Sex: It's the Detail that Counts

I have personal reasons to regret the premature death of Professor Richard Holmes, who died on April 30 aged 65.

When I wrote The Return of Captain John Emmett, partly set in WWI, I was well aware that a woman with no experience of military service might have committed several strategic blunders.

Through a mutual friend, Richard Holmes agreed to check my manuscript in return for ‘a good bottle of claret’.

It was extraordinarily generous of him, and his list of comments was long and rigorous. No, my hero couldn’t drop his rifle: it was on a lanyard. What did I mean by ‘guns’? To soldiers the word meant big guns, and if I meant pistols or rifles, then I should say so.

I turned his pages, cringing at my naïvete and careless ways with military equipment and terminology. But finally he said my account of men waiting to go into action was psychologically spot on, and I felt reprieved.

But he was also a warm and humorous man who, having revealed my novelist’s ineptitude in matters of fighting, sent me a brilliantly funny spoof sex scene from the sort of novel a military historian, oblivious to any other narrative considerations in his desire to get the details right, might write.

I hope he would not have minded me putting it here. And here it is:

From: Richard Holmes
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 2009 10:27:36 -0000
To: Elizabeth Speller
Subject: RE: A FROST OF CARES (at last)

Oh dear. Then perhaps this won't do:

2 February 2009 10:41
Jasper carefully unbuckled the cross-strap of his Sam Browne belt, which Bootface, his servant, has boned to an ox-blood glow that very morning. Then he slowly unbuttoned his tunic, with the 1881 pattern bronzed officers' field-service buttons, with their Hampshire tigers, rasping against his finger- nails. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and was pleased to see why he had always preferred a sturdy whipcord to the dark barathea worn by most of this brother officers, especially if the tunic was cut loose, with a Viyella lining and two inside pockets. And yes, there was his annotated version of that fine book Infantry Training 1914 in the left-hand pocket. Its presence was always such a comfort, and he gave it a gentle pat. He had just begun to undo the waistband of his putty-coloured breeches, and was reflecting on the fact that their doeskin strappings needed some attention, when there was a quiet voice from the bed. 'Darling,' whispered Jemima, 'can't you leave off fiddling about with your kit, just for the moment? I've got what I think you chaps call an urgent operational requirement.' And, far way, in the darkness beneath Thiepval Ridge, a mighty 9.2 inch howitzer reared its muzzle skywards...

-----Original Message-----
From: Elizabeth Speller
Sent: 02 February 2009 10:00
To: Richard Holmes
Subject: Re: A FROST OF CARES (at last)

Dear Richard.

My characters seem to eat a lot of turbot and mutton and seed cake (in London, not on the Western Front). The sex is excruciating-my publishers insisted they needed plenty and it must be ‘realistic’ whatever that is. I faded out in the style of a 1950’s film but they have insisted I go further. My children cringe in anticipation.

Good luck! L.
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