is enjoying a pretty good year. His latest book, "The Shape of Her," got top marks from The Guardian, The Economist and The Irish Times. But when book award season came around, he was hit with a more dubious honor. The British literary journal The Literary Review handed Somerville the 2010 Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

The competition was actually pretty tough. Somerville topped fellow finalist Jonathan Franzen. The title goes to the author who produces the worst description of a sex scene in a novel.

Mr. ROWAN SOMERVILLE (Author, "The Shape of Her"): Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too-blunt pin...

CORNISH: Oh, okay, okay. I think we get the idea. Well, tough-skinned author Rowan Somerville joins me from London.

Rowan, welcome to the program.

Mr. SOMERVILLE: Hi, Audie. How are you?

CORNISH: So tell me your reaction when you found out that you had been picked for this illustrious award.

Mr. SOMERVILLE: I think horror would be the most honest response.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SOMERVILLE: I was horrified and a little bit ashamed.

CORNISH: Oh, no.

Mr. SOMERVILLE: Yeah. I thought: Oh, my God, no. Please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: But you were a good sport. I mean, you went and actually picked up the award in person. What was the atmosphere like?

Mr. SOMERVILLE: They have two actresses who read out the passages with sex from all the short-listed writers. But they read it out in a completely sort of mawkish, jokey way. And whenever they get to a rude word, the whole audience roars with laughter.

So it doesn't feel great, but I was ready for it, if you know what I mean.

CORNISH: And you gave quite the acceptance speech.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SOMERVILLE: Well, thank you very much. I just looked at them and said: There is nothing so English as bad sex. So on behalf of the nation, I'd like to thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORNISH: All right. So let's actually discuss the passage that you read earlier, where the male character is compared to a lepidopterist, which is someone who studies moths and butterflies. Does it seem like a strange metaphor?

Mr. SOMERVILLE: I mean, it is describing bad sex. It's a young man who's making love to this girl, and he has a history of childhood abuse. And he's not aware of it. So he has no idea how to actually make love. It's totally cold and, you know, inhuman and not emotive because his sexual identity is profoundly scarred by his trauma.

CORNISH: Any examples of what's a smart way to integrate that kind of writing into a novel?

Mr. SOMERVILLE: I think you're never going to be able to integrate sex into a novel in a way that cannot be ridiculed. I mean, let me give you an example: And my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached her bare neck while I crushed out against her left buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known.

I mean, that sounds quite silly, really, doesn't it? But that's Nabokov writing in "Lolita," perhaps the greatest writer in the 20th century.

CORNISH: Now, at the end of the day, you were up against some pretty prestigious competition. Is that any consolation to you?

Mr. SOMERVILLE: It's a huge consolation. I mean, to be next to Jonathan Franzen, however ridiculous the whole situation is, it's great to be on the same list.

CORNISH: That's Rowan Somerville. This past week, he received the Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review in Britain. He joined us from the BBC Studios in West London.

Rowan Somerville, thanks for talking with us and for being such a good sport.

Mr. SOMERVILLE: It's a great pleasure, Audie. Thank you.

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