Category Archives: Chastened – the book

On the road again – with Marilyn

Well, I’m back on the book tour road, and full of good intentions for keeping up this blog.

Chastened was released in French last month – under an English title, No more sex in the city – which gave rise to plenty of ‘only in France’ moments.

Chastened à ParisIn what other country would a national broadsheet enquire about an author’s ‘fantasmes sexuels’? Likewise, where else on earth would a two-hour radio show, hosted by a former porn star and tackling such subjects as the geography of the vagina, air daily not at midnight but at midday? (Then again, aren’t the French meant to know all that stuff? Can they really need two hours of tuition each day?)

One character who featured large, though I never actually got to meet her, was my excellent publicist Silvana’s Italian aunt. Her views on romance, men and marriage (she’s now on her third) may sound shockingly un-PC to the Anglo-Saxon ear, but conveyed in French, they carried an irresistible authority. I might just have to share some of them in a separate post. Travels with my publicist’s aunt?

This all gives the June 24th launch of the US edition quite a bit to live up to, but it seems a happy sign that sat behind me on the flight to New York was a pretty convincing Marilyn Monroe look-alike. It’s Marilyn’s words that I borrow for Chapter Four’s epigram:

It’s a woman’s spirit and mood a man has to stimulate in order to make sex interesting. The real lover is the man who can thrill you by touching your head or smiling into your eyes or just staring into space.

I think Silvana’s aunt would agree, though she’d insist that not even a real lover should be allowed to get away with splitting the check.

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What’s the longest you’ve gone…

…without sex? It’s the simple question that Marie Claire asked a bunch of unsuspecting women who, by the looks of their accompanying snaps, were out enjoying a splash of lunch-hour sunshine Thames-side.

Marie ClaireThey and their intriguing responses feature in the August issue, at the end of a piece I wrote about my own chaste year.

There’s Laura, a 28-year-old teacher who went a year and half between relationships. ‘I can live without it because I enjoy the other elements of getting to know a man, too’ she says.

Stage Manager Emma, 29, went eight months when her partner of three years returned to Australia. Admin Assistant Katy, the youngest at 21, has gone a year and counting. And Mel, a banker and the oldest at 35, recalls how she once went six months: ‘I was single and wanted to find myself, which meant getting away from men.’

Marie Claire‘s intrepid reporters followed up with a second question. What was it like, they asked, when you did finally take someone to bed again?

You’ll have to head to a newsagents to find out how that one was answered, but I’m curious: how long is the longest you’ve gone?

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Chaste or chased?

With the hardback edition of the book newly released (you should find it in the self-help section of your local book shop, unless I’ve paid a prior call and cheekily repositioned it more prominently), plans are afoot to test some of the lessons I’ve learnt.

The sieve relates to the story of Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin who proved her chastity by carrying water in a sieve. Note also that long line of men.

The sieve relates to the story of Tuccia, a Vestal Virgin who proved her chastity by carrying water in a sieve. Note also that long line of men over Elizabeth I's padded shoulder.

We’re calling it the ‘Chaste Challenge’, and later on in the year I’ll be asking for volunteers to swear off sex. Not for a full 12 months like I did, but for three, maybe four – no more than six.

Though the details are still being fine-tuned, I thought I’d float the idea with a scientist friend over the weekend.

I’d barely finished explaining when Heather, let’s call her, had a question to ask.

Could a person volunteer if they had nothing to give up? In other words, could they join the ‘Chaste Challenge’ midway through an involuntary dry spell?

My answer is yes, because it’s making the decision that counts. However long you’ve gone, by taking charge and making that dry spell your own, you fundamentally alter its dynamic. Everything becomes different.

What’s more, as Heather the scientist suggested, as soon as you rule sex out, mischievous cupid will no doubt dispatch a fairy tale’s worth of suitors. That’s certainly how it felt to me.

This seems the perfect moment to share a hilarious and sweet story told to me recently by the excellent critic HB.

Years ago, sat in an A’level history revision class, she happened to glance at what the boy beside her had written in response to a question about why Elizabeth I had never married.

It was, he declared, because ‘she wanted to preserve a chased image.’ He’d misunderstood the term ‘chaste’ for two whole years. Or perhaps he hadn’t. Perhaps he knew exactly what the delicious but inconvenient perk of a chaste image could be.

What is it they say? Men love a challenge. Those 16th-century princes and dukes were presumably no different beneath their tights and codpieces.

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‘We rode the N train together’

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After a week spent writing and talking, the weekend was all about reading.

Book-wise, I’m enjoying Jules Asner’s debut novel,Whacked, a dark tale of romantic obsession disguised as chick lit. You can’t help feeling a smidgen of sympathy for its heroine, Dani, whose crackpot antics dramatise the extremes of what the L.A. dating scene can do to a person.

In the newspapers, I loved this little article from Friday’s New York Times. Reporter Alan Feuer trawled the ‘Missed Connections’ section of newyork.craigslist.org, adding line and stanza breaks to his favourite pleas from subway riders, smitten by their fellow passengers. The results are touchingly poetic and deeply romantic.

I bought the book / but I never got your name…’ rues one love-struck commuter, who talked Carlos Ruiz Zafon with a blonde beauty on the N train at 5:15.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – and romance loves a challenge. In an age of instant ‘connections,’ be it texts or Skype chat or campus hook-ups, we forget that real connections can deepen when given space and time. If you’re still thinking about someone hours, days, weeks after your eyes met as the train doors closed, you’re perhaps on to something.

My own ‘Missed Connection’ involves not a subway train but a rain-slicked street. New York City’s East Houston, to be precise. As I hopped over a puddle, a handsome stranger asked me how the knishes were today. That isn’t kinky code (well, not that I know of) – I happened to have just stepped out of the magnificent Yonah Schimmel’s. I smiled from beneath my brolly and strode on, English-ly.

Where are you, dishy knish aficionado? If only I’d stopped to chat! But it’s undoubtedly the fact that I didn’t that makes it so romantic.

Would love to read your tales of ‘Missed Connections’…

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P.S. Latest coverage…

Hot off the press, this just in from this morning’s Daily Mail

Great to see that they’ve picked up on all the positive aspects.

photographer: Paul WebbFavourite comment so far from the message boards, a woman named Kathy who quotes advice doled out by her granny in 1971: ‘Be the one they practise FOR, not the one they practise ON.’

Also, respect to the reader calling herself ‘Marie Claire’ from Brussels, who’s been chaste for eight years and counting. Or rather, not counting, since she sounds far too busy and contented.

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Chastened’s newsstand debut

A big thank you to The Guardian, who kicked off coverage of the book on Saturday with an edited extract in Weekend magazine.

The Guardian, June 20thProving my point that even while appearing nonchalant about high street lap-dancing clubs and call-girl confessionals, people continue to take anything sex-related very, very personally, the message board was deluged with comments.

Almost 300 in all, most were pretty exercised (so much pent-up frustration – you have to wonder…), but some raised interesting points. How ought chastity be defined? At what point in a relationship should you sleep with somone? A British guy in New York fessed up to being about a year into his own ‘chaste’ quest for a meaningful relationship, having realised what a turn-off constant availability was.

Hephzibah-Anderson-001In the blogosphere, mentions popped up on ErosStruck and Mental Imaging, and NBC Chicago flagged another woman’s six-month ‘sex sabbatical.’

A special mention goes out to the intrepid reporters over at MyVeryWorstDate.com. They blogged The Guardian‘s extract with a pithy preface that introduces the concept of ‘running the bases backwards.’ Check it out here.

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“It’s about chastity,” she blushed

It was when I first began telling people about my book that I rediscovered the ability to blush.

ChastenedIn our sex-saturated age, chastity can feel like the last titillating taboo. Accordingly, I’ve lately experienced the full spectrum of blushes, from delicate rose to shaming puce.

Of course, there’s nothing like blushing to make you blush even more. It’s a form of communication that can seem peculiarly direct – oddly personal, even – to those of us who do an increasing portion of our socialising online, screened from one another by our screens, never mind our screen names and privacy preferences.

It’s not surprising, then, that psychologists have found that blushing helps strengthen social bonds. If nothing else, it’s a sign that the blusher cares. The New York Times carries a colourful report on the latest research here.

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